Michelle Obama: “Hadiya Pendleton Was Me"

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 10 2013 5:11 PM

Michelle Obama: “Hadiya Pendleton Was Me"

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First lady Michelle Obama gets emotional as she speaks to guests about the murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton during a speech about combating youth violence at a luncheon April 10, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Citing the death of Chicago teenager Hadiya Pendleton, killed days after performing at Obama's inauguration, Michelle Obama entered the gun violence debate today in a speech to Chicago business leaders.

The First Lady's most quotable line of the day resonates with her husband's remarks following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Michelle Obama, who grew up in the South Side of Chicago, said “Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her,” adding:

"But I got to grow up and go to Princeton and Harvard Law School and have a career and family and the most blessed life I could ever imagine. And Hadiya? Oh we know that story. Just a week after she performed at my husband's inauguration, she went to a park with some friends, and got shot in the back. Because some kid thought she was in a gang. Hadiya's family did everything right, but she still didn't have a chance. And that story, the story of Hadiya's life and death, we read that story day after day, month after month, year after year In this city and around this country. I'm not talking about something that's happening in a war zone halfway around the world. I'm talking about what's happening in the city we call home. The city where we're raising our kids."
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Michelle Obama attended Pendleton's funeral in February. After her speech Wednesday, the First Lady went to Harper High School, where 29 current and former students have been shot in the past year. Recently, the school was the subject of a two-part This American Life story that examined daily life amid Chicago's gun violence.

Although the First Lady's speech emphasized sustained community responses to combat endemic gun violence, the first lady's Chicago trip was not without reference to the president's effort to reform the country's gun control laws in the wake of the Connecticut elementary school shootings. The White House has been pushing hard on gun control legislation this week. On Monday, the President spoke in Connecticut, standing with family members of Newtown shooting victims. Those family members were in Washington on Tuesday lobbying for gun control reform, which will likely face its first vote in Congress on Thursday.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.