63rd Street: Coverage of Obama's Gun Violence Speech

Obama Photo

Obama addresses the crowd at Hyde Park Academy.
(White House video screengrab)

63rd Street IconBy Clayton Guse
The Red Line Project

Posted: Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013

President Barack Obama returned to Chicago on Friday to address the city’s high level of violence, emphasizing that stricter gun laws, better schools and stronger families are essential in “giving every child every chance in life.”         

But with 443 victims of gun violence here in 2012, 65 of whom were younger than 18, many children are not getting those chances.

“That’s the equivalent of a Newtown every four months,” the president said before a crowd of 700 at Hyde Park Academy, less than a mile away from his Kenwood home. “Americans are asking for common sense proposals to make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun.”

Obama stressed that gun control is only one part of the solution to a much larger problem.

“This is not just a gun issue,” he said. “It is also an issue of the kinds of communities that we are building, and for that we all share responsibility as citizens to fix it.“

The president said that the battle for stronger communities starts at home, and if the economies of Chicago’s poorest communities are going to improve it must begin with “strong, stable families.”

Interactive timeline: Track murders in Chicago for the first six weeks of 2013.

Further, he said that his administration will continue to work with the private sector and faith communities to help promote strong families and fatherhood. Obama pointed out that he was raised by a single mother, but said that “loving, supporting parents” are the single most important thing for a child's development.

“What makes you a man is not the ability to make a child, but the courage to raise one,” he said.

Education was another key point in the president’s speech, as he emphasized that the earlier children attend school, the more likely they are to succeed. Every dollar invested into early childhood education produces $7 down the road, he said.

“Let’s give every child across America access to high-quality public preschools,” he said.

Obama Photo
Obama talked about his personal life growing up in a single-parent home. 
(Photo/Clayton Guse)

Beyond the need for quality education, Obama said that quality wages are necessary to strengthen the economy as a whole and help working families move away from poverty and toward the middle class.

“We should reward an honest day’s work with honest wages,” he said, “and that is why we should raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour.”

Yet even with his pushes for policy change, Obama kept pushing responsibility back into the hands of communities themselves.

“We recognize that government alone cannot solve these problems of violence and poverty, “ he said. “Everyone has to be involved.”

Before his address, the president gave this same message to members of Hyde Park Academy’s “Becoming a Man” (BAM) program, which provides young men with a forum to discuss their issues.

“We made a connection connected,” said Robert Scates, a BAM member and senior at Hyde Park Academy. “His father wasn’t there and my mother wasn’t there.”

Obama pointed out that growing up in a single-parent home was much easier for him than it is for many Chicago kids today.

“When I screwed up the consequences weren’t as severe as when kids on the South Side screw up,” Obama said.

Some of Chicago's most powerful officials were in attendance at the speech, including Gov. Pat Quinn, Sen. Dick Durbin, congressman Bobby Rush,  Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, as well as clergy members.

While many of these officials can help effect change in Chicago's at-risk communities, Obama pushed that change must start on the ground.

“It takes just one person to stand up in each community that’s negative,” Scates said, “and if one person stands up, we can all take over our community.”

The president’s speech came just six days after Michelle Obama was in Chicago to attend the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, a teenager killed less than two miles north of Hyde Park Academy. Pendleton’s parents, Cleopatra and Nathaniel, attended the speech and sat with Michelle Obama at Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

“Unfortunately, what happened to Hadiya is not unique,” Obama said. “Too many of our children are being taken away from us.”

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