For my husband's second inauguration, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton came down to Washington and performed in the festivities with her majorette squad. A week later, this bright and beautiful girl was killed in a tragic shooting on the South Side of Chicago.
I never had the chance to meet Hadiya while she was alive, but after she died, I was able to spend some time with her loved ones. I learned about how she was an honor student, how much she loved music, how she loved going out to get ice cream with her friends. And the more I heard, the more I understood the extraordinary potential inside of her—a potential that was stolen by the epidemic of gun violence.
At Hadiya’s memorial service, her mom, Cleopatra, said something to me that has stayed with me ever since.
She said: “I did everything I was supposed to.”
Like me, Hadiya was raised by parents who wanted to give her opportunities they never had. They signed her up for volleyball, cheerleading, and a dance ministry at church. They supported her education, and with their encouragement, she became a star student. From an early age, Hadiya’s parents made sacrifices to introduce her to opportunities throughout Chicago so that she could one day find her place in the world.
I can’t help but hope that, through the Obama Presidential Center, Barack and I can help young people just like Hadiya find their own place in the world, and build lives worthy of their dreams.
That’s why we are proud to honor Hadiya’s memory through the Hadiya Pendleton Winter Garden at the Obama Presidential Center. When it’s finished, the space will be bright and welcoming, full of light and warmth, and open for anyone to enjoy. It will be a place to gather, connect, and hopefully to better understand the boundless potential that lies within each of us.
We are still a few years from opening the Center, but we are just so excited for what it will mean to the community and to visitors from around the world.
Thank you to all of you who have been on this journey with us, and to young people like Hadiya, who will help make the Center everything we know it can be.
We can’t wait for you to see the Winter Garden, and the entire Center, when we open.