WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama delivered an emotional speech Friday in his hometown of Chicago, decrying gun violence and emphasizing the need for a whole-community approach to boost the economy and keep children safe.
Speaking at the Hyde Park Academy on the final stop of his post–State of the Union sales pitch, Obama addressed rampant gun violence in the city, where Hadiya Pendleton was shot earlier this month just a mile from his home — and a week after participating in the inaugural festivities in Washington.
“Last year there were over 443 murders with a firearm in this city, and 65 of them were 18 and under,” he said. “That’s the equivalent of a Newtown every four months.”
“This is not just a gun issue but also an issue of the communities that we’re building,” Obama added, returning to his roots as a community organizer and decrying “the self-destructive impulses and the senseless violence.”
Emphasizing the importance of fatherhood, Obama drew on his own experience being raised by a single mother and grandmother.
“I turned out OK,” he said, “but at the same time I wish I had a father who was involved and around.”
He added that the nation’s child-support laws may need reform to help men find work and be more engaged in their children’s lives.
“What makes you a man is not making a child but having the courage to raise one,” Obama said.
Obama was in Chicago to advocate for his “ladders of opportunity” initiative to help Americans and their communities rise out of poverty and crime. Outlined in the State of the Union address, the program includes economic efforts such as raising the minimum wage, early-childhood education initiatives, passing gun control legislation, and spending programs targeted at blighted communities.
Before his remarks, Obama met with a group of at-risk men in an anti-violence group, who he said reminded him of himself when he was growing up in Hawaii.
“I had more of a safety net, but these guys are no different than me,” Obama said. “I had problems too at your age. Difference was, when I screwed up, consequences weren’t as harsh as they are on the South Side.”
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