Hadiya Pendleton was laid to rest today in Chicago and, though her funeral was attended by high profile politicos and community activists, her family insisted that her death should not be used for political brownie points:
“Don’t let this turn into a political thing. Keep it personal,” Damon Stewart, Hadiya’s godfather, said. “A lot of politicians will try to wield it as a sword. They want to use it for votes.”
Stewart also quoted Hadiya’s father, Nathaniel Pendleton, as saying, “This isn’t political, this is personal.”
First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Civil Rights leader Jesse Jackson, Jr. were all in attendance. Despite strident calls for President Barack Obama to attend, he did not make the trip back to his hometown, opting, instead, to send a handwritten message that was printed on the back of Hadiya’s funeral program:
“Dear Cleopatra and Nathaniel, 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. God Bless.”
The Chicago Tribune has more:
Despite the heavy security because of the attendance of first lady Michelle Obama and other dignitaries, Hadiya’s funeral at the Greater Harvest Baptist Church only occasionally touched on politics and the gun violence that ended Hadiya’s life, instead focusing on a 15-year-old girl whose smile lit up the room.
Her mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, briefly spoke to the standing room only crowd, often with a smile and even a laugh.
“My baby did all this,’’ she said, wearing a big red flower on her chest and a sparkly scarf, and clearly enjoying the music. “This is all Hadiya.’’
“The outpouring of support has been absolutely amazing,’’ she said.
She explained that at points, “you kinda do not know how to act,’’ and some people might not understand “our sense of humor’’ or “why I have a smile on my face.’’
“But I’m not worried about her soul,’’ she said.
Friends from Hadiya’s King College Prep High School drill team, who performed with her at President Obama’s second inauguration just 8 days before her death, shared memories of their friendship — as did her best friends, one of whom recalled Hadiya whispering the answers to them in Chemistry class to loud laughter.
The First Lady met privately with about 30 of Hadiya’s friends, classmates and family members prior to the service and made a quiet exit at its conclusion.
Stewart said that he was aware of a contentious debate on Facebook, with many people questioning why Hadiya’s death was more important than any other death in Chicago or around the country. He responded with conviction:
“I’m not going to buy into the hype. What makes this girl so much better than the others?”
“She is important because all those other people who died are important,” Stewart said. “She is important because all of the families who were silent, she speaks for them. She is a representative of the people across the nation who have lost their lives.”
As previously reported by NewsOne, Hadiya had just finished taking final exams at school and was taking shelter from the rain with a group of students in Harsh Park — about one mile from Obama’s Southside home — when a gunman jumped a fence and shot at the group. Hadiya, fatally shot in the back, was an “unintentional target,” according to authorities.
There is currently a $40,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest for her murder.