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MARY MITCHELL: Michelle Obama’s return for Hadiya’s funeral fulfills her destiny as Mom-in-Chief

Updated: March 10, 2013 6:36AM



When first lady Michelle Obama comes home Saturday to attend Hadiya Pendleton’s funeral, she will be standing for herself as well as for her powerful husband.

Since Hadiya’s tragic death, there’s been a drumbeat for President Barack Obama to come to Chicago to address urban violence.

The 15-year-old girl was killed by gun violence a little more than a week ago in a park only a short distance from the Obama’s Kenwood home.

But the first lady’s decision to come here is likely her own.

Before moving to Pennsylvania Avenue, Michelle Obama was very much the kind of person who would be there for a neighbor in crisis.

The first time I met her was at a casual brunch organized by one of her friends for someone who became discouraged after she was abruptly let go from her high-profile job.

At the time, Barack Obama was a state senator. Michelle Obama showed up bearing a covered dish like all the other guests and left quietly after sharing words of encouragement.

That was sometime in 2004, and, of course, a lot has happened to her family and to the families she left behind.

The first lady’s return home to attend the funeral of yet another of the city’s promising youth also will have a political downside because it will further thrust Chicago’s epic battle against urban gun violence into the national spotlight.

That she will be accompanied by Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, both of whom were heavily involved in Chicago’s governance, also will make this very much a uniquely Chicago story.

That can’t be helped.

This show of respect by the White House for the Pendletons’ loss will do more to get the message across that this tragedy is no different from the school shooting tragedies in Newtown and in Columbine than a speech ever could.

Hadiya was gunned down in the middle of the afternoon, believed by police to be an unintended target . One week earlier, the King College Prep student had performed with members of the school’s band at inaugural events.

Understandably, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has tried to downplay the ongoing street violence. Each new tragedy has been met with the unveiling of a new round of stats and policing strategies designed to show that the mayor is taking aggressive steps to stem the bloodshed.

But 2013 got off to a particularly bloody start, with Hadiya becoming the 42nd murder victim.

Michelle Obama’s return to Chicago to pay the first family’s respects has the potential for political fallout not just for the city, but also for the White House.

After all, it is one thing for the first lady to return to her hometown to encourage other mayors to adopt the city’s plan to address food deserts as she did in 2011, and quite another to show up when the city is grappling with 42 murders in a single month.

Just as her support of the mayor’s food desert symposium triggered criticism that her endorsement did little to improve the situation, some will dismiss her decision to attend Hadiya’s funeral as mere symbolism.

But there are no quick fixes when it comes to urban violence, just as there are no quick fixes when it comes to mass shootings.

Nothing the first lady does will ever be seen through the same lens as her show of support for a neighbor that day nearly a decade ago.

Still, when Michelle Obama comes home to comfort this grieving family, she will not only be putting the spotlight on urban violence.

She will be fulfilling her destiny as Mom-in-Chief.



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