CHICAGO— It has been six months since Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton’s daughter, Hadiya Pendleton, was shot and killed in a south side park just a week after the teen marched in President Obama’s inaugural parade.
While the pain of her daughter’s death still lingers, Cowley-Pendleton said she is faced with yet another challenge: raising an 11-year-old black boy in America.
“I have a son that I am raising in this environment, under these circumstances. So now I have a youth that is not at risk because I’m raising him with certain value systems, but he is at risk of being viewed a certain kind of way,” Cowley-Pendleton told msnbc during an anti-gun violence summit in Chicago on Friday, sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus. “I have to do things and be boisterous to protect him before he gets to where he’s going to go independently, walking down a street on his own with certain privileges and being misidentified as someone else. Right now he’s 11. The Martins have already suffered and that’s an awareness for the rest of us.”
The Martins that Cowley-Pendlton referred to are the parents of Trayvon Martin, the black 17-year-old who was killed in an Orlando suburb last year by a former neighborhood watch volunteer who said he shot the teen in self-defense after the teen attacked him. George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter earlier this month. His lawyers have said race did not play a role. The acquittal sparked anger and protests with some calling for a review and repeal of Florida's stand your ground laws, which initially gave legal cover to Zimmerman who wasn't arrested for 44 days following the killing.
Since the death of her daughter, a 15-year-old honor student— who was gunned down in January in what authorities have described as mistaken identity at the hands of local gang members—Cowley-Pendleton has joined anti-gun violence activists across the country calling for stricter gun control legislation.
“This is my life right now,” she told msnbc earlier this year just hours after a meeting with New York City's billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has pledged part of his personal fortune to combating illegal guns and the gun lobby. “I’m tired. But I’m stepping up to the cause and I won’t stop until these gun laws are changed.”
In her daughter’s death, though, she said she has found strength in fighting for the youth that so often get caught up in the cycle of gun violence, either as victims or perpetrators. But on a more personal level, Cowley –Pendleton said she’s also fighting closer to home, for her own son.
“There is a concern there,” she said, of her own boy, Nathaniel, facing down stereotypes and prejudices so many African-American men and boys face, sometimes with deadly consequences. “It is my responsibility to do what I can to lessen that confusion by the time he becomes of age. That gives me what, five good years, maybe four, to try to make a change. I’m doing what I can and mourning at the same time.”
Friday’s “emergency summit,” called by a trio of black members of Congress from Chicago, drew about 200 residents, clergy, community activists, politicians and law enforcement tasked with sharing ideas on ways leaders might be able to stem the city’s rampant gun violence.
While few concrete solutions were produced in the all-day summit held at the south side’s Chicago State University, organizers were hopeful that the event was a first step in crafting real-world solutions to epidemic level bloodshed the city has experienced.
“As we know, change does not happen overnight. I know that [the issue of gun violence] has been raised to the forefront and it’s been coming out of the mouths of our leaders. I think that’s the initial conversation now,” Cowley-Pendleton said midway through the summit. “Politicians are going to talk, that’s what they have to do in order to make some change. However, it is the responsibility of the community itself to make a change and make a conscious decision to make a change in the environment, our immediate circles, be it the first block, be it in the local community center, make noise where noise needs to be made to perpetuate the change that we are asking for.”