Hadiya Z. Pendleton liked Fig Newtons and performed in a drill team that participated in Obama’s 2013 Inaugural parade. She lived in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago, not far from where I lived for several years and where friends still live, not far from the Obama family home. She never reached her 16th birthday, which would have been on June 2. She was gunned down on January 29 , in a public park at 45th & Drexel, apparently caught in a gang-related shooting.
Praying for Responsibility
As a native Chicagoan and a long-time resident of the District of Columbia, I have long struggled with how to call attention to the needs of communities where too many lives are lost to gun violence without losing sight of the individual dead, specific lives lost to our communities. Some months ago, I developed a series of meditations on “failure, memory, and change,” following the order of Jewish morning prayers but meant for any faith:
Keep us mindful: when young people suffer injustice or die in violence — whether in wars, declared or otherwise, or in seemingly endless street violence — it is the elders who have failed.
In honor of the many who do not thrive or survive, let us redouble our prayers for justice and peace….
We are stumbling and deserving of rebuke for every young life lost to violence, direct or indirect. Enlighten our eyes to ways more reflective of Your deep love. Teach us to recognize Your salvation, celebrate where it is becoming manifest, and acknowledge where it is still far from reality.
Meditations on Morning Blessings: Failure, Memory, and Change
Praying Beyond Segregation
Our segregated lives mean many of us do not personally know young people killed in street violence (or in military, for that matter). I once lived only blocks from the park where Hadiya was killed, e.g., but rarely visited the area between 43rd and 47th streets. I know many residents of DC who, similarly, rarely cross an intersection where shootings are an all-too-regular fact of life.
Therefore, I ask those relatively untouched by the violence that besets too many of our neighborhoods and robs too many of our fellow citizens of their childhoods, if not their lives, to take Hadiya Pendleton’s life into their hearts and mourn her passing. Today, I ask others to join me in recognizing Hadiya Pendleton as a teacher.
Hadiya’s life teaches how much can be packed into just a few years. Her death reminds us of the fragility of life at any age and about the duty of elders to protect our youth. Some Jews recite kaddish when a teacher dies, and I encourage others to join me in doing so. May her memory be for a blessing, and may that blessing include a renewed commitment to make our cities safe places for young life.
If you use Facebook, please like and share this page — https://www.facebook.com/KaddishForHadiya
UPDATE: Please note that Hadiya’s second yahrzeit [death anniversary] is 1/29/15. In 2015, Amnesty International is launching a campaign to end gun violence in the United States, a scourge which takes its toll on our populace and psyche with over 11,000 gun-related homicide deaths every year. Eleven thousand. Every year.
See also Stragglers on the Road Away from Bondage.