In an obvious nod to the pressure of Chicago’s black community, President Barack Obama will visit Chicago Friday. According to both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune, he is coming to specifically discuss gun violence even as his "main focus" remains his economic message following Tuesday's State of the Union address.
A White House official has also said that Obama’s Chicago speech will "talk about the gun violence that has tragically affected too many families in communities across Chicago and across the country."
The mother of Hadiya Pendleton, 15, whose shooting death at a South Side park brought national and international attention to Chicago's unrelenting gun violence, will attend the president's address in Washington as a guest of first lady Michelle Obama, family spokeswoman Shatira Wilks said late Sunday.
To be sure, the president's Chicago visit is a long overdue response to pleas and demands from anti-violence activists that Obama get more directly – personally – involved in the efforts to curb the city’s virtually overwhelming drumbeat of gun violence.
Some of these “activists” are taking direct “credit” for the president’s appearance here. "This is an important issue," said Cathy Cohen, founder of the Black Youth Project, which garnered about 45,000 signatures in an online petition urging Obama to speak up. "We think of this as a victory for all of us,"the Tribune quoted her as saying.
The Black Youth Project posted the petition on change.org following the King College Prep student's murder one week after she performed with her school band at Obama's inaugural festivities.
Hadiya’s killing helped to mark last month as the deadliest January in Chicago since 2002, according to the Tribune. Pastors, parents, teachers, and activists of all stripes have consistently demanded that more be done by all concerned about the city's violence.
Although first lady Michelle Obama attended Hadiya's funeral Saturday and personally comforted Hadiya’s family, Hadiya's godmother, LaKeisha Stewart, said she has not heard whether the president will himself spend time with the Pendletons during his visit.
Still, Stewart said she is happy and grateful for Obama's plans. "Any awareness that can be brought to this issue that can prevent any family from ever feeling the pain that we as a family have felt … is awesome," she said. "This city is in pain right now," Stewart told the Tribune.
Nathaniel Pendleton, Hadiya's father, said, "If (Obama) decided to speak with us, we'll be more than happy," according to the Tribune.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said the president's presence and remarks will bring a different dynamic and tone to this situation -- different from the role that Michelle Obama played as “comforter” at Hadiya's funeral. Neither the first lady nor any other “political” types spoke at the funeral.
But, "Her being there is very important since it was her neighborhood," Jackson said in a Tribune article.. "I think the president's coming is important because she did not deal with the politics. … She dealt with the calming concern for a broken-hearted family."
Earlier this month, Jackson made a personal appeal for the president to speak directly to the constant flow of blood in Chicago.
Other families who have experienced this madness will finally feel some measure of concern when Obama speaks. They will appreciate that he has heard them, and will now move to do something about this sad situation, said Annette Nance-Holt, who lost her son Blair Holt in 2007 after he was shot on a crowded city bus.
"This sends a message to the parents here that their kids are important too," Holt told the Tribune. "It may not have been a big shooting with an assault rifle. But to see (Obama) come and hopefully rally some support here means a lot."
The White House said the president will also visit Asheville, N.C., and Atlanta as well as Chicago this week. He will use his “bully pulpit” to follow through on issues addressed in his State of the Union speech Tuesday.
"The president will travel to Chicago for an event amplifying some of the policy proposals included in the State of the Union that focus on strengthening the economy for the middle class and the Americans striving to get there," a White House official said in a statement.
A number of ministers on Sunday also praised Obama's decision to speak in Chicago. "Hopefully and prayerfully, his coming will make a real impact," the Rev. Kenneth Giles of Second Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in the South Austin neighborhood told the Tribune.
The Tribune also reported that Rev. Michael Pfleger, senior pastor of the South Side's St. Sabina Catholic Church, said he is grateful the president is "zooming in" on the issue.
It is also being reported that the president’s visit to Chicago is a last minute “add-on” to his North Carolina and Atlanta itinerary.
What is happening is as clear as mud. I am sure, in fact I know, that in addition to all of the praise and adulation Michelle Obama received while she was here Saturday, she also got an earful from folks who told her to her face that they were beginning to lose “faith” in the president. The comparisons between his responses to the mostly white and middle class victims of mass killings has been stark, even breathtaking.
My guess is that Michelle reported to the president that all is not well in Mudville, and that he’d better hurry up and do something about it. Thus, Chicago has been “penciled in” for Friday.
That old adage still stands: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”