Hadiya Pendleton once performed there as a baton-twirling majorette, but on Wednesday the stage at King College Prep was filled with classmates, who sang, danced and read poems to commemorate the one-year anniversary of her death.
The school band played “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys. One girl broke down while reading a poem. And during an a cappella version of “Take Me to the King” performed by the school choir, the audience of about 300 students, teachers and staff, began to clap and sway.
Pendleton, 15, was shot in the back by a gunman who approached her and some friends who’d sought refuge from a drizzling rain at a North Kenwood neighborhood park.
Hadiya, an honor roll student, had attended President Barack Obama’s inaugural festivities not long before her death. She became a national symbol of Chicago’s problem with gun violence when she was slain just a mile from Obama’s Kenwood home. The president mentioned Hadiya in his State of the Union speech last year as her parents sat in the audience, and the first lady attended her funeral.
On Wednesday, Hadiya’s mother and father, Cleopatra and Nathaniel, and younger brother, Nathaniel Jr., sat in the front row alongside Mayor Rahm Emanuel, at the school, located at 4445 S. Drexel. Emanuel addressed the crowd saying, “Let us all remember the lessons she taught and the joy she brought.”
One of Hadiya’s favorite teachers, Erik Young, read a poem in the poetry slam style titled “Kaleidoscope of Hope.” A portion of the poem read:
“She is an angel now, serving a divine providence. What happened to her does not make lots of sense … and through the tears, heartache, grief and disbelief, we have to start to make this violence cease … We don’t need any more eloquent editorials, we don’t need more elegant memorials, we need to uphold virtues and values and to resemble them, we need to remember and relish the life of Hadiya Pendleton.”
About two weeks after her death, two reputed gang members who mistook people in Hadiya’s group for rivals were charged with the murder.
The memorial was “a celebration of her life,” said King student Christopher Horace, who knew Hadiya. “Of course, there was some sadness in the room, but most of all, we were remembering all the good times we had with her.”
Her parents on Wednesday both wore T-shirts bearing images of Hadiya. Since her death, they have campaigned against gun violence.
Hadiya herself appeared in an online video in 2008 imploring kids to stay away from gangs.