Updated: June 5, 2013 8:51PM
Carolyn Murray first met Barack Obama when the former community organizer was in his campaign push for U.S. Senate. She never thought she would spend time with him later after he became president — at least not under these circumstances.
Her son, Justin Murray, 19, was shot on Nov. 29, 2012, while standing near his grandmother’s house in Evanston. He had been living in San Diego, and had been back in the city for only a matter of hours.
In January, Carolyn Murray accepted an invitation by Rep. Jan Schakowsky to attend the State of the Union Address, where she stoically held Justin’s picture as the president spoke of the toll of gun violence nationally and “on the streets of Chicago,” pushing for firearms reform.
Three days later, she listened again as Obama addressed gun violence at the Hyde Park Career Academy on the South Side.
After the speech, she waited patiently for the president to walk the line and when it was her turn, she quickly told her story.
“Carolyn, how are you doing?” Obama asked.
“It’s been hard,” she said.
“If you need anything, I want you to call me,” she recalls him saying with the sincerity of a neighbor talking over a fence. “You know how to reach me, right?”
Before Justin died, Murray said she played two roles in her community. She was a busybody — an activist that was sick of seeing children with nothing to do and one that was tired of hearing gunshots in her neighborhood. More important, she was a single mother raising her children.
With Justin murdered, her activism is now personal.
On June 29 she is planning a gun buy-back in Evanston. It will mark seven months since Justin’s murder. She also is planning a youth rally and march against gun violence.
“I don’t know how comfortable I am in my new skin,” Murray says. “It’s growing on me.”
She is trying to get a political figure to attend the rally, but is exasperated because no one will commit.
“If it was an election year, this wouldn’t be a problem,” she says after hanging up the phone with a state official’s office.
Later she remembers one offer.
“I will ask the president to be there.”