This kind of violence is what so many young people like Hadiyah Pendleton are dealing with every single day. And those two boys charged with her shooting -– this is the violence they were facing as well. And you have to wonder: What if, instead of roaming around with guns, boys like them had access to a computer lab or a community center or some decent basketball courts? Maybe everything would have turned out differently.
Maybe they would be doing their homework, or taking jump shots, or learning a new program instead of looking for trouble. Maybe if these kids saw some kind of decent future for themselves, instead of shootings, there would just be fistfights, some angry words exchanged. And then maybe -- just maybe -- today, more of our young people would be in classrooms and at jobs, instead of in custody, facing even worse odds than they started out with.
See, at the end of the day, this is the point I want to make -– that resources matter. They matter. That what it takes to build strong, successful young people isn’t genetics, or pedigree, or good luck. It’s opportunity. And I know from my own experience. I started out with exactly the same aptitude -– exactly the same intellectual, emotional capabilities -– as so many of my peers. And the only thing that separated me from them was that I had a few more advantages than some of them did. I had adults who pushed me. I had activities that engaged me, schools that prepared me to succeed. I had a community that supported me and a neighborhood where I felt safe.
And in the end, that was the difference between growing up and becoming a lawyer, a mother, and First Lady of the United States, and being shot dead at the age of 15. And that is why this new fund that you’ve created here in Chicago is so important. It is so important.
As you’ve heard, this fund will help create those ladders of opportunities for all of our kids. It will give our children mentors who push them and nurture them. It will teach them the life skills they need to succeed. It will give them alternatives to gangs and drugs -- safe places where they can learn something and stay out of trouble.
Because we know that every single child in this city has boundless promise no matter where they live. And whether we give them the chance to fulfill that promise and grow into productive adults who lead meaningful lives -– see, that’s on us. That’s our job. And our kids know when we’re fulfilling that obligation. They know. They know the difference between lip service and reality. They see it and feel it every single day.
So we can host all the luncheons and make all the announcements we want. But at the end of the day, if our kids keep waking up in neighborhoods where they don’t feel safe on their own front porches, if they’re still attending schools with crumbling ceilings and ripped-up textbooks, if there’s nowhere safe for them to go when that afternoon bell rings, then nothing speaks louder than that. Nothing.
So let’s be clear. This is going to take a serious and sustained investment over a very long period of time, people. This is forever. And I am here today to join the call to all of you -– Chicago’s most distinguished business and community leaders -– to take up this challenge with fervor. And I hope that communities across America will follow Chicago’s lead to get our young people off the streets and back on track to successful lives. (Applause.)
Right now, my husband is fighting as hard as he can, and engaging as many people as he can, to pass common-sense reforms to protect our children from gun violence. (Applause.) And these reforms deserve a vote in Congress. (Applause.)
As he has said, we can’t stop all the violence in the world. But if there is even one thing we can do, even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent from the grief that’s visited families like Hadiya’s and so many others here today, then don’t we have an obligation to try?
But we all know that these reforms must be just one part of a comprehensive effort to rebuild our neighborhoods and build a better future for our children. And if anyone can make that happen, it’s all of you. You all are some of the most creative, innovative, influential people not just in this city, but in the entire country. You have brought together folks from all across Chicago to do great things for this city, like build Millennium Park, host the NATO Summit -- quite well, by the way -- make the lakefront the cultural jewel of the Midwest.
And today, we need you to dig deep and apply that same passion, determination and civic pride to this city’s most precious asset –- our children. Now, we all take great pride in this city. And I don’t just mean the center of it; I mean every single one of the 77 neighborhoods that make us who we are. Each of these neighborhoods is a vital part of this city, as is every single child.
And as business leaders, you all know that this city’s young people are your future workers, your future customers. Their success is critical to the success of your businesses, which is critical to the success of this city.
But you all are also here, I know, today because you know that this is about more than just fulfilling a business obligation or a civic obligation. You all know that this is a moral obligation. Because ultimately, this city and this community will be judged not just by the beauty of our parks and lakefront, or the vitality of our businesses, but by our commitment to our next generation.
I think my husband put it best when he spoke to the people of Newtown, Connecticut back in December, and he said this is –- and this is a quote: “This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?”
That is the question my husband asked -– are we truly meeting our obligations to our children? It’s a question we should also be asking in Chicago and in every corner of this country.
And it was the question weighing on my heart when I met with Hadiya Pendleton’s classmates on the day of her funeral. Dozens of them later spoke at the service, each referring to her as “my best friend.” And let me tell you, it is hard to know what to say to a room full of teenagers who are about to bury their best friend.
But I started by telling them that Hadiya was clearly on her way to doing something truly worthy with her life. I told them that there is a reason that we’re here on this Earth -– that each of us has a mission in this world. And I urged them to use their lives to give meaning to Hadiya’s life. I urged them to dream as big as she did, and work as hard as she did, and live a life that honors every last bit of her God-given promise.
So today, I want to say the exact same thing to all of you. I want to urge you to come together and do something worthy of Hadiya Pendleton’s memory and worthy of our children’s future.
Join me and Hadiya’s classmates and young people across this city who, by the way, even in the face of so much hardship and such long odds, are still fighting so hard to succeed.
We need to show them -– not just with words, but with action -– that they are not alone in this struggle. We need to show them that we believe in them, and we need to give them everything they need to believe in themselves.
I would not be here if it weren’t for that kind of belief. And I know that together, we can do this. (Applause.) So let me tell you this: I look forward to the work that you do. I look forward to you hitting this goal and surpassing it. I look forward to this city being the model of what communities can do to wrap their arms around our youth and make them the best they can be, to embrace all of our neighborhoods and every last one of our children.
Thank you so much. Good luck, and God bless.
Last edited by puppy fields; 04-10-2013 at 05:34 PM.