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‘This should hurt everybody’ Hadiya Pendleton laid to rest

Updated: March 11, 2013 6:55AM



All eyes turned as Michelle Obama walked down a flight of stairs from the balcony into the sanctuary of the Greater Harvest Baptist Church, greeted other dignitaries, then took her seat at the homegoing of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton.

Moments later, the First Lady stood at Hadiya’s casket — it was Cleopatra Pendleton’s last chance to gaze at her daughter before the casket closed — and she will forever have the memory of standing there held by Mrs. Obama. Time stopped.

Then the grieving mother lost it, her soulful wails that at various times echoed throughout the sanctuary beginning again, and Mrs. Obama at first trying, then stepping aside to let those who knew her better, console her.

With that, the funeral service for the Chicago teenager killed on Jan. 29 at Harsh Park in the 4400 block of South Oakenwald Avenue — less than a mile from President Obama’s Kenwood home — began.

And for nearly four hours, as Mrs. Obama and other dignitaries sat respectfully and listened — Mrs. Obama did not speak at the funeral — those who knew Hadiya held a celebration, filled with torrential tears certainly, but lots of laughter too.

Her large family, and friends spoke of a teen whose smile could light up any room.

A jokester with a sweet baby voice, which made it hard to take her seriously even when she was upset — which she rarely was.

A teen active and equally talented in sports, cheerleading, band, dance.

An honor student who pushed all her friends to do better in school, expressing genuine pride when they did; and whispering answers to them in chemistry class.

A saved youth who would drag her friends with her to Greater Deliverance Temple Church of Christ, where she was a praise dancer and volunteered in the nursery.

And near the end of the service, Hadiya’s mother would capture best the agony and unexpected spotlight that came with her only daughter becoming a national face of unbridled gang and gun violence in President Obama’s hometown.

“All of this, the outpouring of support in the passing of my daughter, has been absolutely amazing,” Cleopatra Pendleton said, with a half-laugh.

She’d just climbed to the podium, as the choir gave a rafter-shaking rendition of “God will make a way” at her request, and surveyed the borrowed church filled with dignitaries, friends and strangers numbering at least 1,000.

There was a teary Mrs. Obama in a front row, seated next to White House Chief of Staff Valerie Jarrett and Education Secretary Arne Duncan — all three, like Hadiya, raised on the South Side.

There was Gov. Pat Quinn; Mayor Rahm Emanuel; Congressmen Bobby Rush and Danny Davis — who had sponsored Hadiya’s recent trip to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration; Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County Clerk Dorothy Brown; and a host of politicians.

“My baby did all this. It’s all Hadiya,” her mother said. “We got the First Lady as a mother in the house. If I knew how to dance, I would.”

So the choir and her pastor, Courtney C. Maxwell, broke out in a good old Baptist church jig — multiple feet skipping nimbly — for a mother filled with the spirit.

“The first thing out of my mouth, after I got up off the floor and got myself together, was, ‘I’m not worried about her soul. I know where she is,’” Cleopatra Pendleton said, smiling down on her remaining child, 10-year-old Nathaniel, Jr., resting his head in the embrace of father Nathaniel.

“Of course, I’m going to say my baby was a good girl. But when y’all say she was a good girl, that’s something different,” she said.

“I just want to say to everyone, thank you so much. You don’t know everything. You don’t know how hard this really is, and those of you who do know how hard this is, I’m sorry. No mother, no father should ever have to experience this,” she continued.

“I put her in things, and I kept her busy, so she wouldn’t run into the elements. I had her thinking from the time she could speak,” she said.

Doing that and all the right things — as speaker after speaker noted — wasn’t enough to protect her child from a gang banger with a gun that day, as Hadiya and friends took shelter from the rain in a park near King College Prep.

But, the mother said, this was a celebration, and she didn’t mind it going long.

“I’m not rushing,” she told the audience. “This is about my baby.”

The wake began at 9 a.m., the funeral at 11 a.m.

Mourners had begun lining up as early as 7 a.m. outside the church at 5141 S. State, where police had cordoned off the street with metal fencing that ran for blocks. A swarm of media trucks and reporters watched from across the street.

And when the Secret Service opened the doors to the general public at 9 a.m., everyone had to pass through metal detectors and a full-body scan.

Once the church reached capacity, many people were turned away.

During the wake, Mrs. Obama holed up in a private room off the balcony, where small groups of Hadiya’s friends and King College Prep classmates were escorted a few at a time to meet with her.

Then Mrs. Obama spent time with the immediate family. The First Lady, in a svelte black dress and black suede, high boots, walked down the stairs just after 11 a.m., at the same time the family filed in.

The First Lady’s visit comes as the president pushes Congress to pass legislation to curb gun violence, and as her husband is expected to make that appeal in his Tuesday State of the Union address.

A photo of the hand-written message the president had sent the family in wake of the tragedy graced the back of Hadiya’s funeral program.

“Michelle and I just wanted you to know how heartbroken we are to have heard about Hadiya’s passing. We know that no words from us can stop the pain, but rest assured that we are praying for you, and that we will continue to work as hard as we can to end this senseless violence. God bless, Barack Obama,” it read.

But no politicians spoke at the funeral — activist priest the Rev. Michael Pfleger was the closest it came, invited by the family to share his call for gun control and an end to the no-snitch culture. No arrests have been made in Hadiya’s killing.

All other speakers were family members, and youth — who poignantly articulated their sense of loss. One after the other they came, her best friends and team members, approaching a podium with their memories, their poems, their demands for change.

And another family member, Hadiya’s godfather, Damon Stewart, drew rousing applause when he addressed a thought that perhaps had crossed the minds of many.

“I read on Facebook where someone said, ‘I’m not going to buy into the hype. What makes her more important than any of the other 42 people that died in January?’” Stewart recounted.

“Well, she’s important because all those other people who died are important. She’s important because all of those lives and voices of those families who were ignored, she now speaks for them. If you say this is painful to you, prove it. Don’t give us lip service. Show us. Don’t make this political. This is personal,” Stewart said.

“This should hurt everybody,” he said.

At the end of the service, Maxwell thanked Mrs. Obama, who received a rousing ovation.

Then she rose, and exited through a side entrance.

Hadiya was buried at Cedar Park Cemetery in Calumet Park.

As the procession arrived at the cemetery, the King College Prep school band, in full uniform, led the way toward the burial site, majorettes sashaying, batons twirling.

At the grave, where Hadiya’s coffin sat above a purple and white vault, her peers played Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” in tribute.

The crowd gathered under and around a blue canopy, said the Lord’s Prayer, a benediction.

The coffin was lowered just as the sun started going down.

Cleopatra Pendleton wailed.

Contributing: Mark Brown



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