Obama talks violence at Hyde Park school

February 14, 2013 10:00:00 PM PST
President Barack Obama came to the South Side on Friday to address the violence that has taken innocent lives in Chicago and push for new gun laws.

President Obama spoke at Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island, just days after his State of the Union address in which he spoke about the murder of Hadiya Pendleton just a mile from his home.

The president offered no new strategies to combat gun violence. What the audience heard Friday afternoon was mostly a pep talk to a demoralized South Side that has suffered through so many shootings and murders.

The people who heard President Obama speak agreed that the president's appearance back in his old Illinois State Senate district was long overdue.

Back in his old district, where he first won public office in 1996, Obama had plenty of hands to shake and old friends to meet, perhaps part of the explanation the event was 40 minutes late getting started.

"It is good to be home," said Obama, greeting the crowd.

The president's first order of business was gun violence and his proposed common sense firearms laws that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and require more in-depth background checks on gun buyers.

"I recognize not everybody agrees with every issue," said Obama. "There are regional differences. But these proposals deserve a vote in the Congress."

Prior to his speech, Obama spent more time than had been set aside to meet with a group of teenagers, some of whom had already been in trouble.

"I had issues, too, when I was their age," said President Obama. "I just had an environment that was a little more forgiving, so when I screwed up, the consequences weren't as high as when kids on the South Side screw up."

The audience included Hyde Park Career Academy students, the families of gun violence victims, black community educators, and religious, civic, and political leaders.

The president also focused on an improved economy as a means to address violence as well as stable families.

"If we're striving with every fiber of our being, to strengthen our middle class," said Obama, "to extend ladders of opportunity for everybody who's trying as hard as they can, if we make that effort, I'm confident that we will write the nex great chapter in our American story."

The president did not mention the Jesse Jackson Jr. plea deal that came to light around the same time as his speech Friday. Obama endorsed Congressman Jackson's re-election last year.

The president departed Chicago's O'Hare Airport at about 5:30 p.m. and headed to Florida for the weekend.

Victims of violence eager to hear president's speech

Many Chicago families who have lost loved ones to gun violence were eager to hear what the president had to say about the problem.

The gathering was just a short distance away from the Kenwood park where 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed in January.

Pendleton's mother and father were in the audience for Obama's speech.

"That's what I absolutely adore about the President and First Lady. They have hearts. And he definitely is a parent," Hadiya Pendleton's mother Cleopatra Pendleton said.

"What struck me the most was the call for the families and the communities to start doing more," Hadiya Pendleton's godfather Damon Stewart said.

Pendleton's family joined others rocked by gun violence.

Pam Bosley, the mother of Terrell Bosley who in 2006 was shot and killed in front of a church, used her face-to-face moment with the president to show him her son's photo.

"And he did look at Terrell's picture, and he said 'we're working with you'. And that really made a difference," she said.

For many, it was a moment of healing perhaps long overdue. The mother of Blair Holt, who was shot on a bus in 2007, said it is up to the community to take action now that Obama has visited.

"So many people were saying why won't the president come here? Why won't he come here? He's from here. Well, he came now. He did what he had to do, and he came. And he talked to us. Now it's up to us to do something," Annette Nance-Holt said.

One of the organizations that led the charge to get President Obama to visit Chicago is Purpose Over Pain, an organization that no one wants to be a part of, made up of parents who have lost children to gun violence.

ABC7's Leah Hope watched the president's speech alongside LaWanda Sterling. In 2010, her son Jeremiah was shot and killed while visiting Chicago from Colorado, where he had moved to get away from the violence.

Sterling was not invited to the president speech Friday, but she was glad to see some other parents were.

"If you invite every mom and dad that has lost a child, you might fill up some auditoriums, but if we can a few powerful people to make a statement so the world doesn't forget about Chicago, it makes a difference," Sterling said.

Sterling said she was glad to see the president in Chicago, but she is also a realist. She says she knows nothing will change overnight, but it is does help her to hear encouraging words and to know that she is not alone.

In three weeks, the young man accused of killing Sterling's son will go on trial.

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