Hundreds gathered at a Southside church Saturday afternoon to pay their final respects to 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot and killed on Jan. 30th.
The emotional service was held at The Greater Harvest Church, 5141 S. State, which was filled to capacity while mounds of others lined the outside of the church with hopes of getting in.
Just before the start of the service First Lady Michelle Obama stood among the family with her arm around Hadiya’s mother, Cleopatra Cowley Pendleton as the casket, lined with bright purple, was being closed.
During the opening of the homegoing the church’s pastor, Rev. Eric Thomas spoke to funeral goers, acknowledging the sentiment that, “Some might say she was too young to leave here…but she was not too young to leave a mark.” The service was one intended not only to celebrate Hadiya’s life, but for those who didn’t know her to experience whom she really was.
A presentation of her incased majorette jacket to the family, musical tributes, a praise dance and a spiritual cheer performance were all parts of the celebration of her life.
“Radiant”, “bright smile”, “intelligent”, “ambitious” and “energetic” were some of the many words used to describe the bubbly teen, who was not only a daughter, a big sister, a student and a cousin but was a dear friend to many.
Hadiya’s friends lined up to the microphone one after another, the first several introducing themselves as “Hadiya’s best friend,” accompanied with a nervous chuckle before sharing their fond memories of their friend through tears.
Kayla Jones, the first of her best friends to speak, said that she finds comfort in knowing that Hadiya is right there with her and joked, “She’s right here with all of us…whispering the answers to chemistry,” which sent the church up in laughter. Jones also recalled something special about her friend, something many others mentioned during the service: Hadiya’s bright, beautiful smile.
“If there is one thing I won’t forget about Hadiya, is her smile,” Jones said. She continued on saying that Hadiya’s smile was the last thing she saw before the doors on the ambulance truck closed on that fateful day.
“Hadiya The Light” was the title of the piece that the spirited young teens’ aunt, Linda Wilks shared during the service. Ms. Wilks stood at the front of the church with a sparkly-purple book adorned with angel wings propped in front of her as she spoke about her luminous niece and how her light is now shining bright for all to see.
Wilks hopes that the teen’s death will not be seen as something dark but will be a guiding light in putting an end to violence. “We must continue down this path while Hadiya’s light still shines,” she said and observed that Hadiya’s death alone isn’t the only driving force to end violence because other victims’ lights “from the East to the West Coasts, and from Columbine to Connecticut” shine as well.
Pendleton’s godfather, Damon Stewart got up to the podium and held what he called a “conversation” and not a speech about his goddaughter, during which he reiterated the words of Hadiya’s father, Anthony Pendleton that her death is not to be used as a platform for politicians.
“If you say this is painful to you, then prove it,” urged Stewart, who said he wants everyone, regardless of political affiliation but as Americans, to come up with a solution to the widespread violence that is plaguing the nation. He stated that “(i)f we can put a man on the moon, we can figure this out.”
Stewart spoke with deep conviction as he stood before D.C. dignitaries including First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and local elected officials including Mayor Rahm Emanuel (who was joined by his teenage son), Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Gov. Pat Quinn – none of whom were slated to speak at the service.
Included in the eight-page, funeral program book was a note from President Barack Obama expressing his sympathy to the family. “We know that no words from us can soothe the pain, but rest assured that we are praying for you, and that we will continue to work as hard as we can to end this senseless violence. God bless, Barack Obama.”
St. Sabina pastor and community activist Father Pfleger, was also in attendance and pleaded with gatherers during the service, saying that “we must become the interrupters of funeral processions seeking to bury our future,” and adding that enough is not being done in communities and that today’s youth are still being buried far too often.
Cleo Pendleton stood and thanked everyone during the funeral for their outpour of support and wanted mourners, supporters and critics who question her strength and her ability to smile throughout such a difficult time to know that it’s okay to smile, noting that her daughter had learned to smile so genuinely and brightly by example.
By the end of the service there was no question about who Hadiya Pendleton was. She was a bright young woman, full of vitality, love, joy and ambition, with dreams of attending Northwestern University and hopes of becoming a pharmacist or journalist. She was a model student who took education seriously and was very involved as a mentor, youth church volunteer, an athlete, a majorette and in any capacity she saw fit. She inspired her friends and family alike, and not only will their lives be different but the world will be a little less without her.
In honor of Hadiya, the Xi Epsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority has established a scholarship fund in her name.