After the death of Hadiya Pendleton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Min. Louis Farrakhan and many other activists urged President Obama to come to Chicago and address the problem of gang violence. Following such calls, First Lady Michelle Obama attended Hadiya Pendleton's funeral and invited Hadiya's mother to attend the State of the Union. President Obama wrote a letter to Hadiya's family, mentioned Hadiya during his State of the Union address and traveled home to Chicago to speak about violence and poverty. This is a prime example how the voices of the people can make a difference.
As the Chicago Tribune reports:
President Barack Obama returned to Chicago for a few hours Friday to address the high-profile gun violence that continues to plague his hometown and suggested the solution is not only more gun laws, but community intervention and economic opportunity in impoverished neighborhoods.
The president didn't delve into his specific call for an assault weapons ban and other gun control measures, instead choosing to illustrate Chicago's plight by comparing it to the December elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were shot.
"There was something profound and uniquely heartbreaking and tragic, obviously, about a group of 6-year-olds being killed," Obama told an audience in the gymnasium of Hyde Park Academy High School, less than a mile from his home. "But last year, there were 443 murders with a firearm on the streets of this city, and 65 of those victims were 18 and under. So that's the equivalent of a Newtown every four months."
The president's visit brought a national and international spotlight on Chicago's gun violence. Emanuel sought to make the case Chicago's struggles aren't particular to this city.
"Like every major city in the country, Chicago faces two critical challenges: the strength of our schools and the safety of our streets. Our streets will only be as safe as our schools are strong and our families are sound," Emanuel said.
But the president brought the violence issue back to the city's streets, talking about the impact the shooting death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton has had on him and first lady Michelle Obama, who attended the band majorette's funeral last weekend. Hadiya was shot in Harsh Park in North Kenwood after returning from Chicago from inauguration weekend festivities.
The teen's mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, joined the 700 or so students, politicians and religious leaders in the audience, sitting with a group of other mothers of slain children.During his speech, President Obama said that:
"No law or set of laws can prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. When a child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child's heart that government can't fill. Only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole...There are entire neighborhoods where young people, they don't see an example of somebody succeeding. For a lot of young boys and young men in particular, they don't see an example of fathers or grandfathers or uncles who are in a position to support families and be held up and respected. And so, that means this is not just a gun issue... Nothing that would be more important for us reducing violence than strong stable families. We should do more to promote marriage."
Some progressives take issue with the President talking about fatherhood and marriage. After some reflection, I don't. I strongly sympathized with the President when he said, "I wish I had a father who was around and involved." It may be uncomfortable to hear, but the President is speaking the truth about fatherhood and community. Although the presence of strong fathers in the home is not a solution to all of the problems plaguing the black community, strong fathers and strong mothers together forge strong communities. Please stop pretending that fathers don't matter.
Without love, support and guidance from family and community, all of the government programs in the world will not save our children. Even if the schools have equal funding and resources, students will not succeed if they do not value education. If even if there are jobs available for our young people, without the proper guidance and values, many of them will continue to chose dealing drugs over legitimate lower paying jobs. When the family is absent, many young people turn to gangs to fill that void. Gangs give them that missing sense of identity, brotherhood and manhood. Without strong and positive men in their lives, many young men turned to thugs, gangsters and dealers as role models to emulate.
Today's popular mainstream hip hop music reinforces and perpetuates this self-destructive behavior. Many hip hop songs feed and glorify gangs, violence, drug use and drug selling. Instead of instilling pride and celebrating true African American heroes, mainstream rap idolizes notorious drug dealers like Big Meech, Larry Hoover and Frank Lucas. That ignorance is epitomized by the controversy regarding Lil Wayne's despicable lyrics referencing Emmett Till. Unfortunately, many young people have more respect for a minstrel like Lil Wayne than they do for the President of the United States.
The broken families and degenerate music are not the only problems in the black community. The churches and mosques have failed our communities as well. Sadly, too many religious leaders are more concerned about building beautiful cathedrals and large congregations than they are about building our communities. Instead of concentrating on enriching their bank accounts, our religious leaders must focus on saving souls and lives. So, yes. The President is correct for stressing the importance of family, community and clergy.
The President also realizes that government is vital to remedying the problems haunting urban areas. Although Obama did not use the words "black" or "African American", that speech focused on the Black Agenda. He described a multifaceted approach to addressing violence and poverty in the black community. He began by urging Congress to pass reasonable gun control laws. Further, the President talked about "building ladders of opportunities for everybody willing to climb it." Then, he talked about reforming child support laws to get more men working and engaged with their children. The President acknowledged that men without jobs will not be present and financially supportive.
Many of us have urged the President to develop targeted plans to specifically ameliorate the problems of high unemployment and poverty in the black community. Last night, Obama made steps in the right direction. He talked about creating tax incentives to encourage businesses to invest and hire in struggling urban communities like Chicago. Such businesses would bring jobs and opportunities to economically depressed black communities. The President also talked about increasing the minimum wage. Such an increase will substantially benefit poor people who are disproportionately African American. The President talked about creating jobs through construction projects building affordable housing and repairing dilapidated buildings in blighted urban communities.
Finally, the President talked about ensuring that every child receives a quality preschool education. He went on to describe his plan to reform high school education. His proposed reforms would give students the necessary skills to obtain good jobs upon graduation. In the words of Malcolm X, "education is the passport to the future." Providing quality education is the best way to fight crime.
Instead of wasting precious time debating about marriage and fatherhood, we should join the President and support his education, minimum wage, jobs and gun control initiatives.
This article is cross-posted on Jack and Jill Politics.