In addition to speaking at a South Side high school Friday, President Barack Obama is expected to meet privately with 20 young black men there to discuss the challenges of growing up in a rough neighborhood.
White House officials asked Principal Antonio Ross, of Hyde Park Academy High School, to recommend students with whom the president could meet. Ross said he suggested teens in a mentoring and behavioral skills program called Becoming a Man.
"These students are very honest, very open, very opinionated and passionate," said Ross, adding that 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."
Obama, coming to Chicago as part of a three-state tour after his State of the Union speech, will address up to 700 people in the Hyde Park Academy gymnasium, including about 300 students, mostly seniors, Ross said. Others will include parents, community members and public officials, he said. The event isn't open to the public.
"We have a lot of students who are not doing well and may need the president's remarks for motivation," Ross said.
The president will discuss proposals for "strengthening the economy for the middle class and those striving to get there," White House officials said.
He also is expected to touch on the subject of gun violence in the wake of the slaying of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old honor student, at a park about a mile from Obama's home in the Kenwood neighborhood.
Hadiya's parents, Nathaniel Pendleton and Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, were the president's guests Tuesday at the State of the Union speech.
On Wednesday, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said he had met with Hadiya's mother in Washington and asked permission to name his gun-safety legislation after the teenager. A Kirk spokesman said Hadiya's parents were receptive to the idea and added: "We will work with them on it."
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.
Hadiya Pendleton was killed Jan. 29. The next day, Kirk and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced a bill to make gun trafficking a federal crime. It would also end so-called straw purchases, in which people legally buy guns then sell them to criminals.
Outside of Hyde Park Academy on Wednesday, school officials geared up for the president's visit by making repairs to the building and sweeping the sidewalk.
The school — whose alums include aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart and jazz artist Herbie Hancock — focuses on college and career preparation Many of the students are from the Woodlawn and Englewood neighborhoods, Ross said, and have felt the effects of crime and unemployment.
As students spilled out of the school, many were excited about Friday's event, saying they hoped to shake the president's hand or ask him a question. Others were upset that more students were not invited, but said they hope the president's words resonate with the crowd.
"The city does have a really big problem," said Dujuan Williams, 17, a junior at the high school, who said he lost a friend to gun violence this year. "I hope the (president's) message will be, 'Stay in school, graduate and succeed.'"Copyright © 2015, CT Now