First lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday delivered an emotional speech about reducing gun violence that focused on slain Chicago teenager Hadiya Pendleton. The remarks were an effort to encourage business leaders to invest in opportunities for city youth, but the first lady also used the appearance to send a message to Congress about the need to pass gun reform.
"Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her," Obama said at the fundraising luncheon in Chicago. The difference, Obama said, was that she "was able to grow up." Hadiya, 15, was shot and killed on Jan. 29 in a Chicago park. Her death occurred one week after she had performed at President Barack Obama's inauguration.
Michelle Obama said when she first met the Pendleton family after Hadiya's death, "I couldn’t get over how familiar they felt to me."
The Obamas have been in personal contact with the Pendletons, who were invited to sit in the first lady's box at the State of the Union, and they have used Hadiya's story to call for a legislative response to gun violence.
Obama began her speech on Wednesday discussing her roots in the city—the place where she was raised, where she worked and met her husband, and where they raised their daughters. Her voice broke as she described how difficult it was to watch Hadiya's friends talk about their slain "best friend."
The first lady said the difference between growing up to be a mother, lawyer and first lady "and being shot dead at the age of 15" were the opportunities she had had in her community, how safe it was, and her parents and schools.
She used Wednesday's experience to press for legislative action back in Washington, D.C. She said her husband is fighting to pass "common-sense gun reforms" to reduce gun violence. "These reforms deserve a vote in Congress," she said.
Congress returned this week from recess preparing to introduce legislation aimed to reduce gun violence.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on Wednesday announced a bipartisan plan to expand background checks to nearly every commercial gun purchase, which was welcomed by the White House.
The White House this week has employed all of its major players to pressure lawmakers to act swiftly on gun reform.
The president spoke on Monday in Hartford, Conn., about the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder held an event with law enforcement at the White House to implore lawmakers not to filibuster legislation. Biden will appear on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Thursday to participate in a gun roundtable.