CHICAGO -- In addition to a speech Friday at a South Side high school, President Barack Obama is expected to meet privately with 20 young black men there and discuss the challenges of growing up in a rough neighborhood.
White House officials asked principal Antonio Ross of Hyde Park Academy High School to suggest students with whom the president could meet. Mr. Ross said he recommended teens in a mentoring and behavioral skills program called Becoming a Man. "These students are very honest, very open, very opinionated and passionate," the principal said, adding that Mr. Obama will "get a real dose of what it feels like, at least from their perspective, of what it feels like growing up in the city of Chicago right now as a teenager."
Mr. Obama, coming to Chicago as part of a three-state tour following his State of the Union speech, will address as many as 700 people in the Hyde Park Academy gymnasium, with students, mostly seniors, taking up about 300 of those spots, Mr. Ross said. The rest will include parents, community members and public officials, he said. The event is not open to the public. "We have a lot of students who are not doing well and may need the president's remarks for motivation," the principal said.
Mr. Obama will discuss proposals for "strengthening the economy for the middle class and those striving to get there," White House officials said. He is also expected to touch upon the subject of gun violence in the wake of the slaying of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old honor student, at a park a mile from the Obamas' residence in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood. Hadiya's parents, Nathaniel Pendleton and Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, were guests of the president and first lady at Tuesday night's State of the Union speech.
On Wednesday, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said he had met in Washington with Ms. Cowley-Pendleton and asked permission to name his gun-safety legislation after Hadiya. A Kirk spokesman said he understood Hadiya's parents to be "receptive" to the idea and added: "We will work with them on it."
Mr. Kirk, who returned to work Jan. 3 nearly a year after he suffered a major stroke, said one of his top priorities this year is to pass the bill.
At Hyde Park Academy, school officials geared up for the president's visit this week by making repairs to the building and sweeping the sidewalk. The Hyde Park high school -- whose alums include aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart and jazz pianist Herbie Hancock -- focuses on college and career preparation, but sees gang and drug activity in the area. Many students are from the Woodlawn and Englewood neighborhoods, Mr. Ross said, and have felt the effects of crime and unemployment.
"The city does have a really big problem," said high school junior Dujuan Williams, 17, who said he lost a friend to gun violence earlier this month. "I hope the [president's] message will be, 'Stay in school, graduate and succeed.' "