As Jennifer Hudson closed her eyes, holding that last note of the national anthem at the Democratic National Convention in August, one can only imagine what she was dreaming in that brief moment. Certainly not about the nightmares October would bring.
As much of the country is brimming with promise, poised for hopeful discussions about how far we've come as a nation, the shocking and brutal murders of Hudson's mother, brother and nephew in Chicago are vicious reminders of the harsh realities in many black communities that will remain unchanged next week—regardless of the outcome on Nov. 4.
Hudson's Oscar, her No. 1 hit and her $100,000 reward weren't able to save her family from the combustible mix of social forces that left her loved ones vulnerable in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. And as inspiring and transformational as he may be, there will be nothing a President Obama can do to magically erase years of crumbling schools, more convictions than graduations, absent role models and father figures, crack vials and corner liquor stores.
"Michelle and I were absolutely heartbroken to learn about this unimaginable tragedy, and we want Jennifer to know that she is in our thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time," said Sen. Obama in a statement released by his campaign. The Obamas also prayed for the swift return of the boy the Hudsons called "Dr. King."
Back in August, Hudson told Entertainment Tonight that singing at the convention was one of her "biggest honors." She may have been thinking of little boys like her nephew Julian when Hudson described Obama as a "great role model." Not a savior.
That Obama and Hudson both shot to stardom from Chicago, a city where murders—mostly black on black—are among the worst in the country, underscores a reality familiar in many black families. William Balfour, Julia Hudson's estranged husband, being held as a "person of interest" in the case, was on parole. He served seven years in prison for attempted murder. The black gossip site, Bossip, posted an item after the murders entitled "Why Would Jhud's Sister Marry This Thug?", questioning openly what many have thought in secret. How is a woman with the epithet "Academy Award winner" attached to her name so closely linked to such a man? Ask renowned black scholar Michael Eric Dyson why his brother is serving a life sentence for murder. Ask Venus and Serena Williams why their sister, a nurse and mother of three, was killed by a gang member. Ask any one black person who made it, about the dozen or more people close to them who didn't.
Shots were heard in the Englewood neighborhood where Hudson's mother lived at around 9 a.m., according to neighbors. The police weren't called until 3 p.m. That's when Julia, Hudson's older sister and Julian's mother, entered the home, discovering her family murdered and her son missing. Hearing gunshots was routine in the neighborbood. Calling the cops was not.
On Monday, Chicago police identified a body found in an SUV as Hudson's nephew, 7-year-old Julian King. He was found on South Kolin Avenue. The Obamas' Chicago home is about 30 minutes away.
Come January 2009, should Barack Obama be standing at a podium with one hand on a Bible and the other pointing to God, some might be tempted to view the moment as a cosmic conclusion to all battles fought since January 1863. Jennifer Hudson, and millions of other Americans caught between the worlds of success and tragedy, will know it is not that easy.
Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root.