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Mitchell: President gives families of violence a reason to hope

Lil Wayne. | Scott Stewart ~ Sun-Times

Lil Wayne. | Scott Stewart ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: March 18, 2013 7:02AM

As Hyde Park Academy’s gymnasium filled up with dignitaries waiting to hear President Barack Obama’s remarks on Friday afternoon, one group stood out.

They were the mothers and fathers of other high-profile victims of the city’s gun violence.

Although Hadiya Pendleton has become the face of urban gun violence, there is a roll call of families impacted by the reckless use of firearms.

Pamela Bosley’s son, Terrell Bosley, was shot and killed outside of a South Side church in 2006.

Annette Nance-Holt lost her only son, Blair Holt, in 2007, when a 16-year-old gang member fired into a bus, killing Blair as he shielded a friend.

Carolyn Wortham’s son, Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham IV, was gunned down outside of her Chatham home — the home he grew up in — by thieves who wanted his motorcycle.

For them, Obama’s speech was more than a swing-by to push his second-term agenda.

It was a recognition that the White House was finally ready to tackle the devastation gun violence is causing in urban cities.

“We are happy that the president is here calling attention to the issues that we are dealing with in the urban area,” Wortham told me before the president’s speech.

“Hopefully this will be a beginning of finding some resolution to the violence.”

Obama noted that last year there were 443 murders with a firearm in the city and that 65 of those victims were under 18 years of age.

“So that is the equivalent of Newtown every four months,” he said.

But he didn’t talk about stricter gun laws or putting more cops on the street or locking up more gun-toting gang-members.

The president talked about the fundamentals of raising kids.

“[N]o law or set of laws can prevent every senseless act of violence in this country,” he said. “When a child opens fire on another child, there’s a hole in that child’s heart that government can’t fill — only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole.”

Obama, who grew up without his own father, clearly understands that urban gun violence can’t be fixed by government alone.

“For a lot of young boys and young men, in particular, they don’t see an example of fathers or grandfathers, uncles, who are in a position to support families and be held up and respected,” he said.

The president pointed to his plan to “partner” with 20 of the hardest-hit communities in America to get them “back in the game.”

“First, we’ll work with local leaders to cut through red tape and improve things like public safety and education and housing. And we’ll bring all the resources to bear in a coordinated fashion so that we can get that tipping point where suddenly a community starts feeling like things are changing and we can come back,” he said.

Bringing that message to the South Side of Chicago is “major,” pointed out Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina, an activist who has confronted the gun violence around his own South Side church.

“We don’t want a Band-Aid. We really want to end it,” he told me shortly before the president’s speech.

“The answer is jobs, education, addressing poverty and issues around guns. It is all of it. If we don’t do a full-court press on this issue, it is only going to be a Band-Aid.”

Nance-Holt, who became a notable voice against gun violence after her son’s death, agreed.

“This is the time for things to happen. If we don’t do it now, it is not going to happen. Those of us who have been fighting know we should not have had to lose Hadiya. This is a big issue in every community, every day,” she said.

In his remarks, Obama acknowledged Hadiya’s grief-stricken parents, Nathaniel and Cleopatra Pendleton.

But as the slain girl’s cousin, Shatira Wilkes, noted, while Hadiya may now be a symbol for the crusade to end urban gun violence, to them she was simply a beloved member of a family.

“When you have a moment, the grief is going to consistently take place,” Wilkes said.

“A member of our family is missing.”

On Friday, the president gave these families a reason to hope.

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