Michelle Obama: 'Hadiya Pendleton was me; And I was her'

April 10, 2013 8:58:46 PM PDT
''I'm here today because Chicago is my home,'' first lady Michelle Obama said. ''My story would not be possible without this city.''

The first lady spoke at a conference at the Hilton Chicago hotel Wednesday afternoon put on by the City of Chicago and civic leaders who want Chicago businesses and executives to support community-based programs that help at-risk kids. The program hopes to raise $50 million.

"Thousands of children live in a neighborhood where a funeral for a teenager is unfortunate, but not unusual," Obama said. She spoke about Hadiya Pendleton, and how she and the murdered teen shared a similar story growing up in Chicago.

"Hadiya's family was just like my family. Hadiya Pendleton was me. And I was her. But I got to grow up. . . And Hadiya, you know that story. Just a week after she performed at my husband's inauguration, she went to a park and got shot in the back because some kid thought she was in a gang," Mrs. Obama said. "Hadiya's family did everything right, but she still didn't have a chance."

She said she wants to get Chicago's young people off the streets, and back on the right track for successful lives.

"Resources matter. They matter. What it takes to build strong, successful young people . . . is opportunity," Obama said. "Maybe more of our young people would be in classrooms and jobs instead of custody."

Mrs. Obama was introduced by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"For our kids to live up to their potential, we have to live up to our obligations to them," Mayor Emanuel said. He said the community's involvement is second to that of a family. "That's why we want to reach back and grab another kid's hand."

Mayor Emanuel said the first lady volunteered to come back to Chicago to help promote the program. So far, the Public Safety Action Committee has raised $33 million from the private sector. The money will be used to develop or expand athletic, artistic, and educational youth programs.

Obama's visit comes the day before the U.S. Congress begins debating firearms restrictions. The White House is mounting a vigorous push for action this week.

"We all know that these reforms must be one part of a comprehensive program," Mrs. Obama said.

The statement is a departure from her usual advocacy on apolitical issues such as childhood obesity.

"The fact that the First Lady is getting involved in politics is always a risk. It hurt Hillary Clinton badly. It hurt Bill Clinton badly. But it's a calculated risk because they need to pull out all the stops right now if they want to get any kind of gun legislation passed," ABC7 News Political Analyst Laura Washington said.

Michelle Obama visits Harper High School

During the Chicago trip, Mrs. Obama also visited Harper High School on the city's South Side. Students shared their stories of violence with the first lady. She offered a little advice.

"The best thing you can do for yourself in your life is to be really be serious about your education. That is truly the ticket in this country to get where you need to go," Obama told the students.

For more than two hours, Obama met with 19 students from the school. It was a moment that some students described as a turning point.

"This is a new journey for me now," Harper High School student Ronald Ligon said. "We had a few people cry because they were so emotional. I was emotional, too. I almost cried."

Authorities say 29 current or former students at Harper, located in the West Englewood neighborhood, have been shot in the past year; eight of them died.

"She said I'm from Chicago, and I know these streets. These are my streets. So she said there ain't nothing under the sun that people in my family ain't went through. So she knows how we feel already," student Kwame Ward said.