Michelle Obama in Chicago: ‘Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her’
BY NATASHA KORECKI Political Reporter @natashakorecki April 10, 2013 7:34PM
On Wednesday, April 10, 2013, First Lady Michelle Obama joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a coalition from Chicago's business and philanthroptic communities to support successful community-based programs that serve at-risk youth. The event was held at The Hilton Chicago. The effort, which is being chaired by Allstate Chief Executive Officer Tom Wilson and Loop Capital Chief Executive Officer Jim Reynolds, calls on Chicago's business sector to raise $50 million to support proven programs that serve at risk youth across the city. The First Lady will address a luncheon on youth empowerment which will include members of Chicago's leading civic organizations: the commercial Club, the Economic Club, the Executives Club, and World Business Chicago. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: May 12, 2013 2:15PM
First lady Michelle Obama in a Chicago visit Wednesday grew emotional, choking on her words as she explained how she struggled to bring comfort to the friends of Hadiya Pendleton the day they were to bury their friend.
“I urged them to dream as big as she did,” Michelle Obama said to a group that gathered to back Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s initiative to raise $50 million from the private sector and invest the money into youth programs in troubled neighborhoods.
In 66 days, the group has already raised $33 million.
Emanuel, the onetime chief of staff to President Barack Obama, featured Mrs. Obama as the headliner at a luncheon in which businesspeople, politicians and philanthropists gathered at the Chicago Hilton. They were prodded to invest in the initiative called “Get In Chicago.”
Mrs. Obama — who, in a rare move also publicly urged Congress to take a vote on gun safety reforms — repeatedly drew parallels between her own life and Hadiya Pendleton. She said she related to the parents of the slain 15-year-old, who was killed just a mile from the Obamas’ Kenwood home. The first lady said she saw so much of herself in Hadiya, whose parents gave her everything they could. They put her in every activity and saw her perform for the president’s inauguration just before she was murdered in a Chicago park.
“Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her,” an emotional Mrs. Obama said. “But I got to grow up and go to Princeton and Harvard Law School and have a career and a family and the most blessed life I could ever imagine. And Hadiya? Oh we know that story. Just a week after she performed at my husband’s inauguration, she went to a park with some friends and got shot in the back because some kid thought she was in a gang.”
Michelle Obama reminded the audience that her upbringing was a humble one that originated in the city’s South Shore neighborhood.
“For me, this is personal. For me, my story would not be possible without this city,” she said.
Earlier in Wednesday’s program, a mother’s grief was visible through the giant screen that displayed a video of testimonials from Chicago youth as well as parents who lost their kids to gang warfare.
At one point in the video, a Chicago mother describes sitting on her front steps and suddenly throwing her arms around her 6-year-old daughter, hoping that bullets from a drive-by shooting would pierce her instead of her child.
“My daughter was not a gang banger, she was only six years old, she didn’t even graduate from Kindergarten,” the mother said.
“I just remember wrapping my arms around her hoping the bullets would hit me, but that wasn’t the case.”
The powerful testimonial was a pretext to remarks by Michelle Obama who said it was her passion to create better opportunities in the city she loves.
“This is the point I want to make — that resources matter,” she said.
Michelle Obama at one point also called on Congress to act on gun violence, urging lawmakers to call initiatives for a vote.
“These reforms deserve a vote in Congress,” she said to applause.
Emanuel, too, wove a tale about meeting up with a young man who took part in the a Friday night hoops program, one aimed at keeping kids off the street.
“We have great kids in the city of Chicago,” Emanuel told the crowd, after telling a story about meeting 16-year-old Martel with superb manners and a bright personality. “All Martel needed was a place to go on Friday night.”
It all appeared to be an effort to put faces on the city’s most troubled neighborhoods. The video, Michelle Obama and Emanuel all told compelling stories designed to resonate with the donors. Emanuel challenged a business community that bankrolled Millennium Park, the NATO Summit and Chicago’s failed Olympic bid to raise $50 million over five years for a higher moral purpose: saving the lives of thousands of at-risk kids.
Mrs. Obama later headed to West Englewood’s Harper High School — where 29 current or former students were shot in the last year, leaving eight dead. She spent two hours there, listening to students and encouraging them to live their dreams.
“Less than 66 days later, we’ve raised $33 million,” said Allstate Insurance CEO Tom Wilson to a round of applause. Wilson co-chairs the campaign which committed the first $5 million. “Everyone that dies is a piece of our future. We all know money alone is not going to fix this problem, but it’s a start.”
Jim Reynolds, CEO of Loop Capital Markets, who chaired the Chicago Housing Authority board before shifting to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, also leads the effort.
Reynolds said the effort isn’t about throwing money at a problem.
“This is about getting in at a ground level and building communities that we can be proud of in 10, 20, 30 years,” Reynolds said.
Emanuel, a formidable fund-raiser himself, asked big business to invest in early intervention programs for younger kids and provide jobs, mentoring, recreation and conflict-resolution programs to give troubled teens an alternative to the gang violence that claimed the life of Hadiya. Hadiya went on to become a national symbol in the gun debate. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk named a portion of a compromise gun bill after her, hoping it would bring support.
The group that packed in watched an emotionally compelling video.
“Every morning when I wake up I wonder if it’s going to be my last day,” said a boy named “Miles” in the video.
The father of Chicago honor student Blair Holt who was shot to death after boarding a bus after school also gave a testimonial.
Michelle Obama’s appearance comes as Congress edges toward a possible compromise on gun legislation.
Chicago’s murder numbers have drawn national attention over the last year, as authorities struggle to get a handle on gang violence. Last month, Emanuel received good news that murders dropped over the previous year.