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MARK BROWN: First Lady, other dignitaries pack Hadiya’s funeral, but teen’s “inner light” shone brightest

Gov. PQuinn departs after wake funeral service for sla15-year-old King College Prep student HadiyPendletGreater Harvest Baptist Church Chicago Ill. Saturday

Gov. Pat Quinn departs after the wake and funeral service for slain 15-year-old King College Prep student Hadiya Pendleton at Greater Harvest Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill., on Saturday, February 9, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 11, 2013 7:03AM



The concern going into Saturday’s funeral of 15-year-old murder victim Hadiya Pendleton was that it would be hijacked by the politicians for their own purposes.

Thankfully, nothing of the sort happened, proving the wisdom of Hadiya’s parents, Cleopatra and Anthony, extends beyond child-rearing.

Politicians at funerals are like the old saw about children: better that they be seen than heard.

But as the funeral service stretched well into its fourth hour with all those dignitaries still in their seats and kept far from the microphones, it occurred to me as I looked down on them from the balcony at Greater Harvest Baptist Church that I had it backwards all along.

It wasn’t the politicians or even the media steering this ship that has transformed an unknown teenage girl into a national symbol of the senseless violence gripping this city and so many others.

It’s the spirit of Hadiya Pendleton herself — the way she lived her life — that is holding all of us captive, politicians included.

It’s Hadiya — from her smile to her achievements to her dreams and ambitions — who is forcing everyone to consider their responsibility to the victims of violence, even the ones who aren’t as attractive or sympathetic as her.

“Because of this day, there will be many others saved,” the host pastor, Rev. Eric Thomas, said in his greeting.

Let’s hope that he’s right, although hoping won’t be nearly enough.

The idea that Hadiya had not died in vain, that it was no mistake, that it was part of “God’s plan” to serve a higher purpose, was naturally a theme of what her own pastor, Rev. Courtney Maxwell, called her “homegoing celebration.”

Your reaction to that probably depends a lot on your own faith.

But it really hit home to me in a talk delivered by Hadiya’s aunt, Linda Wilks, who spoke of her niece’s “inner light radiating outward,” her “inner light of spirit,” which is what she believes is causing people around the world to react to Hadiya’s death to when they see her photos and read about her. I think she’s on to something.

Before the service started, a video montage of family photos of Hadiya was shown against a back wall of the sanctuary, interspersed with clips of a butterfly. Each of those photos showed that same smile as she developed butterfly-like from a gap-tooth little girl to the beautiful young woman she was becoming.

I came away from the marathon service more convinced than ever that Hadiya was truly someone special.

Yes, she was the product of an educated, churchgoing family. She was a high-achieving honor student, a volleyball player, a marching band majorette, just back from President Obama’s inauguration — all the stuff that you’ve read.

But what really convinced me was seeing and hearing from her friends, so many of whom described her as their “best friend.” Most important, those friends struck me as exactly the kind of kids with whom you’d want your children to surround themselves, and they all spoke so highly of Hadiya as a leader and a positive influence on them.

Even as I write this, I don’t want to be part of making Hadiya a martyr. I’ve seen too many other young innocents become the symbol that was going to make us change our ways: from Dantrell Davis to Ben Wilson to Eric Morse to Starkeshia Reed to Blair Holt to Derrion Albert.

But there was no room in that church Saturday for cynicism and therefore no room for it in this column.

Arguably, all the political figures who attended Hadiya’s service had to be there, from first lady Michelle Obama, Valerie Jarrett and Arne Duncan representing the White House to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, Gov. Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cong. Danny Davis — seated exactly in that order in the front row.

That’s not to suggest their hearts aren’t in the right place. I’m sure they are.

But whether they’re from City Hall or Springfield or Washington, politicians prefer to pick their own spots, choose their own time and place for tackling an issue.

This one has tackled them.

Chicago’s slow-motion massacre, as some have taken to calling our nonstop death toll, now has a face. It’s a face that will not allow us to look away.

The face of Hadiya Pendleton challenges us to find a place in our hearts for all the young lives claimed by violence and to work together for solutions.



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