A few students who were part of a Chicago-based mentoring group called Becoming a Man (BAM), that has a branch at Hyde Park Career Academy, had a chance to meet with Obama before his speech. “These are all some exceptional young men, and I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Obama said of them during his speech.
Besides being in awe from meeting Obama, 17-year-old Corey Stevens said, “I was surprised that we weren’t that much different.”
Stevens, who is part of BAM and aspires to be in law enforcement said, “I think that he needed to come back here and get the message to the people up close and personal and let them know that this needs to stop.”
Father Michael Pfleger, a Chicago Catholic priest known for his activism against gun violence, applauded Obama’s visit back home. “It’s got to be a comprehensive approach,” Pfleger said. “I’m so glad he’s here, because he’s focusing national attention on this.”
Pfleger continued, saying, “We have to look in our urban communities and realize that we have a lack of good schools, lack of employment, abundance of poverty, abundance of folks coming back out of penal institutions with records. Until we deal with all those issues, you create the perfect storm to violence, and this access of guns.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave Obama a warm introduction before his speech. Other dignitaries present included Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, senior Senator Dick Durbin, who referenced Pendleton in a gun hearing shortly after her death, Congressman Bobby Rush, Illinois Attorney General and former seatmate of Obama’s, Lisa Madigan and Cook County Board President Tony Preckwinkle, who used to be Obama’s alderwoman.
Bringing his speech to a close, Obama gave a charge to residents to get involved in creating a stronger economy, helping rid the streets of violence and strengthening family units. “I’m not going to be able to do it by myself, though. Nobody can. We’re going to have to do it together,” he said.
Renita D. Young is a Chicago-based multimedia journalist. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung.