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Michelle Obama to Friends of Hadiya Pendleton: 'Stay Strong'

By DNAinfo Staff on February 9, 2013 6:06pm

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — First lady Michelle Obama told young friends of slain teen Hadiya Pendleton that they need to "stay strong" and look forward to their bright futures, students said.

The first lady met privately with students, friends and family before the funeral for Hadiya, the 15-year-old King College Prep student who was fatally shot blocks from the school Jan. 29.

“She was trying to give us encouragement, things to be looking forward to…going to college, making something of ourselves,” said King sophomore Klyn Jones, who shared memories of Hadiya during the service.

“She told us, if she wanted to be anywhere in the world, it was here,” said Tomás Friehs about his meeting with Michelle.

 Mourners embrace each other after Hadiya Pendelton's funeral service.
Mourners embrace each other after Hadiya Pendelton's funeral service.
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DNAinfo/Justin Barbin

Tomás said the first lady told them to “hang on” and “stay strong.”

“It’s difficult to deal with something like this when you’re young,” he said outside Greater Harvest Baptist Church after the service.

In a letter to Hadiya's parents, President Barack Obama said he and the first lady were "heartbroken" to hear of Hadiya's passing.

"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," the president wrote in a letter displayed at the funeral.

As Hadiya became the young face of gun violence across the country, her funeral attracted many people who didn't have a direct connection to the girl.

Hundreds huddled in line well before the scheduled 9 a.m. wake Saturday to try to make it into the church, which seats about 1,000, and an overflow room, where the service was televised.

Raydell Lacey, a Bronzeville resident, didn't know Hadiya but related with the pain of the slain teen's mother.

Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton said during the service, “You don’t know how hard this is. And for those of you who know how hard this is, I’m sorry.”

Lacey's 21-year-old daughter, Elonda, was murdered nearly 20 years ago in Iowa, and seeing Cleopatra speak “opened old wounds” for the mother.

“There’s no way that we should be burying our children,” she said, wearing a shirt with the words "Not before my parents" written across it. “In my 57 years I’ve never seen so many people burying their children.”

But Lacey was inspired by the day's speakers that both celebrated and mourned 15-year-old Hadiya. She was happy so many young students spoke out against violence when sharing memories.

“This isn’t about us, it’s about her and how she brought forth a message,” Lacey said. "We need the kids to get to the kids, because [adults] can't get to them."

Dr. Mildred Harris, a minister who delivered the benediction, said she could already see Hadiya becoming a force of good by bringing together so many different parts of the community.

Students, classmates, coaches and members of the many different organizations Hadiya was involved in — majorettes, volleyball and band were just a few — spoke about the girl, as well as pastors of several different faiths.

“God is really going to use Miss Pendleton to energize the youth to…combat the violence taking place in Chicago,” Harris said, adding that she has seen many young people begin to come together to form praryer groups at churches in the wake of the King student's death.

Others echoed thoughts that Hadiya would become a force for change in a city that has drawn national attention because of its murder rate.

Brooklin Phelps, a sophomore at Kenwood High, watched the "beautiful" service from the overflow room.

“You could tell she was really loved," he said. "She has started something very powerful. She now has a legacy... a legacy to help stop violence.”