First Lady Michelle Obama visited Chicago yesterday to continue the conversation on gun violence as lawmakers in Washington geared up to debate tightening national gun laws.
At a luncheon hosted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Mrs. Obama addressed Chicago business and community leaders, urging them to invest in opportunities and resources for youth across Chicago that would keep them away from violent activity and give them alternatives to gangs and drugs. She acknowledged that while gun regulations currently being debated in Congress introduced by the President after the Newtown tragedy deserve a vote, reducing the daily homicide rate in Chicago will also require a coordinated effort by community leaders so that Chicago youth have equal access to opportunities that put them on a path to success, no matter the background or neighborhood they come from.
Mrs. Obama’s speech turned personal and emotional when she made reference to the February shooting of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot in the back while hanging out with friends at a Park just one mile from the Obama family’s Chicago home. “As I visited with the Pendleton family at Hadiya's funeral, I couldn't get over how familiar they felt to me. Because what I realized was Hadiya's family was just like my family. Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her,” Mrs. Obama said tearing up.
The story of Hadiya’s death is too common in Chicago. And this kind of violence is what young people are dealing with every single day. Opportunities for youth are missing in these communities, and this is what Mrs. Obama sees as the biggest deterrence to overcoming violence.
“You have to wonder, what if, instead of roaming around with guns, boys like [Hadiya’s shooters] had access to a computer lab or a community center or some decent basketball courts. Maybe everything would have turned out differently. Maybe they would be doing their homework or taking jump shots or learning a new program instead of looking for trouble. Maybe if these kids saw some kind of decent future for themselves instead of shootings, there would just be fistfights, some angry words exchanged. And then maybe, just maybe today, more of our young people would be in classrooms and at jobs instead of in custody, facing even worse odds than they started out with.
So at the end of the day this is the point I want to make. That resources matter. They matter. That what it takes to build strong, successful young people isn’t genetics or pedigree or good luck. It’s opportunity.”
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