First Lady Michelle Obama returned to Chicago Wednesday to ask business leaders to invest in solutions to keep kids off the streets and stem youth violence.
Recalling her background as a kid growing up in the South Shore neighborhood, Obama told a packed dining room at the Hilton Chicago that she still regards the city as her home and lamented how a child's future can vary between neighborhoods.
"The opportunities to a child growing up in one neighborhood in the city might be vastly different from a child growing up just five blocks away," she said, noting how some children haven't been to the Art Institute of Chicago or Millennium Park.
Obama said she counts herself among the lucky kids who grew up in a neighborhood where she felt safe and attended a good public school where her biggest concern was grades and not gangs.
She pointed to the students of Harper High School who she said feel afraid to walk home from school and worry about getting shot because they crossed gang lines. In the past year, 29 current or former students were shot and eight of them were killed. The Englewood school was even featured on a two-part "This American Life" series focused on Chicago violence.
"I'm not talking about something that's happening in a war zone halfway around the world," she said. "I'm talking about something that's happening in our city."
Violence is a familiar topic in a city that recently buried a 6-month-old girl killed in a shooting fueled by gangs. Obama herself attended a separate funeral for teen Hadiya Pendleton, killed at a park by a gang member. Pendleton's parents sat next to the first lady during President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.
"This kind of violence is what so many young people like Hadiya Pendleton are dealing with every single day," Obama said," and those two boys charged with her shooting, this is the violence they were facing as well."
At one point, the first lady went so far as to say she was just like Pendleton growing up and Pendleton was like her. The difference, Obama said, is she got to grow up, go to law school and move up in politics.
"Hadiya Pendleton was me and I was her," she said. "But I got to grow up and go to Princeton and Harvard Law School and have a career and family and the most blessed life I can imagine. And Hadiya, well we know that story."
The solution to youth violence, she said, "will take a serious and sustained investment for a very long period of time. This is forever."
She asked business leaders to take up the challenge and provide things like after-school activities, computer labs and decent basketball courts for kids. "Maybe, just maybe more of our young people would be in classrooms and jobs today instead of custody."
After her speech Obama went to Harper High School to meet with children and hear about first-hand experiences at a school the White House said has been "profoundly affected by violence."
"This is my passion, it is my mission and, for me, this is personal because my story would not be possible without this city," she said.