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Did State Of The Union Hit The Mark — Or Not?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we will talk about why the government doesn't want to send you a Social Security or veterans' benefits check anymore. Don't panic. They're going to send you the money. They just don't want to send you a check. We'll tell you why in just a few minutes.

But first, we are going to continue our conversation about the State of the Union address. Still with us are our panel of people who were central to the concerns that the president talked about in his address last night.

Oakland Lewis - he's currently looking for full time work. He's with us from Cleveland. In Fayetteville, we have Trei Dudley. She's an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Arkansas. And with us in Washington, D.C., immigrants rights activist Gaby Pacheco. She came here in an undocumented status since she was seven and has been working to try to achieve regular status since then. She's now 28.

And thank you all so much for staying with us. Now, a lot of people are saying that the most powerful emotional moment of the president's speech came at the end when he talked about gun control. The parents of Hadiya Pendleton sat with First Lady Michelle Obama. Pendleton was a 15-year-old honor student who was shot and killed last month in Chicago and this was just days after she performed at President Obama's inauguration, and this took place about a mile from the president's Chicago home.

And President Obama talked about Pendleton and other victims of gun violence in calling for Congress to vote on gun control. Here's a clip.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hadiya's parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote. They deserve a vote. They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

MARTIN: Trei Dudley, as a member of the Boys and Girls Club of America, you also met with President Obama in January and I just - you know, forgive me. I just have to ask. Is this something that hit home for you? I understand that members of your group actually took a survey, and after jobs this was one of the biggest concerns that they had.

TREI DUDLEY: Yeah. Youth violence is definitely something that they see as a huge issue. I did - before I went and talked about the survey findings, I went through and talked to a couple of clubs that were local to my home and that was one of the issues that a lot of the kids really, really talked about, was, you know, fights within their school or in their neighborhood, that, you know, they didn't necessarily feel safe and, you know, how are you supposed to get a good education if you don't feel safe going to school? Or if you don't feel safe, you know, going home and walking to and from home to school, if that's what you have to do and - I don't know. I think that that part of President Obama's speech was so powerful and every time that I hear it, I get goosebumps. But it's mind-blowing, really.

MARTIN: Do you feel that the country's now paying attention to something that you and your friends and a lot of the people that you run around with have been talking about for some time?

DUDLEY: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. When I was in elementary school, there was actually - my dad was kind of - he got into some things and, you know, there was a shooting that went on at my house and, you know, just being a part of that and knowing that, you know, my life could have ended up, you know, gone at that point, and to see the different things that are going on with the different shootings around the country is - I don't know. It really is a huge eye-opener to me and it makes me feel good to know that, you know, the government is actually taking this as a serious, serious issue, and you know, working towards doing something to fix it.

MARTIN: Gaby, what about you?

GABY PACHECO: You know, when they talk about enforcement and national security and the border, I think they fail to mention two things. The first thing is the deportations, 409 last year - 409,000 that the president deported. But what they failed to mention is the guns and the security that we don't have in the border. And it's not guns that are coming into the United States, but guns that are leaving.

Eighty percent of the guns that are found in Mexico can be traced back into the United States, and I think that we have a responsibility to our children here. We have a responsibility to our country, but also we have a responsibility to those guns and ensuring that whoever gets those guns in their hands are not using them to kill other people and do all these massacres that we've been seeing. And I think it's very brave that the president is taking this on. It's an issue that really rallies up the community because we feel so - you know, we love our Constitution, our rights, and the Second Amendment rights to a lot of people, it's like the holy thing. Right? Like, nobody messes with people's guns. But I think it's really important to understand that there's too many guns out there, that we don't know who has these guns, and some of these guns are ridiculous. Like, why do we need guns that can kill or can shoot 20 to 25 bullets at once?

MARTIN: So you're on point with the president on this. Oakland Lewis, what about you? How do you respond to this?

OAKLAND LEWIS: Definitely we need to have some sort of control and safeguards when it comes to guns. I mean there's so much apparent mental illness that is in the country that, you know, it's scary that you can get a call from your child's school and say that your child has been hurt or, God forbid, killed. You know, I have a 16-year-old daughter and I can't imagine the pain that those parents go through when they get those type of calls. We definitely have to have something happen in reference to that.

MARTIN: Before we let each of you go, the one thing I want to ask is that - you know, the State of the Union is a big night in the night of the country. All the networks cover it. Everybody - well, you know, millions of people watch it. And, Oakland, most people stay up and watch the Republican address, but having said that, this is one day and then we go forward with the rest of our lives.

Do you feel - I wanted to ask each of you, very briefly, do you feel that the things that you care about are heard? Now, you were all - the things you all care about were all mentioned, but do you think it means anything beyond last night or today? Very briefly, Gaby.

PACHECO: I would say yes. Seeing the Republicans stand up and clap when they talked about immigration reform along with the Democrats was a great sign.


DUDLEY: I definitely agree. I think that, you know, it's an issue that all - both sides agree with. And with that being said, hopefully something is definitely done.

MARTIN: Oakland Lewis, what about you?

LEWIS: I think so. I would really like to see some quick action on many of the points that was brought up. I do want to quickly mention, though, that going through all this challenge here and that I've been able to get help with mortgage stuff through the government and also the unemployment extension did help too, so it's not just all bad.

MARTIN: All right. Well, we're going to keep a good thought for you.

LEWIS: All right.

MARTIN: We're going to keep a good thought - all of us. And for all of you, too. Trei, study hard after you leave here. We want you to go hit the books. Get back to the library. And, Gaby...

DUDLEY: I will.

MARTIN: know, you're going to do what Gaby's going to do - who is a newlywed, by the way. I just want to mention our best wishes to her.

LEWIS: Oh, congrats.

DUDLEY: Oh, yeah. Congratulations.

MARTIN: Gaby Pacheco is an immigrants rights activist and a newlywed. She joined us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Trei Dudley is a freshman at the University of Arkansas. She joined us from NPR member station KUAF in Fayetteville. And Oakland Lewis is looking for work. Let's keep a good thought for him. He joined us from NPR member station WCPN in Cleveland.

Thank you all so much.

PACHECO: Thank you.

LEWIS: Thank you.

DUDLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.