Gun violence claimed Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton's life. Her mom is fighting back.

Jay-Z and the NFL have been teaming up to release PSAs as part of a social justice initiative announced last summer. A new video featuring Pendleton's mom is calling for unity.
Image: Cleopatra Cowley
Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton remembers her daughter, Hadiya, who was killed in a park a week after she performed at President Barack Obama's 2013 inauguration festivities.Roc Nation

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By Erik Ortiz

Hadiya Pendleton was a 15-year-old sophomore when she got the opportunity of a lifetime: Her majorette squad from her Chicago high school, King College Prep, was selected to perform at President Barack Obama's second inauguration festivities in 2013.

Less than three weeks later, first lady Michelle Obama would be grieving for Pendleton at her funeral. The fatal shooting of the promising honors student sparked outrage in her hometown and became the symbol of a larger conversation on the scourge of gun violence.

"She was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration," President Obama said in his State of the Union speech that year in which he remembered Pendleton. "And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house."

Police said Pendleton was an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire of a gang feud on the South Side — yet another shooting that exposed an underlying, daily trauma that still afflicts the city's residents.

Seven years after her death, the teen is now the subject of the latest public service announcement from Team ROC, the philanthropic arm of Jay-Z's entertainment company, and the NFL.

The two-minute video released Wednesday features information about Hadiya's Promise, a Chicago nonprofit started by Pendleton's parents that seeks to end gun violence through unity and invest in disaffected youth.

"It wasn't just a bullet that murdered Hadiya," her mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, says. "It was a bullet that murdered Hadiya, her mom, her dad, her brothers, her friends. We lost all her children, her children's children. We lost generations."

In the video, Cowley-Pendleton is surrounded by pictures of her daughter, whose name means "gift from God" in Arabic, and says young people need to be nurtured.

"If we gave the young people something to do, if we provide them with love and care, it would lift the awareness to the young that their voices matter, their lives matter," she adds.

Hadiya Pendleton.Courtesy Pendleton Family

Pendleton's death did not go unsolved.

In 2019, the convicted shooter, Micheail Ward of Chicago, was sentenced to 84 years in prison for murder and aggravated battery. He denied killing the teenager. A co-defendant, Kenneth Williams, who was named as the getaway driver, was also convicted for his role and awaiting sentencing.

Jay-Z and the NFL began teaming up as part of a social justice initiative announced last summer in the wake of the controversy over players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.

Another PSA through the partnership's Responsibility Program was unveiled during this year's Super Bowl and featured the family of Botham Jean, a black man who was killed by an off-duty police officer.