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Hadiya Pendleton Did Not Die In Vain, Says Student Who Honors Her At Wash U

By Justin Breen | August 12, 2016 6:11am | Updated on August 12, 2016 7:34am
 Atajah Mothershed is at sophomore-to-be at Washington University in St. Louis.
Atajah Mothershed
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CHICAGO — Atajah Mothershed wants Chicago to know Hadiya Pendleton did not die in vain.

Mothershed, 19, said the spirit of Pendleton, who was fatally shot in the back while with friends at a Kenwood park, lives inside her as she's about to enter her sophomore year on a full scholarship at Washington University in St. Louis, one of the country's top schools.

Mothershed was good friends with Pendleton: They went to King College Prep freshman year together before Mothershed transferred to Johnson College Prep in Englewood as a sophomore.

Mothershed said Pendleton's death — Jan. 29, 2013, while Pendleton and Mothershed were sophomores — was the wake-up call she needed.

"That could have been me," said Mothershed, an accounting and finance double major who's minoring in marketing. "It made me really see how dangerous Chicago was and how easily a person's life can be taken, how even if you're not doing anything, you could get shot and die. Her death was my inspiration."

Mothershed was a B and C student at King. Annie Bell, Mothershed's adviser for three years at Johnson College Prep, said she never scored anything lower than a 97 her final three high school years. She also raised her ACT score from a 24 to a 31, earning full or partial scholarships to Notre Dame, Colgate, Illinois, Michigan, Miami (Fla.) and Emory, among several other schools.

"What separates Atajah from other students is she's really inspired by setbacks," Bell said. "She just doesn't take no for an answer, especially in academic life."

Mothershed said during her sophomore and junior years she told classmates and friends she wanted to attend an Ivy League school or a school of that caliber. No one believed she could do it, she said, and she became determined to prove them wrong. That's even as Mothershed — one of four siblings — helped take care of a newborn sister, Anana, and a 5-year-old brother, Jaylin.

"It's because she just wants to do better in life and she doesn't want to struggle like her parents have," said her father, Anthony, a long-distance truck driver who lives in Austin.

Atajah Mothershed with her high school adviser, Annie Bell. [Atajah Mothershed]

Bell was a big help, not just guiding Mothershed with her academic progress but also giving her someone to talk to — either at school or during yearly summer trips to Bell's family farm near Peoria. They would talk about the violence surrounding Mothershed's life — not only Pendleton's death but the three other childhood friends of Mothershed and a cousin who had been killed. Wherever she's lived in Chicago — from Lincoln Park to Auburn Gresham to the West Side — Mothershed said violence has been a constant worry.

"Atajah was confronted with our limited time here" on Earth, Bell said. "She understood nothing is guaranteed, and she needs to make the most of her time here. She was always thinking long-term thoughts about what she can really do to make an impact on other people's lives."

For Mothershed, that means graduating from Washington University— where she's part of the 6 percent of black students on campus — before earning a master's in business and a law degree. Her dream is to obtain both at Harvard.

She's also already started pondering how to start nonprofits that help underprivileged kids in Chicago and St. Louis. Her desired home base in Chicago is Englewood.

Pendleton and the other friends and family members she's lost to violence are always in the back of Mothershed's mind. She said she owes it to Pendleton and all lost to Chicago slayings to never stop working.

"So many of my friends didn't get an opportunity like the one I have, or even had the chance to get to 19 years of age," Mothershed said.

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