Honoring Hadiya

By News | Last updated: Feb 5, 2013 - 7:23:35 PM

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The death of Hadiya Pendleton is a tragedy and our hearts go out to her parents, family, friends and all who feel her loss.


To participate in the inauguration of a president one week and to be shot and killed by an unknown gunman the next makes her passing seem even more tragic. According to those who knew her, Hadiya exuded love, life and a great desire to succeed. She was a gifted person, a beloved daughter and a trusted friend by all accounts.

But in some ways, her passing shows the dichotomy of Black life in America: A single Black man holds the most powerful political post in the country but the masses of Black youth remain at risk.

Hadiya Pendelton (Black uniform, 2nd from right) with members of the King College Prep Marching Jaguars.

Police say the teenager was shot at as she huddled with friends under a shelter, fleeing rain, in a park near the president’s home in Chicago. The shooter was a male and the incident was gang-related though Hadiya and none of her friends were associated with gangs, police say. The incident was triggered by the mistaken belief that some gang members had gathered in an area where they did not belong, police say.

With her senseless slaughter have come cries of anguish, cries of anger, cries of outrage and cries of despair. While it may be less troubling, or even comforting, to some when gang members shoot one another, the death of a bystander brings dismay and shock. Many find refuge in the belief that those who indulge in criminal acts get what they deserve and innocents are relatively safe. Wrong.

The specter of violence wrought by self-hatred and ignorance knows no bounds and is no respecter of persons. It is action sparked by rage, bravado, drug and alcohol use, jealousy, or a myriad of other negative thoughts and emotions.

Such violence is the outgrowth of a society that devalues Black life and a deeply ingrained, psychological self-loathing. How else can you explain the indiscriminate firing of weapons at perceived foes without regard to others who are not part of the conflict? You can only shoot someone who looks like you down in cold blood if you see no value in the individual—and a lack of value in yourself. Blacks in America have been taught and trained that the way to exude strength is exhibit the utmost depravity and brutality in dealing with one another. It is a sick mentality that needs to be healed and must be eradicated if we are to survive and progress. We can no longer afford to hate ourselves and one another.

It is not improper that President Obama, as the leader of the country, should be asked to come to his hometown to make a statement about Hadiya’s death, the problem of urban violence, and offer solutions and resources to help deal with the problem. The president spoke passionately and forcefully about guns and gun control following the deaths of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn. After that tragedy has come a great debate about guns and reasonable gun laws, congressional hearings, discussions of new legislation at the federal level, additional gun control measures at the state level, and a spotlight on the problem as part of a national conversation.

It is not wrong for a community that gave the president over 90 percent of its vote and has stood strongest with him to ask and expect the president to answer their plea that their pain and major problem be attended to and acknowledged.

These are elements of civic engagement and political leaders are supposed to respond to petitions from their constituents.

It would be something if the death of Hadiya indeed sparked a call for government action that resulted in a true commitment to face the problem of urban violence and the needs of Black youth head-on.

But what if there is no response or what if there is a response, what kind of wake-up call with this death be, if it only results in more pleas for government help in an era where our pleas are simply shunted aside, disregarded or ignored?

Our pleas for presidential action and attention cannot supersede a call for greater unity and coordinated action within our community.

As the youth violence problem is multi-faceted, we have to marshal the resources and forces at our disposal and not simply wait for relief. We need joint principles for action against violence, we need a joint vision for serving our youth (all of them), we need a joint strategy for economic development and job creation starting with the money we receive out of the U.S. economy. Blacks get about $1 trillion a year out of the U.S. economy but complain that they have nothing. We need to pool our resources and unite to do all we can for ourselves and then we can demand from a government that takes our tax dollars that those dollars come back to us for use where they are needed most.

We need the knowledge of self and the time. We need a particular knowledge that will replace a White supremacy-laden leprous mindset with the mind of the Original Man and Woman, which exudes discipline, self-control and self-love. As we destroy the mindset of self-hatred and Black inferiority, we increase our likelihood of coming together to do all of the above said. But while self-hatred, suspicion and envy reign, we will forever find a reason not to support, not join, to respond, not to participate, not to save lives.

This is another moment and another opportunity to break with the past and avoid the heartbreak of unkept promises, faulty analysis and programs doomed to fail. We must take responsibility for ourselves today. As we become more responsible to ourselves, we can build the unity necessary to hold others accountable and force them to act on our behalf. Emotional pleading and well-thought out arguments are not enough, we need collective action and collective will to exert our collective power.

That is the proper way to honor Hadiya and all of the others we have lost.