It has been a deeply painful year for Nathaniel and Cleopatra Pendleton. It was a year ago that their 15-year-old daughter was shot and killed in a Chicago playground in a case of mistaken identity by a gang on the city’s South Side.
The death of Hadiya Pendleton, the honors student who performed at President Obama’s inauguration a week before her death, ignited a national discussion on urban gun violence that eventually included the president and First Lady Michelle Obama, who spoke at the teenager’s funeral.
In an interview with BET.com, the Pendletons said they have tried to channel their pain through working with a nonprofit foundation they created to bring attention to urban youth violence and helping young people in Chicago to avoid resorting to firearms to settle their disputes.
“With the foundation, we want to target at-risk youth,” Cleopatra Pendleton said. “We feel that it’s important to deal with our grief by putting together something that will have long-term impact.”
Still, the year since the death of their daughter has been filled with moments of great pain and anguish, she said.
“Someone took from us something that was so valuable,” she said. “To have an offspring taken from you is extremely difficult. We would never want to see anyone else deal with this kind of issue. We just want to work to make sure that things don’t get to the point where this kind of situation is considered to be common. The possibility of a child dying should be foreign.”
Nathaniel Pendleton said that he and his wife remain shocked by the level of gun violence, even as officials in Chicago cite figures that show a decline in gun-related deaths. It is important, he said, to use his energy to work for change in their community. Indeed, their community in Chicago has rallied to their side, he said.
“I believe that there are people who share our pain and feel deeply for our situation,” he said. “A lot of people still acknowledge us and offer their condolences. It’s really a beautiful thing to see how people in this community continue to open their arms to us.”
The Pendletons say they have been dismayed by the lack of action by Congress on passing what they consider to be “common sense laws” regarding firearms.
“There are a lot of sensible gun laws that have not been enacted,” Cleopatra Pendleton said. “And it’s very sad and disheartening that they haven’t been passed. I don’t think any law-abiding citizen has an issue with universal background checks. I don’t see why they won’t act.”
They say there is never a day when they don’t think about their daughter. “She was on the right path and had a bright future ahead of her,” Cleopatra Pendleton said. “We still feel pain, deep pain.”
The one thing that brings them comfort, she said, is the continued response of the community and their work with the Hadiya Pendleton Foundation, which now has office space in the Bronzeville section of the South Side of Chicago.
“Despite everything that’s happened, I have a lot of faith in our community because of the way they have embraced us,” Nathaniel Pendleton said. “I know there is a platform for us to make significant change. The support we’ve gotten over the last year makes me confident positive things can still happen. We feel that we have to try.”
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(Photo: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)