CHICAGO — President Barack Obama made a push for gun control legislation Friday afternoon during a stop at Hyde Park Academy, where he again mourned the death of Hadiya Pendleton, slain not far from where the president spoke.
"Too many of our children are being taken away from us," Obama said as Hadiya's parents, Nate and Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, looked on.
Obama arrived in Chicago Friday afternoon to talk about strengthening the middle class during an invitation-only speech at Hyde Park Academy that drew close to 700 people, just a short distance from his Kenwood home.
As Obama took the stage, a few students from the top of the bleachers to his left yelled, "We love you!"
"I love you, too," Obama said.
After singing the praises of Hyde Park — where he fell in love with his wife, Michelle — Obama's speech quickly turned to the gun violence plaguing Chicago and the country.
Hadiya Pendleton was killed on Jan. 29. She had returned a week earlier from the president's inauguration, where she performed with other majorettes at inauguration festivities.
Since her slaying, Hadiya has become a national symbol in the gun control debate.
Obama said Hadiya's tragic death is not unique, and the compared the Sandy Hook shooting to the 65 children under 18 murdered in Chicago in 2012.
"That’s the equivalent of Newtown every four months," he said.
Obama called for a tightening of gun laws, but also touched on the importance of giving children from imporverished communities role models and hope in their future.
"It can feel like for a lot of young people the future only extends to the next street corner," he said.
Obama talked about his own childhood when meeting with students in the "Becoming a Man" mentorship program before his speech.
Robert Scates, a member of the program and Hyde Park Academy Senior, said he told the president about how the encouragement of his mentor helped him become a better student.
Scates said that helped him go from being a kid whose chronic tardiness led to many suspensions and poor grades to an honor roll student with college in his future.
“The president told me it was a story he could relate to. He had his own struggles,” Scates said. “Just like it wasn’t easy for him to become president as a black man, it’s not going to be easy for me to chase my dreams. He told me I can do it...There’s nothing I can’t do."
Meeting the president had an impact on Scates, who said it was a story he will tell his grandchildren.
“This is something that sparked a change in me. I can feel it," he said.
During his speech, Obama focused on preventing violence by building communities not stifled by joblessness, poverty and despair.
"This is not just a gun issue," he said. "It's also an issue of the kinds of communities that we're building, and for that, we all share responsibility as citizens to fix it."
He touched on the importance of education, jobs and strong families to keep children away from violence.
"He recognized the issues that we have here in Chicago, whether it's getting guns off the street and providing a safe environment for our children or the other programs behind that that will prevent gun violence, and I think it's another good support system for Chicago, not just symbolic but real support," said Police Supt. Garry McCarthy afterward.
Before Obama took the stage — nearly 45 minutes behind schedule — Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said the president coming to Hyde Park "means a lot" to Chicago's battle against gun violence.
"It means he's bringing some attention to the problem we're having in the city of Chicago and the surrounding area," Beale said. "He knows we've been fighting this gun issue for a very long time.
"He's pushing for comprehensive common sense gun legislation, so what better place to come than the place that we've been fighting that fight for a very long time. I think it sends a message. It sends a message that we need to act on this, and we need to act on this now."
Hadiya Pendleton's parents sat with Michelle Obama during the president's Tuesday State of the Union speech.
The president invoked Hadiya during the address and said her parents "deserve a vote" on gun control.
“Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house,” Obama said.
Chicago is Obama's third stop since his State of the Union speech. He visited Asheville, N.C., Wednesday to push for a federal minimum-wage hike. The president stopped in Decatur, Ga., Thursday as part of his push to provide preschool for all 4-year-olds.