CHICAGO (CBS) — First Lady Michelle Obama came to Chicago on Wednesday to attend a conference on efforts to reduce violence, and to speak to local students about crime in their neighborhoods.
The first lady was joined by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and local business leaders and philanthropists at a luncheon at the Hilton Chicago Hotel to discuss youth violence.
Michelle Obama repeatedly invoked parallels between her life and Hadiya Pendleton’s life.
“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,” said Obama.
Michelle Obama urged the business community to dig deep to come up with the last $17 million needed for the Get Involved Chicago program for after school and violence prevention programs across the city.
After the luncheon, Mrs. Obama visited Harper High School in West Englewood, to meet with a group of 22 students and two school counselors, and talk about the students’ experiences with crime and gangs in their neighborhood. She chose Harper because 29 current or former students have been shot in the past year; 8 of them died.
The focus of the private meeting here was to get some genuine input and ideas about how to curb the street violence plaguing her home town and Harper’s own student body.
The first lady entered Harper’s hushed library and greeted the 19 students and teachers chosen to meet with her.
“I want to do a lot of listening I want to learn about what is going on in your lives and what is going on in your schools and your communities. I want you to tell me what you think I need to know to tell the president, to tell the rest of the country,” the first lady told the students.
Michelle Obama arrived for her meeting at 2:40 this afternoon after most students had been dismissed.
Principal Leonetta Sanders said she gave some advice to the students about their meeting with the first lady.
“The conversation that we’ve had is for students to speak from the heart; to just be true, and really have in that conversation with the first lady about how it is to live here in the Englewood community, and how violence has truly impacted you,” she said. “Even if you are an A student, or you’re a student that’s challenged with academics, the point of the matter is all of our students have been affected by gun violence.”
The luncheon earlier in the day is part of the mayor’s effort to raise $50 million to help at-risk youth.
“The first lady’s coming to the city of Chicago, so we can have those resources, so we can continue to provide all the children of the city of Chicago to complement the fact that, in the budget, we have had a 30 percent increase in after-school programs,” he said. “We’ve doubled our summer jobs. We’ve given 5,000 kids pre-K, full-day, plus parent teaching.”
Emanuel said the idea is to reduce the risk of kids getting involved in gangs, drugs, and violence. The mayor is expanding the Windy City Hoops basketball program, for example, and wants to identify and expand other proven programs that help reduce youth violence.
“Policing is not enough. Prevention – and what I mean by that: after-school programs, midnight basketball, summer jobs, and raising the resources to make sure that our kids have adult-supervised, safe activities to go to,” she said.
Most recently, the first lady came to Chicago in February to announce an effort to help kids exercise. A couple weeks earlier, she came to Chicago to attend the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, an honor student gunned down near the Obama family’s home in Kenwood.
Michelle Obama has formed a relationship with the Pendleton family, sitting next to Hadiya’s parents at President Barack Obama’s gun control speech at the White House, as well as the State of the Union address.
She also invited Hadiya’s mother, Cleopatra Cowley Pendleton, and Hadiya’s 10-year-old brother Nathaniel to the annual Easter egg roll at the White House.
Meanwhile, Congress was set to vote Thursday on a bipartisan deal to expand the requirement for federal background checks on more gun purchases. The deal would require background checks on purchases at gun shows, and online.