Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


Youth Violence in America’s Cities… Remembering Chicago’s Hadiya Pendleton

On January 29th, 15-year old Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed in Chicago.  As has been widely reported and discussed, she was killed just days after returning to Chicago from Washington, DC, where she performed in the inaugural parade celebrating President Obama's election to a second term.  As described in all of the reports I've seen and read, Hadiya was a great student, a fun and loving daughter, sister and friend, and an all-around great person.  Similarly, she seems to have made all of the right decisions, remained in all of the right places, with all of the right people, and still fell victim to the senseless violence that pervades our nation's cities.

This young girl's murder struck a nerve in me that was different, in many ways, than the many murders we read about almost every day in this country.  It bothers me to acknowledge this, but it's true.  I feel a sense of pain and loss whenever I hear of these murders of our young children -  especially in and around our major cities, which is where I grew up and have spent much of my adult life.  Helping people to understand and be more responsive to the root causes of this type of violence that pervades our predominantly Black and Brown inner cities and close-in suburbs is a part of the work I do professionally.  But still, what I felt when I heard of Hadiya's murder was different.

I've thought a lot about why this affected me the way it did.  I think it's because the circumstances surrounding this tragedy are very familiar to me.  I grew up in Detroit during the 1970's and 80's.  Detroit was considered the world's murder capital during most of my high school years.  (Interestingly, I moved to Washington, DC just as the nation's capital was taking this not-so-distinguished 'title' from Detroit.  More to say about this, perhaps, some other time.)  Like many people I know and grew up with, my family has been directly impacted by this violence, as have many of my friends and their families over time.  My proximity to and understanding of this violence has greatly shaped my views of this nation's history, of culture, racism (in all of its forms - individual, institutional and structural), politics and the mass media in this country.

Everything I read about this young girl's upbringing reminded me of my own, and that of my closest friends.  My parents, relatives and other extended family were always trying to shield us from the craziness that was happening all around us.  My parents were really close to our friends' families.  We participated in many similar types of say-no-to-drugs and stop-the-violence campaigns and rallies throughout our years of school.  During high school, we took similar leisurely walks away from school grounds after half-days, early dismissals, mid-terms and final exams.  Sometimes these walks led to the movies, sometimes to or through the neighborhood park or playground, or sometimes to one of the nearby restaurants and fast food joints.

And guns were definitely plentiful and easily accessible.  I knew who carried guns and also buy 5.56 ammo online, and I knew who had more experience using them.  They were closer than many of my peers today would imagine.  And they weren't for sport or for hunting - at least not in the sense that America's gun advocates talk about.  I was fortunate in some ways because I was able to steer clear of the more extreme craziness that affected too many of my peers throughout Detroit in the late 80's.

Given my experiences growing up, it bothers me to see some of these people and pundits that talk about these issues with either no reference point for what life is like growing up in our cities, or in some cases trying to pretend like they don't.  And so that brings me to this afternoon's discussion by President Obama concerning gun violence.  I look forward to his remarks, and any ensuing discussion that follows with some of Chicago's youth.  He can't solve this problem alone, but he can do a lot to get more people engaged, and in a more meaningful way, in the types of efforts that will make a difference.  While both types of gun violence are severely problematic and tragic, what happened in Newtown, Connecticut is not the same as what plays out on the Black and Brown streets of America's cities every day.

In the meantime, I wanted to share an emotional discussion that was featured on NPR's Tell Me More with Hadiya Pendleton's mother and some of Chicago's youth.  When I hear her voice, I see so many of the mothers that I have known growing up and now as a father.  I feel the hurt that I observed among my family members, and other friends I have met over the years, who have personally experienced the effects of this senseless gun violence.  When I hear the voices of the youth, I similarly hear and feel - as I did growing up and now as a father - the fear, the anger and the frustration of growing up in a space that others don't see, choose not to see, or even worse, a space that others do see and choose to ignore.

Comments (1) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I saw that on the news, what an unfortunate event, but anything of this nature is always unfortunate. Hope you are well cousin…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

No trackbacks yet.

%d bloggers like this: