On Gun Violence and Opportunity, First Lady Gets Personal

Michelle Obama (Getty Images)
Michelle Obama (Getty Images)

(The Root) — First lady Michelle Obama traveled to Chicago on Wednesday to deliver a speech on gun violence. In it, she didn't just promote her husband's proposed legislative reforms. She also got personal — and emotional — as she drew parallels between her life and the life of 16-year-old Hadiya Pendelton, who was shot and killed days after she performed at January's inauguration festivities.


Ultimately, Obama used her speech to link opportunity, resources and safety — and to argue that kids growing up in her hometown and elsewhere are entitled to all of these. Read some excerpts and watch the video here:

And as I visited with the Pendleton family at Hadiya's funeral, I couldn't get over how familiar they felt to me. Because what I realized was Hadiya's family was just like my family. Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her. But I got to grow up, and go to Princeton and Harvard Law School, and have a career and a family and the most blessed life I could ever imagine …

This kind of violence is what so many young people like Hadiyah Pendleton are dealing with every single day. And those two boys charged with her shooting — this is the violence they were facing as well. And you have to wonder: What if, instead of roaming around with guns, boys like them had access to a computer lab or a community center or some decent basketball courts? Maybe everything would have turned out differently.

Maybe they would be doing their homework, or taking jump shots, or learning a new program instead of looking for trouble. Maybe if these kids saw some kind of decent future for themselves, instead of shootings, there would just be fistfights, some angry words exchanged. And then maybe — just maybe — today, more of our young people would be in classrooms and at jobs, instead of in custody, facing even worse odds than they started out with.

See, at the end of the day, this is the point I want to make — that resources matter. They matter. That what it takes to build strong, successful young people isn't genetics, or pedigree, or good luck. It's opportunity. And I know from my own experience. I started out with exactly the same aptitude — exactly the same intellectual, emotional capabilities — as so many of my peers. And the only thing that separated me from them was that I had a few more advantages than some of them did. I had adults who pushed me. I had activities that engaged me, schools that prepared me to succeed. I had a community that supported me and a neighborhood where I felt safe.

And 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. And that is why this new fund that you've created here in Chicago is so important. It is so important …

Right now, my husband is fighting as hard as he can, and engaging as many people as he can, to pass common-sense reforms to protect our children from gun violence. [Applause.] And these reforms deserve a vote in Congress. [Applause.]

Join me and Hadiya's classmates and young people across this city who, by the way, even in the face of so much hardship and such long odds, are still fighting so hard to succeed …