More than 1,000 people gathered to mourn the death of the young rising star. A person who had already begun to commit their life to change, and was making a difference in their community.
Their death has caught the president's attention and is being labeled a symbol of escalating violence in Chicago. If you're thinking it's 2013, and I'm describing Hadiya Pendleton, you'd be wrong.
In 2009, Francisco "Frankie" Valencia, a DePaul University honor student and political science major who dreamt of being the next Barack Obama, had his life ripped away from him in a senseless act of gun violence in Chicago.
What has changed since then?
The same shock and sentiment used to describe Hadiya Pendleton's death were the same one's Frankie's family and friends heard. And yet the only thing that has changed is the aggressive speed in which the death toll has continued to rise.
By the end of 2012, Chicago had tallied 506 homicides related to gun violence.
What needs to change?
It's our educational system.
Residents living near homicides were much more likely to be black, earn less money and lack a college degree, according to a 12-year analysis of homicides and census data in Chicago by the New York Times.
That means it's not enough to demand tough restrictions on guns or harsher punishments on criminals. Our society needs to hold itself accountable and accept that we haven't just failed Hadiya or Frankie, we've failed their killers as well.
We want killers punished to the full extent of the law after committing a crime, instead of investing in preventive measures through education, after school programs and mentoring to curtail the violence on Chicago's streets before it even begins.
The killer as a second victim is overlooked because we as a society refuse to accept that we have failed him.
Who's to say that Narcisco Gatica, the man convicted of Frankie's murder, didn't have dreams? He might have hoped to one day attend college and receive an education that would allow him to provide for his family.
I saw a glimpse of that side of Gatica during his trial as his sister begged the judge to have mercy on him. I can't image the pain and anger Frankie's family felt as they heard her try to paint a portrait of a kind family man. I never even knew Frankie but my own blood boiled and my ears rang at the outrage of her selfish pleas for a man who had unapologetically killed Frankie, a man who was trying to help people like Gatica, break out of the cycle of poverty and violence.
In that moment I realized Gatica became a ruthless killer because that was the option our society gave him.
But it's unfair to say that it's all their fault.
They get to that point through neglect and a broken educational system.
This issue isn't about helping those less fortunate then ourselves. The reality is we're losing people better than ourselves. It's time we accept that we are all equal and by helping our neighbors, we're helping ourselves.
Frankie's motto was, "We are the future. How will you make it better? How will you be remembered?" This is a haunting reminder that if we as a community don't accept responsibility and begin to nurture the next generation of youth, Chicago will be remembered as a city of death and violence.
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