Today in Chicago, Illinois, President Barack Obama will travel to Hyde Park Academy to discuss proposals unveiled in his State of the Union address (SOTU) on Tuesday evening. During perhaps the most moving part of his remarks, the President highlighted the tragic death of young Hadiya Pendleton who was gunned down by a stray bullet near her school in the windy city.
The President discussed the senseless violence that took her precious life, and he literally brought everyone to their feet – even some of his biggest opponents – as he reminded us that all the victims of gun violence deserve action from us.
In a city like Chicago, where young children are dodging bullets just to get to school, this President has chosen to speak here today and address the crisis head on.
After attending far too many funerals than I would have ever imagined and after consoling countless grieving families across the country, I can’t even describe the sense of hope and relief I felt on Tuesday night, and that I feel yet again today. I know I’m not alone. For far too long, we as a nation have ignored the anguish and suffering of parents, grandparents, and children: the veil has finally been lifted from our eyes.
On Tuesday, the President said the following about the slain Hadiya:
“One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton,” said the President on Tuesday. “She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.”
And as President Obama shared this tragic story, Hadiya’s parents sat in the First Lady’s box.
While addressing the nation during one of the most-important speeches, President Obama made sure that the victims of gun violence included young Black children who are dying on a daily basis on our streets. He mentioned Newtown, Gabby Giffords, Tucson, Oak Creek, Aurora – and he mentioned Hadiya.
For those of us on the ground that have been pushing back against rampant violence, this was a moment that can’t be understated. All across the country, parents, teachers, grandparents, community activists, mentors, and young folks run after-school programs, counsel troubled youth, conduct gun buyback events, and even pull kids off of the street in order to provide food and shelter.
They are the unsung heroes that never look for a reward or acknowledgment – all they want is to create a better future for the next generation. For those everyday champions, and the family members of victims in cities from state-to-state, the President’s inclusion of Hadiya spoke volumes.
Now the entire country can recognize that the face of the gun violence tragedy also includes our young Black and Brown babies.
While working as the National Executive Director of the National Action Network (NAN), I have come across more grief-stricken families than I would have ever imagined. But perhaps nothing moved me more than the heartbreaking story of young Lloyd Morgan Jr. last summer.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to erase the image of a little white coffin from my memory.
The casket couldn’t have been more than 4 ft. long, and inside this tiny space lay the lifeless body of this innocent 4-year-old. I painfully watched Lloyd’s parents and loved ones bury this precious child whose life was cut short by a stray bullet near his home in the Bronx, N.Y.
No parent should ever face this sort of catastrophe in a country as advanced as ours.
In cities like Chicago, this unimaginable scenario has almost become a daily routine. I’m encouraged and hopeful that our President is addressing the issue where it affects people the most.
As the debate surrounding gun control measures continues in the weeks and months ahead, we as a country have to make sure that a two-prong strategy is created. While we establish universal background checks, we must provide appropriate mental health services, job and educational opportunities to young people who are desperately in need of them.
And thanks to the President’s words on Tuesday, our collective job is a bit easier, but we can’t let the moment pass us; we must do something today.
Not tomorrow or later, but today, right now. As we heard in the SOTU — and as we see daily on the news — the victims of gun violence are all of us. It could be a playground near your house, the movie theater, the mall, the grocery store, a religious gathering, or just walking outside; sadly, violence can take place anywhere.
We should not have to live in fear like this. We need to enact a two-prong strategy immediately. We owe it to Hadiya, we owe it to little Lloyd, we owe it to the babies of Newtown, and we owe it to ourselves.
As President Obama said:
“We were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can. … We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another every single day, usually without fanfare, all across the country. We should follow their example.”