First Lady to Chicago Youth: You Are "Not Alone"

By Lisa Balde and An Phung
|  Wednesday, Apr 10, 2013  |  Updated 10:51 PM CDT
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First lady Michelle Obama speaks about 15 year-old Hadiya Pendleton who was shot and killed on the south side of Chicago earlier this year, during a luncheon at the Chicago Hilton in Chicago, Wednesday, April 10, 2013. The first lady is visiting Chicago for a discussion with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and civic leaders on ways to combat youth violence. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

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In an emotional speech, First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday issued a call to arms to community and business leaders in her hometown of Chicago, asking them to guide the city's youth to a better future.

''I'm here today because Chicago is my home,'' Obama said. ''My story would not be possible without this city.''

In her speech, Obama talked at length about the hard lessons learned from Hadiya Pendleton's death and address the violence that has plagued the city in recent months. Pendleton,14, was killed in January in what is believed to be a gang-related shooting; Obama attended her funeral.

Obama was joined by Chicago's mayor Rahm Emanuel as well as some of the city's most prominent business leaders at a luncheon hosted by the City of Chicago and community leaders whose aim is to help at-risk youths. 

"I urge you to join me and Hadiya's classmates and young people across this city who are against all odds fighting so hard to succeed," Obama said. "We need to show them with not just words but with action that they not alone in this struggle."

Obama's visit comes at a time when parents are grappling with the shuttering of 54 public schools, an issue that has the community worried will put their children in harms way.

Her speech was also aligned with a impending vote on a gun legislation intended to curb violence with stricter background checks.

"Right now my husband is fighting as a hard as he can and engaging with as many people as he can to protect to our children from gun violence," she said. "These reforms deserve a vote in Congress."

After the luncheon, the First Lady is scheduled to meet with a small group of students and counselors at Harper High School to hear about their experiences.

The White House notes Harper High School has been "profoundly affected by violence" with 29 current or former students shot and eight of them killed in the past year. The Englewood school was featured on a two-part "This American Life" series focusing on Chicago violence.

Emanuel's office said the visit with help raise awareness about successful programs that already help at-risk youth.

“The greatest thing we can do as a city is give our children the support they need to build a successful life," Emanuel said. “We are honored to have the First Lady’s support in this effort. I will work tirelessly to provide safe alternatives that reduce the risk of our kids getting involved with drugs, gangs, and violence.”

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