Ever since her daughter was murdered, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton has become a vocal advocate for tougher gun laws and stiffer criminal penalties. Hadiya Pendleton would have celebrated her 16th birthday on June 9 but instead her friends and family went to visit her gravesite. Now, her parents want to do more. They’ve recently launched hadiyasfoundation.org, a non-profit that helps communities return to the “it takes a village” mindset when raising children.
ESSENCE partnered with All You, Health, and Real Simple magazines to create Make 1 Simple Change—an online call to action where real people can offer practical solutions to end gun violence. Cowley-Pendleton spoke with ESSENCE after appearing on a panel discussion for a Make 1 Simple Change event this Thursday in New York City.
ESSENCE.com: There was a moment when a mother from the audience shared that she too had lost her child. How did that make you feel?
COWLY-PENDLETON: Someone who has not lost a child cannot imagine how much moments like that mean. It is a hell that no parent should have to experience. I told her afterward that she made me break my rule not to cry today!
ESSENCE.com: What is your goal with Hadiya’s Foundation?
COWLY-PENDLETON: Parents work all day and are not always aware of what’s going on with their children. We’re going to collaborate with police, schools, and other programs as sources of information for at-risk children and try to then connect with the parent so that they can be proactive. We’re also looking for financial assistance so that we can assist parents who cannot afford to help their child. The point is to prevent more youth from becoming a perpetrator like those who killed my daughter.
ESSENCE.com: The case against the men who killed your daughter will begin soon. Does this comfort you in any way?
COWLY-PENDLETON: The case being tried properly and those involved having to serve time will bring some relief. I know a lot of Chicago parents that don’t ever get to know the true cause. However, it will still be bittersweet because I won’t have her. When I want to hug my daughter I have to hug a picture or sit in her room.
ESSENCE.com: You have another child, Nathaniel Jr. How are you guys?
COWLY-PENDLETON: Jr. and I were watching a movie over the weekend and this soft part comes on and about the character dealing with a loss. He turned to me and said ‘Mom are you OK?’ and slowly responded, ‘Yea… you ok?’ so we have those moments that kind of take your breath away because you’re like ‘oh no am I going to think about what happened to her?’ So it’s a daily thing, but I don’t charge him to stop living because of it either.
ESSENCE.com: How about you and your husband?
COWLY-PENDLETON: Having the kind of space where we can express ourselves freely is comforting. This is a 20-year relationship. We laugh together, we cry together; after everything, he’s my best friend.
ESSENCE.com: Hadiya would have celebrated her 16th birthday last Sunday. How did you spend the day?
COWLY-PENDLETON: We went to the cemetery and people were already there in cars. It was like a party in the cemetery at 8 o’clock in the morning! I know I didn’t tell that many people, but there were over 40 people with us by the time we got to the balloon release held in her honor.