The parents of Chicago teen murder victim Hadiya Pendleton, Nathaniel and Cleopatra Pendleton listen to President Barack Obama speak at Hyde Park Academy Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, in Chicago. Obama is traveling to promote the economic and educational plan he laid out in his State of the Union address. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) ORG XMIT: ILEV114
Updated: May 29, 2013 6:35AM
It’s not fair to the parents of Hadiya Pendleton to put them on the spot every time another young person falls victim to gun violence.
But I called her father, Nathaniel Pendleton, just the same Wednesday, hoping to get his thoughts on the death of Cornelius “Cornbread” German, the latest 15-year-old felled by a bullet in Chicago.
“I’m really sorry that another child has become the victim of gun violence,” Pendleton said. “I really feel for the parents of this kid. It hurts when a child that you have ends up falling.”
Pendleton chose his words carefully, clearly a little uncomfortable wading into a situation with limited information, yet mindful of the responsibility his family has accepted to speak out on behalf of those whose deaths receive less attention than their sparkling daughter.
“Since our daughter has become the face of all these kids, it’s hard. It’s hard to keep seeing it over and over,” Pendleton explained.
I said I understood, then had to hasten to say I only thought I understood, because how can anybody truly understand who hasn’t been in their shoes.
To be perfectly frank, as our former mayor liked to say, I called the Pendletons because I wanted to know what they thought of the premise of my column in Wednesday’s paper: that if we’re going to truly deal with the problems of youth violence we have to understand that the lives — and deaths — of problem kids like Cornelius are as important as the budding superstars like Hadiya.
Some people appreciated my point of view, and others found it extremely objectionable that I would even put the two 15-year-olds in the same sentence.
As it happened, Pendleton hadn’t read my column, so I can’t use him as the arbiter of that discussion.
Instead, we talked about how the Pendletons hope the organization they have created in their daughter’s name, Hadiya’s Foundation, will help fund programs that could benefit someone like Cornelius German before it’s too late.
“We want to try to prevent things like this from happening. We want to put children in better surroundings than this kid was in,” Pendleton said.
The Pendletons did not know Cornelius or his family, and all they know about his death is what they’ve learned from news reports, the facts of which can change over time as they know from painful experience.
Therefore, nothing he told me should be interpreted as passing judgment on the boy or his parents.
But Pendleton did make one judgment about what happened to Cornelius with which nearly all would agree.
“There was no reason for this kid to be in a dice game at nine o’clock at night when he should have been at home preparing for school,” Pendleton said.
Pendleton said the goal is for Hadiya’s Foundation to provide alternative programs so that someone like Cornelius will be in a gym or a tutoring program instead of running the streets at night.
“These are the kids we primarily want to work with. We want to help them make a decision about the people they hang around with and places that they go,” Pendleton said.
The hope is not only to save those on the receiving end of the bullet but also those pulling the trigger, as in the case of the two young men accused of killing Hadiya.
“I would put most of the responsibility on their parents,” Pendleton said of those who killed his daughter by firing indiscriminately into a park. “It’s a breakdown of discipline in the home somewhere.”
I brought Pendleton back to his point about “the people they hang around with.” I told him what impressed me most at his daughter’s funeral was seeing and hearing from her high school friends, the kind of kids any parent would want their child to have.
That brought us back to Cornelius, who ran around with gang members, at the very least.
“Maybe he wasn’t involved with the gangs. But a funny thing about our society is that you will be judged by the people you are around,” Pendleton said.
I could imagine him delivering that same message to his daughter.
I could also imagine him telling her something else he told me.
“Every child’s life does matter,” Pendleton said.
My point, exactly.