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President Obama greeted Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, the mother of slain 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, as he visited Hyde Park Academy in Chicago on Friday. Hadiya Pendleton was gunned down as she stood with friends after school in a park that is located near Obama’s Chicago home.

Zbigniew Bzdake, Chicago Tribune

Obama tackles violence at home

  • Article by: KATHLEEN HENNESSEY
  • Tribune Washington Bureau
  • February 15, 2013 - 7:23 PM

CHICAGO - President Obama returned home on Friday to a city shaken by the gun violence he has sworn to curb, delivering a call for communities to "fill the hole" in the hearts of troubled young people.

Although Obama is pushing gun-control measures in Congress, he made few references to his legislative goals as he spoke to an audience at a high school on Chicago's South Side. Instead, he focused on the role of communities and parenting in preventing violence.

"For a lot of young boys and young men in particular, they don't see an example of fathers or grandfathers, uncles, who are in a position to support families and be held up in respect," Obama said. "And so that means that this is not just a gun issue; it's also an issue of the kinds of communities that we're building."

The emphasis was notable for a president who has rarely waded publicly into the politically perilous waters of urban politics, race and poverty. Obama often aims to be seen as a broader figure and has focused much of his economic message at the middle class.

Despite his recent emphasis on gun violence, he had, until now, notably not inserted himself into the scourge of violent crime in his hometown, a city now run by his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

In deciding to return to Chicago during a spate of murders, the newly re-elected president made clear he would not avoid such issues.

In recent weeks, many there have called on him to come to Chicago to speak about gun-related violence, much as he did after the massacre in Newtown, Conn. The pressure mounted after the death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot shortly after returning home from his inaugural celebrations in Washington.

Obama responded Friday by declaring that "what happened to Hadiya is not unique."

"It's not unique to Chicago. It's not unique to this country. Too many of our children are being taken away from us," Obama said, adding that the homicide tally in the city last year was "the equivalent of a Newtown every four months."

The high school gym in which Obama spoke is in an area loaded with symbolic resonance and personal history. Hyde Park Academy is in the neighborhood the president represented as a state senator less than a decade ago. It is less than half a mile from the stately home he still owns and is just a few miles from where Pendleton was killed.

Obama greeted the largely black crowd warmly. "Have a seat. You all relax. It's just me. You all know me," he said.

He spoke of raising his daughters in the neighborhood and meeting his wife, Michelle, there. He noted his work as a community organizer. And he touched on his upbringing by a single mom, declaring that he, too, had gotten into trouble as a teenager. "I wish I had had a father who was around and involved," he said.

Addressing a group of teenagers in an anti-violence program, Obama said he could relate to their troubles. He had a safety net that kept him from getting into too much trouble, Obama said. "But you guys are no different than me."

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