black women

First Lady Michelle Obama Meets the Parents of Hadiya Pendleton

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by Dr. Boyce Watkins

The nation has grieved the shooting death of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year old honor student who was killed very close to the home of President Barack Obama.  The young woman was shot shortly after performing for the president’s inauguration, and has become a symbol of the cyclone of violence that has engulfed the city of Chicago.

The community made calls for President Obama to attend the girl’s funeral as a show of support for the victims of inner city violence.  The president was highly responsive to killings in Colorado and Connecticut, but there are those who felt that he was ignoring violence that involved black children.  Hadiya’s shooting not only got the attention of the black community, but the White House also took notice, since the killing occurred in a neighborhood deemed to be “safe.”

“She’s important because all of those lives and voices of those families who were ignored — she now speaks for them,” said Hadiya’s godfather, Damon Stewart. “I don’t believe in coincidence — God needed an angel. God needed to send somebody for us to change.”

Hadiya’s mother, Cleopatra Pendleton, spoke at her daughter’s funeral, stating that: “No mother, no father should ever have to experience this.”

Mrs. Obama didn’t speak at the funeral, but did meet privately with Hadiya’s parents.   The president also sent a note promising to fight the gun violence problem that has impacted the nation.

The president’s note said this:

“Michelle and I just wanted you to know how heartbroken we are to have heard about Hadiya’s passing. We know that no words from us can soothe the pain, but rest assured that we are praying for you, and that we will continue to work as hard as we can to end this senseless violence.”

The city of Chicago has registered 506 homicides since 2012, with most of the victims being young people.  A close friend of mine who does autopsies in Chicago told me how much it hurts her heart to see that so many of the victims are black and brown high school kids.  While some of us are conditioned to believe that senseless death is acceptable in certain communities, we must be reminded that every child deserves the opportunity to live, even if they were not blessed with the opportunity to be born in the suburbs.

I applaud the first lady for attending Hadiya’s funeral, and I believe she actually cares.  It’s hard to imagine an older black woman from the south side of Chicago not caring about a young black woman from the south side of Chicago.  Hadiya was a young Michelle Obama:  Bright, beautiful, happy and full of promise.   I wonder how many other young Michelle Obamas have been victims of stray bullets in urban communities across America:  The morgues and prisons have extracted many of the most valuable human resources in the black community, and we’re the ones being blamed for it.

This incident is a reminder to those of us who care about the violence that politicians are most responsive when you tell them what you want.  Michelle Obama wasn’t sent to Chicago because someone in the White House suddenly decided that black kids are important.  She was sent because of the clear and vocal call by the black community for the president and/or his team to do something, anything, that shows that they support our kids as much as they cry for the little white kids in Colorado and Connecticut.  Not that those tragedies aren’t horrific, but equality mandates that the response to our children be just as compassionate.

The calls for the president’s support are not treasonous, nasty or disloyal:  They are part of the fundamental requirement that we all use our Democratic voice to get access to government resources that we create with our tax dollars.  Most of us voted for Obama and without black support, he’d be sitting wherever Mitt Romney is sitting right now.   So, the next time someone criticizes you for not loving President Obama, you might want to say this:  “Loving Barack is the job of his wife and kids.  My job is to vote for him and then demand that he does his job of being the president of all people and supporting my community as he does for others.”  If you don’t tell the president what you want, then you shouldn’t be surprised when his administration doesn’t respect you, that’s how the game of politics is played.

The final thing that we must keep in mind is that there are hundreds of other kids who’ve died but didn’t get the attention of Hadiya.  The heightened reaction to Hadiya’s death was driven by numerous factors:  Her proximity to the president’s home, the fact that she was an honor student, her recent performance at the inauguration and the smiling, dimpled picture on the headline of every newspaper across the country.  Had she been a young black male with bad grades on the “wrong” side of the city, the story wouldn’t have gotten past the fine print of the local newspaper (I saw this first hand when my best friend was shot in the head many years ago).

The point here is that we must grow past the illusion that some of our kids simply deserve to die.  We have to stop thinking that the rise in violence in black communities occurred solely because black people are less ethical, less intelligent and less productive than white people.  We must remember that violence was a direct product of the fact that many kids have an easier time getting access to drugs and guns than they do to getting a job or a good education.  This environment was created and maintained BY DESIGN, and I don’t know a single gun manufacturer on the south side of Chicago.  Where are these guns and drugs coming from anyway?  They aren’t coming from us.

Rest in Peace Hadiya, we love you.  Bless you Michelle Obama for showing that you care.  Now, for the rest of us, let’s get back to work, because our children must ALL be protected.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and author of “The 8 Principles of Black Male Empowerment.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.