(MCT) — Despite demands from two Chicago police officers that they return to class, more than three dozen teenagers marched Monday to call attention to the gun violence that claimed the life of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton.
The march went from Pendleton's school, King College Prep, to Harsh Park, where the teen was killed last week. The teenagers who organized the rally and prayer vigil, mostly students at Lindblom Math and Science Academy and CICS Ralph Ellison, said they wanted to put a spotlight on the violence that threatens their lives.
The students said they didn't know Hadiya but were touched by the girl's death because she was a promising youth and an innocent bystander. The teens believed Hadiya's death should prompt city officials to meet with youth leaders and find solutions to the crime plaguing the South Side.
"Things gotta change and it's up to us to change it," said Chelsea James, a 17-year-old senior who helped organize the march. "We could all get shot right now. I'm tired of it.
"We have to go through this every single day. We are living in fear. We can't go to the park without being gunned down. We risk our lives every single day," she said.
Since she was slain Jan. 29, Hadiya has become the latest symbol of Chicago's rampant street shootings. The honor student was killed as she took shelter from the rain with friends who, like her, had just finished their final exams.
Hadiya was killed about a week after returning from performing in the Washington area during President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities. The shooting occurred blocks from Obama's Kenwood home. There is a $40,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in her death.
Monday's protest was organized by James and Jordyn Willis, 17, also a senior at Lindblom. They were joined by community activists from the Broken Winggz organization and the Greater Roseland Community Committee's Youth Voices Against Violence coalition.
As the students gathered to march to the park, they were approached by two police officers who said they were truant and needed to return to their school.
Instead of disbanding, the two organizers presented a six-point plan to end violence. The group then walked five blocks in the snow to the park, where they said two prayers.
According to their plan, the teens and their supporters want Mayor Rahm Emanuel to create 2,000 part-time jobs and another 2,000 summer jobs specifically for youths. They want extended hours at their schools with an emphasis on social and recreational programs and mandatory parental involvement for certain school programs.
They also are seeking more blue-light security cameras and a youth ambassador program that would train students to speak to police when they witness crimes. And they want the city to reopen shuttered mental health clinics.
The group shouted, "Enough is enough," and carried signs with the same slogan as they marched. When they got to Harsh Park, they gathered around a collection of balloons and teddy bears placed on the ground to honor Hadiya.
At the park, they paused and said prayers, asking that God send angels to protect them as they travel through the city.
"Every single day people are being shot out here," Willis said, tears flowing down her face. "It's kids that look like us. …They are being slaughtered."