Michelle Obama in Chicago on Wednesday. | AP
In a Wednesday Chicago visit, First Lady Michelle Obama grew emotional, choking on her words as she retold a story how she struggled to bring comfort to the friends of Hadiya Pendleton the day they were to bury their friend.
"I urged them to dream as big as she did," Michelle Obama said.
"For me, this is personal. For me, my story would not be possible without this city," Michelle Obama told the crowd that packed into the banquet hall at the Hilton Chicago. The business people heard a pitch to invest into intervention programs in the most at-risk communities.
Michelle Obama talked about spending time with Hadiya Pendleton's parents. She said she related to the parents of the slain 15 year old who was killed just a mile from the Obamas' Kenwood home. She said she saw so much of herself in Hadiya, whose parents gave her everything they could. They put her in every activity and saw her perform for the president's inauguration
"Hadiya Pendleton was me and I was her," Mrs. Obama said. "But I got to grow up and go to Princeton."
Earlier in the program, a mother's grief was visible through the giant screen shown to a group of about 650 people who packed into the Chicago Hilton to see Mayor Rahm Emanuel and First Lady Michelle Obama.
In the video, shown before either of the politicians began their remarks, a mother describes sitting on her front steps in Chicago and suddenly throwing her arms around her 6-year-old daughter, hoping that bullets from a drive-by shooting would pierce her instead of her child.
"My daughter was not a gang banger, she was only six years old, she didn't even graduate from Kindergarten," the mother said.
"I just remember wrapping my arms around her hoping the bullets would hit me, but that wasn't the case."
The powerful testimonial was a pretext to remarks by First Lady Michelle Obama who said it was her passion to create better opportunities in the city she loves. She returned home to boost Mayor Rahm Emanuel's initiative to call on corporate and philanthropic donors to invest in youth programs.
She later added: "This is the point I want to make - that resources matter."
Michelle Obama at one point also called on Congress to act on gun violence, urging lawmakers to call initiatives for a vote.
"These reforms deserve a vote in Congress," she said to applause.
Earlier, Emanuel addressed the crowd.
"We have great kids in the city of Chicago," Emanuel told the crowd, after telling a story about meeting 16-year-old Martel with superb manners and a bright personality who was just looking for something to do on a Friday night. Emanuel met him at a night hoops basketball program.
"They're all throughout the city," Emanuel said of good kids. "All Martel needed was a place to go on Friday night."
Mrs. Obama was then to head to West Englewood's Harper High School -- where 29 present or former students were shot in the last year, leaving eight dead.
Emanuel challenged a business community that bankrolled Millennium Park, the NATO Summit and Chicago's failed Olympic bid to raise $50 million over five years for a higher moral purpose: saving the lives of thousands of at-risk kids.
"Less than 66 days later, we've raised $33 million," said Allstate Insurance CEO Tom Wilson to a round of applause. Wilson co-chairs the campaign which committed the first $5 million. "Everyone that dies is a piece of our future. We all know money alone is not going to fix this problem, but it's a start."
Jim Reynolds, CEO of Loop Capital Markets, who chaired the Chicago Housing Authority board before shifting to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, also leads the effort.
Reynolds said the effort isn't about throwing money at a problem.
"This is about getting in at a ground level and building communities that we can be proud of in 10, 20, 30 years," Reynolds said.
Emanuel, a formidable fund-raiser himself, asked big business to invest in early intervention programs for younger kids and provide jobs, mentoring, recreation and conflict-resolution programs to give troubled teens an alternative to the gang violence that claimed the life of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton. Pendleton went on to become a national symbol in the gun debate and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk named a portion of a compromise gun bill after Pendleton, hoping it would bring support.
The group that packed in watched an emotionally compelling video
"Every morning when I wake up I wonder if it's going to be my last day," said a boy named "Miles" in the video.
The father of Chicago honor student Blair Holt who was shot to death after boarding a bus after school also gave a testimonial.
Michelle Obama's appearance comes as Congress edges toward a possible compromise on gun legislation.
Chicago's murder numbers have drawn national attention over the last year, as authorities struggle to get a handle on gang violence. Last month, Emanuel received good news that murders dropped over the previous year.