We, The People, Need To Check-in With Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx

By Rhonda Sherrod (copyright 2017)

The Cook County state’s attorney is presently serving the first year of a four year term, and there should be a mid-year check-in because of the extreme significance and importance of her job.  Kim Foxx, 44, the first elected African American and second female, to command America’s second largest prosecutor’s office, in a county long beleaguered by its well-deserved corrupt reputation, has an enormous job.  She took office on December 1 and the spotlight is hers.  While much of the bad news emanating out of Chicago concentrates on the city’s mind-boggling street violence, no one here has forgotten what propelled Ms. Foxx to her new position in the first place.  Many are looking to her to address, in a strong, courageous, and unequivocal way, the police and prosecutorial misconduct that caused her then long-shot candidacy to catch fire.

The stunning videotape of Officer Jason Van Dyke, driving up in a police SUV, rounding the back of it—gun blazing—and pumping 16 bullets into Black teenager, Laquan McDonald, catapulted the Chicago police and the Cook County state’s attorney into national focus, yet again.  For the country, the scene may have been astounding, but, for locals, although devastating, the scene was anything but improbable.  Chicago, long a haven for police corruption and brutality in Black and Brown communities, was ablaze after viewing the videographic evidence that simply confirmed, finally, what Blacks have long complained about. Some members of the Chicago police force are not fit to serve in a role that requires rational thought, good judgement, and the ability to de-escalate in all communities.  Then, too, some of them are just out of control, period.  So, the stark question of who will police the police was raised, and not for the first time.  It was the question that helped fuel the rise of Fred Hampton and the Illinois Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, before Hampton, himself, was the victim of a horrific, lawless federal, county, and city law enforcement scheme that resulted in his assassination.

In fact, implicitly, the question had been raised many times before, including during the days of the Great Migration when African Americans, fleeing the wicked racial ethos of the Jim Crow South, flooded into Chicago seeking what then powerful Black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, touted as “The Promised Land.”  Pertinacious in search of opportunity and a better life, many Blacks also encountered pervasive police abuse that was whispered about, but rarely spoken too loudly—out of shame and fear.  Yet, I have been privy to my own elders’ conversations about how, after arriving in Chicago in the late 1950s and early 60s, it was routine for White cops to unlawfully detain them and extort their hard-earned money.  In addition to rendering African Americans humiliated and powerless, such police graft represented a real economic hardship for people working hard to survive and support  their families.  In talking to elders in the community, I learned that extortion was just one of many crimes, including various forms of assault, that law abiding Black citizens were often exposed to at the hands of the police.

The expanse of law enforcement disdain and disregard for Black lives and Black communities is long and wide throughout the county.  The so-called Chicago “race riot” of 1919 began after police officers failed to arrest the White men who stoned a Black teen, Eugene Williams, and caused him to drown after he, unwittingly, swam into the “White section” of Lake Michigan.  Interestingly, the first Mayor (Richard J.) Daley, was a young gangbanger whose gang was implicated in the rioting.  And, a notorious event in 1951, fraught with galling prosecutorial “discretion,” erupted when a hard-working African American World War II veteran and college graduate who had trained Tuskegee Airmen, Harvey Clark, Jr. moved his family from Chicago to suburban Cicero in Cook County.  As police officers watched, a White mob, numbering in the thousands, ramshackled the apartment, tearing out the fixtures and setting the family’s possessions, which had been thrown out of the window, on fire before firebombing the building.  None of the mob members were charged, but prosecutors indicted an NAACP lawyer, the White landlord, and the rental agent for inciting a riot.

So, many activists in Chicago have vowed to keep an eye on the Office of the State’s Attorney.  Anita Alvarez, who did not bother to indict Van Dyke (who continued working for the police department) until 13 months after the McDonald killing—and just as the videotape was being released to the public—is not, at all, the only controversial state’s attorney we have seen in Cook County.  Some months ago, U.S. District Court Judge, Amy St. Eve, ruled on a case that reaches back to former mayor Richard M. Daley’s days as the county state’s attorney.  Alonzo Smith’s lawsuit alleges that he was beaten and tortured by Chicago police.  For decades, more than 100 Black men have complained about disgraced former police commander, Jon Burge.  They allege that he and officers under, or who had, at one time, been under, his command, beat them, burned them, put plastic bags over their heads to suffocate them, and pounded and used electric shock on their testicles, often while uttering racial slurs, to force false murder confessions.  By the time a special prosecutor’s four year investigation alleged that Burge and some of his officers committed torture for decades, they were safe from prosecution because of the statute of limitations.

The federal government, however, convicted Burge of perjury, stemming from the allegations, and sent him to prison for four and one-half years.  (He served about three and one-half of those years.) Incredibly, he still receives a taxpayer supported pension from the city.  Meanwhile, Chicago, has paid out more than 85 million taxpayer dollars to torture victims, and it has also set up a torture reparations fund.  The widespread belief and allegation here is that then State’s Attorney Daley knew about the torture and did absolutely nothing while his prosecutors used coerced confessions to win bad convictions.  Although it appears that Daley has immunity as a former prosecutor, the Smith suit alleges that as Chicago’s mayor, Daley participated in a coverup (sound familiar?) to conceal police torture.  St. Eve’s ruling means that Daley might be forced to testify under oath about what he knew and when.

Chicago’s history of law enforcement is fraught with scandal after scandal.  From drug frame-ups (like the so-called “dropsy cases” wherein cops claim they witnessed Black males drop drug contraband to the ground before arresting them), to the infamous “N—-r’s by the the pound” contests wherein the first prosecutor to convict 4,000 pounds worth of Black bodies won, the corruption runs deep.  Over the years, according to an old Chicago Tribune analysis, prosecutors in Cook County saw convictions set aside where there was prosecutorial misconduct ranging from concealing exculpatory evidence (in violation of the US Supreme Court Brady ruling), making improper or misleading statements and arguments, hiding evidence, and improperly excluding Black people from juries, costing defendants money, psychological pain, and years of their lives as they scrambled for post-conviction rulings.  The toll police and prosecutorial misconduct takes on Black families is incalculable.  Generations of Black men and boys, and now, increasingly, women and girls, have been railroaded through the “justice” system, and we have no idea how many Black people are languishing in American jails and prisons today after the police, aided by an artful assistant state’s attorney, perjured away their liberty.

But this is what we do know.  A police accountability task force, appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel after the atrocious Laquan McDonald killing and the false police reporting that followed, assessed the state of policing in Chicago.  Their report stated, “C.P.D.’s own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”

So, a community of people are looking to State’s Attorney, Kim Foxx, to rectify some of the deeply troubling problems in both the police and the state’s attorney’s offices.  The slow, troubling manner in which the Van Dyke case entered into the judicial system proved to be the final straw for Foxx’s predecessor, Alvarez, who was already considered by many to be a party hack more concerned about politics than cleaning up police and prosecutorial corruption.  But what does a State’s Attorney who works in the best interest of the people of the State of Illinois even look like today?  People in Chicago are hoping it looks like Kim Foxx, but no one is expecting miracles.  We are clear that it will take time, hard work, and very strong commitment to shift the culture in an entrenched, inert system that features unmitigated injustice routinely enacted in Black and Brown communities.

State’s Attorney Foxx needs to educate, not train, all of the assistant state’s attorneys, seasoned veterans, and rookies alike.  At least a yearlong course of mandatory education about the obscene history of policing and prosecuting Black and Brown people needs to be instituted right away. She also needs to encourage the Chicago Police Department to get serious about doing likewise.

People think they are knowledgeable about the mistreatment of Black people in the criminal justice arena, and they think they know the reasons why.  Poor public education systems and deliberate outrageous lies propagated in the culture assist people in arriving at grievous, erroneous assumptions regarding the policing of Black people.  False cultural narratives usually start with the idea that Black people somehow deserve the vicious treatment they receive, including the slaughtering of unarmed men and women.  The narrative continues with the notion that the police—all of them—are infallible, dedicated public servants who never make mistakes, let alone consciously commit crimes.  That is simply not true, especially in Chicago where police officers and even judges have been prosecuted for corruption.

Until police officers and state’s attorneys understand the ignominious history of American policing—from convict lease systems to the misuse of police and prosecutorial power to enforce Jim Crow laws and uphold northern city racism, to the use of law enforcement as occupying forces to contain, rather than serve and protect, poor communities, things will never change.  If they are sincere in their desire to offer intelligent commentary, members of the public would do well to understand how racism has been institutionalized in policing and prosecuting, too.

So, congratulations, again, State’s Attorney Foxx!  It is my hope, for everyone’s sake, that you succeed. And to the fair-minded people of Cook County, let’s check-in with State’s Attorney Foxx, because she needs a strong, consistent display of people power to fight entrenched, but unjust, ways of doing things.  Systemic change requires consistent fight. A luta continua.  (The struggle continues.)

“Simply removing formal impediments to equality is not enough; the pecking order thrives on hidden power and invisible rules.”  Harlon L. Dalton, Professor Emeritus, Yale Law School

Sources:

Armstrong, Ken and Possley, Maurice.  “Part 1: The verdict: Dishonor.” Chicago Tribune.  January 11, 1999

Armstrong, Ken and Possley, Maurice.  “Part II:  The flip side of a fair trial.”  January 11, 1999

Taylor, Flint.  “Jon Burge, torturer of over 100 Black men, is out of Prison after less than four years.” In These Times.  October 2, 2014.

Wilkerson, I. (2010).  The warmth of other suns:  The epic story of America’s Great Migration. New York, NY:  Random House

Rhonda Sherrod is the Founder and President of The Need To Know Group  with offices in the suburbs of Chicago and Birmingham, AL.  She is a lawyer, licensed psychologist, and a multicultural educator.

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Introducing Daisy Bates: Little Rock’s Dynamic Crusader For Equal Access to Education

Why school board elections should matter to Black People

by Dr. Rhonda Sherrod

“In the first place, God made idiots.
That was for practice. Then He made school boards.”
Humorist Mark Twain

(Note: This is the second of two SHE: Surviving, Healing, and Evolving Women’s History articles that go beyond the month of March and into April in light of the fact that many people, all over the country, will be asked, over the next several days, to take part in the political process by voting in local elections. Besides, women’s history should be read every month!)

Dateline May 17, 1954. You would have thought a nuclear bomb had exploded. Or was it just Pearl Harbor all over again? Almost from the moment the lead attorney, a super lawyer named Thurgood Marshall,* emerged from the United States Supreme Court building—victorious in one of the most influential cases in American jurisprudence—White people all over the country, not just in the deep south, went ballistics. All the Court did was announce that the legal doctrine of “separate but equal,” which, essentially, had been enshrined into the law by the Court in Plessy v. Ferguson, had no place in public education. It violated the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause of the US Constitution. The Brown Court stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” (Also, with the Court’s ruling, effectively, the separate but equal myth was unmoored in other aspects of life and society, too.) Oh my God. A Mississippi judge derided the day of the decision as “Black Monday,” and wrote a pamphlet advancing the deranged notion that White girls who attended schools with Blacks would be endangered.

Black and White people alike had known full well that there had never been any such thing as “separate but equal” in American society. It was a legal fiction created by lawmakers, and supported by judges and justices, who knew full well they were giving legal sanction to a ruse designed to keep Black people in a subordinate social, political, and economic position. However, Blacks who challenged segregation in schools were often met with vicious violence. The perspicacious Derrick Bell, the first Black tenured law professor at Harvard who had (later) worked, like Marshall, for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund, said that parents and activists who fought against segregated schools became “special objects of hatred by Whites — and persons to be avoided by many, but thank goodness not all, Blacks.”*

Despite the inherent unfairness of separate but unequal, Black people managed to create exceptionally strong communities through brilliance, very hard work, and admirable faith. Indeed, shortly after slavery ended, despite being victimized by White violence time and time again, Black people in many cities managed to build up and prosper. Montgomery, Alabama and, later, the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma (Black Wall Street), represent just two, of many, examples where Black people worked extremely hard and did well.

Also, during The Great Migration wherein Blacks from the South fled North, Chicago’s Black south side became a thriving commercial and social district, in spite of horrific social, labor, economic, and policing policies and practices designed to keep Blacks subjugated. White people would catch taxicabs, because they did not want to be seen going into Black neighborhoods, so they could partake of and enjoy the brilliant cultural scene and the live entertainment at Black night clubs. Yes, many in Black Chicago were subjected to grinding poverty from which they were trying to fight their way out of, and, yet and still, eventually, Chicago claimed the largest number of Black millionaires in the country for a longtime!

So, the unanimous victory in Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka (1954) had nothing to do with Black people wanting their children to sit next to White children in schools;* it had to do with the fact that “Black” schools had always experienced devastating inequities in the distribution of state funds and resources. Black teachers, no matter what credentials they held, were paid a paltry sum compared to their White counterparts, and “Black” schools were often dilapidated, and even unsafe, structures that featured horrific restroom facilities and leaking roofs. The schools were often severely overcrowded and poorly-equipped. Textbooks in “Black” schools were, often, several editions old—many times they were books that had been discarded at “White” schools—and often they were defaced with missing pages.

Additionally, to reinforce upon them how society did not care about their education, many Black students, either trudged by contemporary “White” schools to get to their shacks, or watched as White kids passed them by as they were being transported by bus — while Black kids fought the elements as they walked, often, long distances to their schools. Public spending per pupil in southern Black schools was always a fraction of what was spent on pupils in white schools. In many southern counties, expenditures for Black education was discontinued after eighth grade, so that there were no area high schools for Black students to attend. Today, even though Black parents have waged an incredible fight for the public education of their children, the battle for “education equity” is far, far, far from over.
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After the Brown decision was handed down by the Supremes, making it the law of the land, immediately, and for years, White officials in several states and school districts across the country simply flat out refused to comply with the Court’s orders. After all, the basis for segregationist laws, to begin with, was to keep Blacks in an inferior position in society, to thwart their attempts at accessing economic, political, and social power, and to prevent them from being self-determining. And, since education has long been considered a powerful vehicle to success and equality, all kinds of machinations were employed in the ensuing years after Brown.

Across the south, members of the White Citizens Councils, many of whom were wealthy businessmen and elected officials, used economic tactics (e.g. loss of employment, loans, and credit) to keep Black parents from trying to enroll their children in all White schools. In 1959, Prince Edward County in Virginia closed down their public school system altogether, rather than allow Black pupils to attend school with White pupils! Slyly, the Prince Edward Foundation set up “private” schools for White children, but they were still allowed to use public funds and county tax credits! They also hired White public school teachers. The county did not reopen public schools until it was forced to by a Court ruling in 1964. In the meantime, for years, Black parents had been forced to scramble to determine how to educate their children.

Noting that, years after the Brown decision, Whites were still steadfastly fighting the implementation of the Court’s order, Professor Bell said: “Even a dozen years after the Supreme Court’s decision holding racial segregation in state-run facilities unconstitutional, legions of Whites in the deep south determined, often violently, that the Court’s desegregation orders would never be enforced. For them, separate and unequal was more than a racial policy, it was a self-defeating narcotic under the influence of which even the lowliest white person could feel superior.”

Negative responses to full integration were not confined to the south. Northerners were busy using zoning laws, housing patterns — aided by racially restrictive covenants, redlining, and block busting — school districting lines, and public policy to insure de facto segregation. In 1974, a major crisis erupted in Boston as White parents reacted fiercely and violently against busing Black students into all-White neighborhoods for school. Signs reading “Nigger go home,” and pictures of monkeys were just a few of the many things Black students encountered going into South Boston. By October in the school year, the Boston Globe was reporting that the city had gotten “out of control,” as local police, ultimately supplemented by the state police, struggled to maintain public order. Many argue that the Boston crisis has left an indelible stain on that city’s history. Indeed, many books have been written trying to explain that public, televised debacle which featured White men and housewives hurling projectiles, and yelling vicious threats and hurtful racial epithets, at Black children.

Enter Onto the American Stage Mrs. Daisy Bates

Although the threat of racial violence was a powerful deterrent in many southern communities, still there were many battles all over the south for desegregation. Indeed, before the fights in Prince Edward County and Boston, there was the showdown in Little Rock, Arkansas. The strategist leading the charge for Black parents, was a “charming” but forceful, no-nonsense woman, from the small sawmill town of Huttig, named Daisy Bates. She and several high school students, who ultimately came to be called the “Little Rock Nine,” displayed the kind of courage, strength, and resolve that can only be described as epic.

In 1957, tired of all the delays in which state and local officials and groups in Arkansas were engaged regarding the issue of school desegregation, Daisy, flew into, seemingly, non-stop purposeful action. The Arkansas state president of the NAACP, Daisy, and her husband, L. C. Bates, published a weekly Black newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, which consistently challenged racism, discrimination, and police brutality. A warrior of strong conviction, Daisy had been victimized by unspeakable injustice as a young girl. Her mother was brutally raped and murdered by white men who were never charged. Her father, devastated and humiliated, left Daisy with friends before disappearing. Before Daisy’s adopted father died, he admonished her to transform her contempt for Whites into a fight against injustice and she did.

After the Brown decision, the school board of the capitol city of Little Rock had approved a three-stage desegregation plan. However, Daisy Bates and the NAACP filed suit alleging that the board was not implementing the plan fast enough. A federal judge ruled that the board had to begin implementation, and they began “screening” Black students for entrance into Central, one of the three high schools in the city. At least 60 Back students applied, 17 were admitted, but only nine ultimately enrolled. (Daisy had taken on the school board about its practice of attempting to screen out dark-skinned applicants, too.)

It appeared that the desegregation plan might have been executed without as much rancor as in other places, but the state’s governor, Orval Faubus, while running for reelection, had begun pandering to White segregationists in an effort to defeat his opponent. Interestingly, previously, Faubus had been a “moderate” on race who had integrated the state’s Democratic Party and appointed African Americans to state jobs. His state and school integration was highlighted by a Life magazine article in 1955 because desegregation went smoothly in Hoxie, Arkansas. But when Faubus ran for reelection against the state director of the White Citizens Council, Jim Johnson, he altered his stance. Johnson advocated for a state amendment that would, supposedly, “nullify” the Brown decision, so Faubus began proposing segregationist responses to school integration and stated that “no school district will be forced to mix the races as long as I am governor of Arkansas” ( Defining, pg. 148) Later, he famously said “blood will run in the streets” if the schools in Little Rock tried to comply with Brown.

Many people know President Dwight D. Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and sent federal troops to escort the “Little Rock Nine” into Central High School. The National Guard, which had first been called up by Faubus, to prevent the nine Black students from enrolling in Central High, now had to stand sentry to protect those adolescents from White adults who screamed, jeered, and launched profanities and projectiles. (Viewing the newsreel, even today, is shocking to the conscience of right thinking people.)

What many people do not know is how much Daisy Bates fought for the Little Rock Nine, and how much both she and the nine students suffered. Historian, Lerone Bennett, Jr., wrote in Ebony magazine, that Daisy and her husband “bore the brunt of a systematic campaign of terror and intimidation. Their home was under continuous siege. Bombs, bottles, and bricks rained on their lawn. During the height of the crisis, segregationists in the school district distributed placards bearing the legend: DAISY BATES—WANTED.”* Crosses were burned on her lawn and shots were fired into her home. At one point, police prevented several cars from reaching the Bateses, and Bennett, Jr. reported that the thugs in the cars had “enough dynamite to blow up the whole neighborhood.” Furthermore, Daisy and her husband lost their newspaper due to revenue losses sustained when advertisers began to withheld ads.

Yet, Daisy Bates was unceasing in her quest to support the Little Rock Nine. She counseled, encouraged, and kept the nine and their parents informed about everything that transpired. She joined the PTA, and admonished public officials and “moderate” Whites to demonstrate fidelity to the language contained in the Brown order. After Faubus commanded the National Guard troops to turn the students away from Central High, Daisy set up a makeshift school at Philander Smith College and recruited teachers from there and the University of Arkansas to teach them.

It took several court orders and attempts, in the face of threats and dangerous and unruly mobs, to integrate Central High. Eisenhower’s military intervention took place because the Mayor of Little Rock, Woodrow Mann, pleaded with him to send help as the “situation was out of control” and peace needed to be restored. Moreover, Faubus, the governor, was actively defying federal court orders. (The mayor had already shared his “deep resentment at the manner in which the governor has chosen to use this city as a pawn in what clearly is a political design of his own.”)*

When the federal troops finally arrived, they descended on Daisy’s house to escort the students to Central. Daisy described the scene, “The streets were blocked off. The soldiers closed ranks. Neighbors came out and looked. The street was full, up and down. Oh, it was beautiful. And the attitude of the children at that moment, the respect they had. I could hear them saying, ‘For the first time in my life, I truly feel like an American.’ I could see it in their faces; somebody cares for me, America cares.”*

The Little Rock Nine were finally enrolled, but the school year exacted an unconscionable toll on those youngsters. They were constantly verbally abused, spat upon, and physically assaulted by White students, some of whom threatened to kill them. Glass, pencils, and other objects were thrown at them, and they were not properly protected by teachers, some of whom were afraid of backlash from the community. White students were constantly trying to provoke them into a fight, knowing that they would be the ones suspended or expelled. One student did get expelled. It was an awful, awful year for the students who bravely persevered, as Daisy encouraging them to stay strong under almost intolerable circumstances. After the school year had elapsed, some of the students transferred to out of state schools, but two, ultimately, graduated from the school. All of the students went on to be successful in life, and to be honored for their pioneering ways. Daisy Bates was honored time and again for her intelligent strategy, her unrelenting spirit, and her successful tactics in orchestrating the Little Rock Nine’s entrance into Central High.
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Historically, like Orval Faubus of Arkansas, many politicians have made quite a name for themselves, stoking up latent racist fears about schools and the quality of education students can receive when Black children enter the building. Others run for school boards, not so they can advocate for the best interests and wellbeing of students, but for personal gain.

It is high time we, the people, get this education issue right. All American children deserve a world-class education. Citizens need to take their votes for school board members, and other elected officials, seriously. Educating our youth is one of the most important things we must do for the healthy development and success of our youths. Think about that as you vote for members of your school boards.

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*An ecstatic Thurgood Marshall said when the Court’s ruling was handed down, he was “numb,” because he was so happy. As the chief lawyer for the (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund, he had been waging court battles against school boards on behalf of Black parents and students for years. He also sued universities on behalf of Black students. Marshall, of course, would go on to be the Solicitor General before President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to be the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court.

*Derrick Bell quotes are in: Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in Post Civil Rights American, by Paul Street, pgs. 22 & 23

*In fact, Brown University Professor, James Patterson, wrote, in Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and its Troubled Legacy:

“ What [the plaintiffs in the Brown cases] and other [Black] parents yearned for above all was part of the American Dream: equal opportunities for their children. That is why schools, which as later events indicated, were among the toughest of all institutions to desegregate, became some of the fiercest battlegrounds in conflicts between the races in postwar America. Like many white people, the parents and students who engage in these struggles believed in a central creed of Americans: schools offered the ticket to advancement in life. I was a creed that forced schools to the center of racial turmoil for the remainder of the century.

“Until 1950, these parents and their allies most often demanded educational equality, not desegregation: a separate-but-equal system of schools was tolerable if it was truly equal. It was only when they became convinced that whites would never grant equality that they began to call for the dismantling of Jim Crow in the schools.” (pg. 36)
*Many Blacks were able to get rich by simply meeting the needs of Black people. As just a few examples:

Madame C J Walker became fabulously wealthy by attending to Black women’s hair care needs. Robert Sengstacke Abbott became wealthy by reporting on information important to Black people, including lynchings in the south, in the paper he founded, the Chicago Defender, which became one of the most influential papers in the country. John H. Johnson, the publisher of Ebony, Jet, and Black World magazine, saw that the stories of Black people were not being told in then popular magazines, like Look, Life, and Time, so he began telling our stories to great success. He, famously, ran the photograph (that shocked the world) of young Emmett Till’s bloated, grotesque body in his casket after he was murdered in Mississippi. He also, famously, became the first Black man to own an office high rise building on Chicago’s famed Michigan Avenue. Also, many white car dealerships hassled Black people when they tried to buy high end cars, so several Blacks like Al Johnson, and several others, became rich with their own car dealerships.

*Lerone Bennett, Jr. quotes from Ebony magazine, December, 1997, pg. 136

*Mayor of Little Rock quoted in: Defining Moments:  Brown v. Board of Education, by Diane Telgen, copyright 2005, Omnigraphics, Inc.

*Daisy Bates quoted in Lerone Bennett, Jr. Ebony magazine article, December, 1997, pg. 140

(Sources updated: April, 4, 2017 at 9:10 pm)

Mississippi’s First Black Female Mayor Jailed 75 Times For Trying To Register Black People To Vote.

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(Note:  On this final day of Women’s History Month, this is one of two SHE: Surviving, Healing, and Evolving articles that will go beyond the month of March and into the next month in light of the fact that many people, all over the country, including in Maywood, will be asked, over the next several days, to take part in the political process by voting in local elections. Besides, women’s history should be read every month!)

by Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.

“I thought nothing from nothing leaves nothing, and we have nothing, and we’re going to have to stand for something. I was afraid, but that was the day I decided I was going to die for my freedom.”  The Honorable Unita Blackwell

 

She was jailed everyday for 30 consecutive days because she had the nerve to be involved in the Freedom Summer Movement, which put her on a collision course with the brutal White power structure of her home state of Mississippi. In sum total, she was jailed 75 times.

Unita Blackwell says she “was born in the movement,” because she was born Black. Like so many African Americans of previous generations, and now, her life has been one of arduous, dangerous, and consistent struggle, but her mental strength and tenacity has been honored again and again. One honor, of historic proportions and immense value, came when she was elected mayor of Mayersville, Mississippi, making her the first Black woman in Mississippi history to hold that title.

A river town in west Mississippi, Mayersville was a popular shipping port during the antebellum days. But it was a tiny patch of distressed land with a long-suffering Black “side of town” when Unita was first elected mayor in 1976. Yet, while still serving as mayor, in 1992, and at the age of 59, she was awarded the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant (the “genius grant”) for her innovative approach to solving her town’s problems.

There stands, today, for example, affordable brick houses, which she willed into existence, to replace some of the poor, dilapidated living structures in that Mississippi Delta town; and the town is now incorporated. She also put a utility district in place, because the town did not have a water system that supplied clean drinking water, and many homes were simply without running water, when she came into office. The MacArthur grant committee also admired and acknowledged the fact that Unita had enrolled in school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, at age 50, to earn a master’s degree in regional planning.

Born “U.Z.” in Lula, Coahoma County, Mississippi, but later renamed Unita Zelma by an influential elementary school teacher who recognized that she would do well in life and needed more than initials, Unita’s parents were sharecroppers who picked cotton. As a young girl, her education was complete after the 8th grade, as was common among Black people who were deprived of so many of the bounties of being an American citizen. Yet, that did not prevent her from engaging in the activist work that would propel her into greatness. (Like many African Americans who were denied access to formal educational opportunities, she cultivated her mind by being an avid reader and listener.)

At some point in her youth, her family was compelled to move to Tennessee after her father picked up, by the collar, a white man who had attempted to strike him. Unita must have inherited that courageous self-defense streak. As a young girl, she had gone to “White town” to retrieve her family’s mail, when a White boy called her “nigger, nigger, nigger.” Unita and the boy “got into it.” Of course, her mother was beyond frightened, for fear of White reprisal, when her daughter returned home and detailed the incident to her; yet, she bravely hugged and supported her daughter. Unita said her mother “was ready to die for her child.” That same mother bolstered her daughter’s sagging self-esteem, which was said to be “hanging [by] a thread,” because Unita, a dark-skinned child, was teased, mercilessly, by her racially traumatized peers who were, clearly, acting out the racism they had already internalized. (quotes from Wright Edelman, pg.97)

As a married adult, Unita returned to Mississippi when she and her husband acquired his deceased grandmother’s land; and she worked in cotton fields until she was 30-years-old. In 1964, during what has been named “Freedom Summer,” Stokely Carmicheal (later known as Kwame Toure), and other members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) spoke before her church congregation. She had already heard about the Freedom Riders, a group of interracial students who had boarded buses and rode south in defiance of segregated interstate travel laws. Carmicheal, who had been a brilliant 19-year-old student at Howard University at the time, had been one of many Freedom Riders who had been locked up in Parchman Farm, a notoriously savage Mississippi penitentiary.

That day at Unita’s church, the SNCC activists asked for volunteers to register to vote. She stood up to get involved, but her husband “pulled her dress” to make her sit down until he decided to rise.  At that time, strict gender norms envisioned that the man would take the lead on important decisions of that sort. Unita has said, “I sat down and waited, and he didn’t get up, so I poked him until he did stand, and when he got up, I stood up, and I’ve been up ever since.” She signed on with SNCC as a “field worker” charged with persuading Black people to try to register to vote. (quotes from Wright-Edelman, pgs. 98-99)

Attempting to vote in Mississippi, and throughout the entire south, up until the early 1970s, was an extremely perilous adventure. Black people were routinely beaten in ghastly ways, dismissed from their jobs, thrown off the land they sharecropped, and even killed by ignorant and “educated” Whites for daring to participate in the act of helping to elect the people who would govern them. After Reconstruction, Mississippi, with its Ku Klux Klan, its well-entrenched racist ideology, its segregationist lawmakers — and, later on, with its racist organizations, like the White Citizens’ Councils and the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, a legislative creation, — was one of the most ardent and active states in trying to establish the south as a neo-slave nation within a nation. This is true even though Mississippi had been the first state to send a Black man to the Senate (Hiram Revels) during Reconstruction. He bravely served in the U.S. Capitol — the so-called “Temple of Liberty” — which had been built by slaves.


So, valiantly, Unita and a group of people, that included several schoolteachers, attempted to register to vote, but they were received by menacing, hateful white men in trucks, with guns, circling the courthouse — the courthouse they were not allowed inside of, unless they were going in the back door to pay their taxes. Unita said that was “the day I got angry… I thought nothing from nothing leaves nothing and we have nothing, and we’re going to have to stand for something. I was afraid, but that was the day I decided I was going to die for my freedom.” (Wright Edelman, pg.99)

Unita and the others, all of whom had been cruelly directed to interpret the state’s Constitution, as a precondition to voting, were denied their right to vote — and they lost their jobs.  But that did not deter her from persuading her neighbors to try to register. And so began a life filled with meetings, infiltrators who tipped off police about the activists’ plans, a cross burning outside her home, jail time, and myriad lawsuits against the state of Mississippi. (Black people had to sue for practically everything, including receiving telephone service in their homes. Marian Wright Edelman,* the brilliant founder of the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington DC, who was the first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi bar, was one of the lawyers who waged some of the lawsuits for Unita and other Black citizens.)

Needless to say, the activities of the local Black, and northern Black and White, community organizers enraged the local Whites.  (Unita has said that when the northern Whites came to Mississippi, “I think it was a reassurance that all White people was not like the ones that we were dealing with.” (Oh Freedom Over Me American Radioworks Interview, pg. 5) In addition to voter registration pursuits, Freedom Summer activists set up “Freedom Schools,” and lodged a challenge to the Democratic Party political establishment. (SNCC wanted to use grassroots strategies to help local Blacks in their attempt to establish political leadership.)

The activists’ efforts were met with audacious violence from local Whites, including verbal and psychological abuse, rapes, physical torture, bombings, church burnings, and murder. There were nights when shots were fired into Unita’s and other residents’ homes.  Also, Unita and the other activists were compelled to drive on the backroads for fear of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, who were, in her words, “just as dangerous as the Klan.”

Indeed, in June, during that Freedom Summer movement, civil rights workers James Chaney (African American), Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman (both White), went missing. Six-weeks later when their remains were found, they had been beaten, murdered, and buried in an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Through investigations and court procedures it was discovered that the local deputy sheriff had jailed them on trumped up charges and released them to members of the Klan. The deputy sheriff, and the sheriff himself, were reputed klansmen, and one of the klansmen, who was convicted of manslaughter many years later, was a Baptist “preacher.” During the long search for the missing activists, the bodies of nine other Black men were found in swamps and woods. (The highly fictionalized Hollywood motion picture, Mississippi Burning, concerns the deaths of Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman and the FBI’s involvement in the case.)

Recognizing the importance of the Black vote, and determined to persevere, Unita took part in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP)** to challenge the legitimacy of the all-White Democratic delegation that would go to Atlantic City, New Jersey for the purpose of nominating the Democratic presidential candidate in 1964. The racially integrated MFDP was formed because Blacks were denied participation in the regular Democratic Party in Mississippi. Indeed, only approximately 5% of Mississippi’s Black population had managed to get registered to vote; and, at that time, Mississippi was a solidly Democratic state and many of its political power-brokers were “Dixiecrats.”  The Dixiecrats were steadfastly invested in oppressing Black people and in the rigid maintenance of white supremacist policies and thought. One of the state’s then U.S. Senators, James O. Eastland, who was given to spouting offensive racist doggrel on the floor of the Senate, was one of its most vicious voices.

Entertainers Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier bore the expenses for the bus that transported Unita, and the other activists, to the Democratic National Convention. It was an extraordinary ride that featured stunning drama. When the Klan attempted to turn the bus around with a roadblock they had erected, a woman on the bus, a modern day Harriet Tubman, held a knife to the bus driver’s neck and urged him to drive through the roadblock.

At the Convention, The MFDP challenged the right of the all-White Mississippi delegation to represent the state Democratic party. Lodging constitutional arguments and citing Democratic party rules, they advocated for members of the MFDP to be issued credentials and seated. MFDP vice-chair, the great and incomparable ***Fannie Lou Hamer (“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired”), gave a magnificent speech, broadcast to America, wherein she detailed the atrocities she and other Black people in Mississippi endured as a way of life. In her own inimitable style, she then concluded her remarks with a powerfully exquisite question:

“If the Freedom party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?” (MFDP Challenge to the Democratic Convention, pg.7)
In the end, they were unsuccessful in their quest to unseat the Mississippi Democratic “regulars,” but their organizational skill and extraordinary eloquence profoundly affected the national viewing audience. People credit their activities, wherein they challenged injustice and demanded fairness, for laying the foundation for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Upon returning home, Unita resumed her activist work in Mississippi. She co-founded the Mississippi Action for Community Education, a community development group that, among other things, assisted geographically distinct districts with the act of incorporating. Such a move allowed the former districts to have a formal government capable of making improvements such as wiring electricity in the towns, taking control over their own finances, and establishing and governing their own schools.

Unita also aligned herself with the National Council of Negro Women, as they began a project with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Ford Foundation, to build low-income housing through a “sweat equity” program. Under this concept, people could help repair run-down properties and have it count as a down-payment on the home. Unita traveled all over the country helping organizers secure HUD dollars for such projects. By the time she was elected mayor in 1976, her work with HUD enabled her to bring decent housing to Mayersville. Also, drawing on her many significant and useful life experiences, she set about incorporating Mayersville, paving streets, installing the water system, and forming a police force, among other things.

Sadly, in some ways, Unita’s marriage was a casualty of the personal growth and development she underwent as a member of the movement. At a time when women were supposed to be in the background, especially in the south, paying deference to their husbands, Unita was a woman in search of her freedom, her voice, and her destiny. As people began to seek out her opinion and her leadership more and more, the marriage collapsed. Interestingly, her son grew up to be a marksman in the United States Navy, in part, she thinks, because he saw people harassing his mother — including pointing guns in her face.

Unita has never tired of pursuing more education, personal development and being a leader in society. Always an ardent learner, soaking up knowledge and information from the people she had worked with and from her manifold experiences, she applied for, and received, a National Rural Fellows Program scholarship.  Using her phenomenal life for college credit, she was able to work toward a master’s degree at Massachusetts. Also, she has held several prestigious positions, including coming full circle as the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Democratic Party! She was an Institute of Politics Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in 1991, and she has traveled extensively, including to China as the National President of the US-China People’s Friendship Association. Indeed, her honors and accomplishments are far too numerous to properly chronicle.

Believing that government is for the people, by the people, and of the people, Unita Blackwell fearlessly has demanded respect and helped seize control of and reshape her community for the good. Honor this phenomenal woman, who still lives, for women’s history month.

********************

*Among MANY other things, the brilliant Marian Wright Edelman was Hillary Clinton’s first boss out of Yale Law School (where Edelman herself, a Spelman graduate, went to law school).  Hillary worked as a lawyer at Wright Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund, and considers Wright Edelman one of her great mentors.

**The history of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party is a fascinating one that should be studied by freedom-loving people everywhere.  The late Howard Zinn, a former Spelman College professor and the author of several books, including A People’s History of the United States, said, about the MFDP’s 1964 state convention:  “It was a beautifully-organized, crowded, singing assembly of laborers, farmers, housewives, from the farthest corners of Mississippi, and made the political process seem healthy for the first time in the state’s history.” In today’s political climate, where people who felt disenfranchised chose Trump, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party is instructive.

***Fannie Lou Hamer is one of my all time heroines, along with Ida B. Wells Barnett. Both women’s lives should be studied over and over for the times when you will need strength and courage in this life.

Sources:

Wright-Edelman, Marian. (1999). Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors. HarperCollins Books: New York.

http://www.crmvet.org/tim/timhome.htm. Freedom Movement History and Timeline, 1951-1968: 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Events, see section on the MFDP Challenge to the Democratic Convention

encyclopedia.com. Contemporary Black biography. Unita Blackwell. Copyright 2015, Thomas Gale.

americanradioworks. publicradio.org/features/oh_freedom/interview_blackwell.html. Oh Freedom Over Me: Selected Interview: Unita Blackwell

Mills, K. (1992). Unita Blackwell: MacArthur Genuis Award Caps a Creative Political Life. Los Angeles Times Article Collections (articles.latimes.com/print/1992-08-02/opinion/op-5791_1_unita-blackwell.)

For further study on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party:

Teaching A Peoples’ History:  Zinn Education Project

zinnedproject.org/2014/08/freedom-democratic-party-state-convention/

Updated: March 31, 2017 at 10:13

 

A Final Goodbye to Mrs. Iberia Hampton, Mother of the legendary Fred Hampton

by Dr. Rhonda Sherrod

Iberia Hampton died some weeks ago and it still stuns. Mrs. Hampton was a Maywood, Illinois institution — the kind that moored many of the African Americans who moved into the village during the late 1950s and early 1960s to the village. Black people who were experiencing the kind of baffling racism that comes with moving into a predominantly White suburban community knew, beforehand, that strength in the face of adversity was a requirement to make such a move. Yet, no one here was forced to embody the type of inner strength Iberia Hampton, a former union steward, and her late husband, Francis Hampton, a World War II veteran, were forced to exhibit. That unbreakable strength helped many Maywoodians understand that she was someone truly special. Watching Iberia Hampton grieve and endure so much pain under the scorching heat of the public glare made Maywoodians very protective of her. A Haynesville, Louisiana native, Mrs. Hampton, was the mother of international Black Panther icon, Fred Hampton, one of Maywood’s most esteemed sons. The Hamptons raised their family here, so they were really our own.

When I was younger, every time I encountered Mrs. Hampton I found myself studying her. I studied the way she comported herself with such dignity, grace, warmth, and, even, a sense of nobility. There was a magnificence about her that was clearly perceptible. The regal and proud manner in which she carried herself left a deep impression on me as a young girl coming into womanhood.

I must confess, however, that I often wondered how she could be so peaceful, so dignified, and so serene considering the staggering, unspeakable tragedy she had suffered with regard to her brilliant baby boy, Fred Hampton. After all, he had been assassinated by agents of the state, as a result of a devastating law enforcement scheme that reached all the way up to the federal government of the United States of America. Fred had been an extremely gifted orator and an immensely talented community organizer who sought to bring Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, and poor White people together to form what he called a “Rainbow Coalition.” (The phrase was later popularized by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, but it was Fred who coined it.) Fred had a singular ability to mobilize and bring people together. And I did not realize, as I sat there probing her psychological interior all those years ago, that Mrs. Hampton had babysat, on occasion, for Emmett Till whose grisly and sickening murder at the hands of degenerate White men sparked the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 60s. I would not learn that Mrs. Hampton had experienced that sordid tragedy, on a personal level, until many years later.

It is quite interesting that today we are witnessing one of the most vicious, vulgar, and disgraceful presidential campaigns in modern day history — one that has been fueled by the savage anger of many dispossessed White people who can no longer count on an America in which their White privilege is guaranteed all the time. Black people have been watching almost, but not quite, with disbelief as a man supported by the Ku Klux Klan attempts to claw his way to the presidency where he would preside, if successful, as the “leader of the free world.”

Fred Hampton and the Panthers presaged the horrific rise of the White hot anger of White people that we are witnessing in the public square. Black people have always had the presence of mind to recognize the utter stupidity of the unjust manner in which everything from personal to constitutional to economic and natural “rights” have been subverted by wealthy White people who, almost from the very beginning, decided that their “rights” to everything — from the Native Americans’ land, to Black people’s labor, bodies, and brilliance, to the manipulation of poor White people’s minds — would reign supreme. White people have never had to fight the type of battle that characterizes the Black experience in this country, but still, Fred compassionately perceived that the impoverished White man was, in fact, getting a raw deal, even if that same impoverished White man had a hard time recognizing that Black people were not his enemy or the cause of his “pain.”

Fred, astutely, tried to point out that the members of the elite White power structure who looked like the poor White man, but perceived him entirely differently, created the problems of inequity in society with their gross, outsized, and unrelenting greed. However, while Fred was busy trying to enlighten White people at the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder about the fact that they should be natural allies with people of color, if they could just ferret out their socially-engineered racism, other deeply disturbed lethal forces were moving in his direction.

Then Federal Bureau of Investigations Director, J. Edgar Hoover, a twisted, cruel, and crude little ruffian, was busy trying to make sure there was no “rising Black Messiah” in the Black community. At the same time, the cold blooded racism that permeated Chicago, then one of the most rigidly segregated cities in the country, was ripening to strike Fred with lethal force to prevent him and the Panthers from policing a police force that featured far too many officers who were brutalizing Black people. The Panthers were also guilty of feeding poor Black school children breakfast, and making demands for freedom, dignity, jobs, land, and self-determination for Black people who were stuck in the worst slums in the country. For having the brilliance and boldness to want, and to actively work for, a fair, egalitarian, and just society for his Rainbow Coalition, Fred Hampton had to die.

As I studied and questioned Iberia Hampton, with the kind of unmitigated gall that only the brashness of youth can confer, since my questions were deeply personal and intrusive, I was able to glean that she had an inner peace that no one could take away from her. Her joy was rooted in the knowledge that she and her husband had conceived, and she had birthed into the world, a child whose brilliance set the world ablaze, a child who continues to inspire people who quest for justice and self-determination all over the world. That, I learned, was something no force for evil could wrest from her. The elegance she possessed was underpinned by the knowledge that, long after the thugs who killed her son on that glacial cold winter night of December 4, 1969 are forgotten, her son’s name will still be uttered like a talisman by people who quest for freedom.

Moreover, Mrs. Hampton knew her son’s name would continue to be raised by those who know that the level of brutality that was unleashed on her son, and that is only unleashed on Black people, will one day be considered indecent to all the decent people in this country. The heartwrenching killings of unarmed Black people at the hands of law enforcement that we see on videotape today are, in many ways, reminiscent of what happened to Fred. Not only was he unarmed, he was asleep in his bed, apparently drugged by a government informant, as police riddled his apartment with bullets before killing him at point blank range. So, Mrs. Hampton understood that what happened to her son underscored just how dangerous an unchecked government can be toward its own citizens. Fred’s case continues to be studied by legal scholars all over the world because the clear message that his death sent to us is that no group of people professing to operate under a civilized form of government should allow that government to discharge that kind of awesome power on any citizen, let alone one who strove to uplift and empower the very people that government supposedly serves.

So, as Maywood mourns and says goodbye to Mrs. Hampton, I have given a lot of thought to the quiet reverence that many Maywoodians — Black, White, and Hispanic — have had for Mrs. Hampton all these years. I think we all felt favored to call her and her family our own. Moreover, I think we all had sense enough to recognize that when we encountered Iberia Hampton — when we were fortunate enough to touch her, and to be embraced and hugged by her — we were not just touching history, goodness, and greatness, compounded by grace, we were touching pure love itself.

Rest in peace, Iberia Hampton, and know that your heart, and your son’s short life, will never be forgotten.  (Note, Fred Hampton was only 21-years-old when he was assassinated.)

Rhonda Sherrod, a lawyer and clinical psychologist, is the author of the upcoming book, Surviving, Healing, and Evolving: Essays of Love, Compassion, Healing, and Affirmation for Black People.  

Last Saturday, I Attended A Funeral: A Tribute about Community

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by
Dr. Rhonda Sherrod

Eugene “Gene” Moore. His name is almost synonymous with Maywood. The Honorable Mayor Edwenna Perkins called him “Maywood’s Son” upon learning of his transition. On last Saturday, after listening to speaker after speaker extoll his love for Maywood, and his kindness and generosity toward its residents, what rang out loudest for me was how he helped to create a beloved community — the cherished community of my youth.

I watched as the beautiful brown-skinned pallbearers lifted his gleaming white casket into a sparkling glass carriage — a final ride fit for a prince, just as one speaker, Rev. Marvin E. Wiley, the pastor of Rock of Ages Baptist Church, had crowned him. The white horse that drew the carriage stood tall, disciplined, and regal, almost as if he understood the importance of his assignment for that day.

I had sat flooded with memories as I surveyed the sanctuary filled with old friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen in years, but whose embrace was as warm and loving as ever. There is just something special that characterizes the kids who grew up in my era in this village. We love each other and we love this village. I also scrutinized the sweet faces of the elders. I noted how they are still proud and strong, and how they were as “fly” as “Dick was when Sally died,” as many of those same elders used to say back in the day. I listened as speaker after speaker invoked what we were all no doubt feeling, a longing for the Maywood that was — the Maywood unsullied by bullets and bad-manners, the one where everyone wanted to witness the other survive and thrive.

Gene Moore was a good, hard-working family man who was attentive to his offsprings’ intellectual and social development, and who catered to their growing needs as they matured. He was a throwback to the days when that kind of statement was not uttered in “awe;” no, it was said with simple confirmation and awareness because that’s what the overwhelming majority of Black men in Maywood did — they took care of their families. They did not ask for or need a pat on the back to get up and find, or make, work. Nor, did they hesitate to make sacrifices for their children.

Gene’s life also represented community involvement, because his concern — like that of so many adults back then — was for all of Maywood’s children. He was always there to be of service or to be a surrogate father; and, on Saturday, many a speaker made that truth plain. They noted that Gene was often there when a kid graduated from college — to help usher her to a higher plane, and, when a kid was ascending, he was there to help lift him even higher. They said he was there for the assist when life had kicked a Maywoodian down — he would help that youngster get up and get it back together. Standing outside after the service, a childhood friend reminded me of how Gene would take his little league baseball team (Auto Renewal) to McDonald’s after their games.

All of that love for community came right back at Gene during his service as his granddaughter, Cheyenne, prepared for her “praise dance” tribute to him. The congregation had been alerted to the fact that this beautiful young lady was struggling, mightily, for she had already spoken and told us that her family “was worried about [her],” but that she would be “all right.” (Gene had been her father figure.) So, when Cheyenne stood poised in the back of the church, ready to commence her performance, many in the packed congregation rose to their feet — with a gift of affection and support for her. It was as if we were prepared to will her to dance, just in case grief overtook her. I heard one woman cry out, “Let Him use you.”  But she didn’t need us. She was pure love in motion, a kinetic demonstration of the power her grandfather, no doubt, helped inculcate into her, power that we all hope she will use to propel herself to great heights.

In that moment, when people started standing up for Cheyenne, before she even began her dance, I glimpsed old Maywood, my Maywood, where love and pride in the children of the community knew no bounds. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would take to retrieve that Maywood. I know it is possible to recapture that beauty, that essential Maywood; and I know we are capable of more than simply wishing.

So many people of my generation have come back to Maywood, and so many more want to come back. I hear the conversations all the time. In these days, where the absolute need for a loving Black community to come home to every day is more acute than at any time in recent memory, for comfort, regeneration and succor, I know we can do it. Black people have a long, sterling history of creating strong brilliant communities within cities, and of governing our own towns. From Black Wall Street (the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma) to Rosewood, Florida and Mound Bayou, Mississippi, we have already done what many still don’t think we can. Aah, but that is the power of history. We must know Black history, and understand it, so we can continue advancing.

Gene Moore knew that. I remember telling him about my godfather, Cornelius Coffey, a pioneering Black aviator, master aircraft mechanic and educator, who died at the age of 91 in Chicago. Gene was regaled as I recounted my “Pa Pa’s” history of overpowering brilliance and unrelenting perseverance. Pa Pa developed a Federal Aviation Association (FAA) certified flight instruction school for “Negro” airmen and women, trained Tuskegee Airmen, invented an apparatus that revolutionized the airline industry, and was still flying at age 89. He has an aeronautical fix named after him coming into Midway Airport (the first African American to be so honored) and American Airlines named an educational foundation at its mechanical maintenance academy after him (because he trained many of the first African Americans who became aircraft mechanics for commercial airlines). Gene smiled that beautiful smile while listening, and he was beside himself when I brought my godfather’s story “on home.” During his distinguished career, Pa Pa had flown in and out of Maywood — using the same field Charles Lindbergh flew in and out of to deliver the mail.

Enthralled, Gene insisted that I come with him to his political office on 5th Avenue and Lake Street (as I recall), to relate Pa Pa’s story to the people gathered there. Reluctantly, I told the story to those politicos. Would they be at all interested since they had gathered after work for a meeting with a planned agenda? I was astonished by just how captivated they had been. And there was Gene, off to the side, smiling and shaking his head in wonderment, glancing around, pleased that everyone was sitting at rapt attention. It struck me then, and his eulogist, Maywoodian Dr. Eric King, said it Saturday: Gene was “a teacher.”

On that day, years ago, as he would often, Gene instructed me to teach a lesson that he knew people needed to have. After all, it’s the way we power our kids to the kind of greatness that my godfather achieved. Like me, Gene understood that we must tell the stories, so our kids can see who they really are, instead of conceptualizing themselves the way society deludes too many of them into thinking they are. Gene was just delighted every time he set me flowing on some fascinating topic that he was sure needed to be heard. That was Gene — ever proud of the kids from Maywood.

I shared many sweet, fun moments like that with Maywood’s Son. When I returned to the village, after a long absence, Gene invited me to what I called a Proviso East Pirates “playoff game.” (After all, the team, in true Pirate form under their then new coach, alumnus Donnie Boyce of “The Three Amigos” fame, played with the grace, poise, skill and talent of professionals. In fact, the Pirates would go on to take second in the state when they lost a heartbreaking championship game to Simeon — but not without a super fierce Pirate-style fight.)

Before the game, Gene’s penchant for being on time, which was duly noted on Saturday, meant that he would pick me up very early. I had sent my mother to the door to greet Gene and inform him that I wasn’t yet ready. My mom has been friends with Gene for years — ever since she sold real estate with Gene’s then wife, Rae Jean, at the old Penny’s Real Estate office on Fifth Avenue and Madison — so they laughed and chatted briefly, but gaily.

Then Gene went to pick up his other passengers, letting my mom know that he would swing back and get me last. When I got in the car with Gene and his friends, including Chat (David Sharp), from the old “Chat’s Corner,” I told him what my mom had instructed me to tell him. Mom said:  “Tell Gene I asked, ‘Doesn’t he know anything about women by now?’” When I delivered my mom’s little quip, Gene, Chat and the other guy in the car rocked with laughter. Then, suddenly, Gene rolled all the car windows up and quipped back, “I know how you women are about your hair. I don’t want yours to get messed up.” We laughed and, on cue, I said, “Hmmm. I guess I’ll have to tell mom, you do know a little something about women.” And we laughed still again — in fact, we laughed all the way to the game, as they argued, with me mostly listening, about what to anticipate from the Pirates — which plays Donnie would run with which players, which player would have a “hot” hand and so-forth. Gene was in his element, a Pirate for life, and I will always remember that evening as a welcome home gift, a magical evening with the ever charming Gene Moore, Maywood’s Son.

Prior to Saturday’s eulogy, Dr. Eric King, queried Gene’s children, and some of his grandchildren, to get some of their thoughts about their father and grandfather.
King reported some of his findings. The Moore children had had plenty to say. Among other things, Natalie said her father taught her “to treat people nice” and how to “serve the public.” Eric declared that his “Pops” was his “everything,” and that Gene taught him “how to discipline myself and accept criticism.” He called Gene, “The Greatest.” Cheyenne said, “He’s my everything. My father died when I was 11. He stepped in and stood right by my side.” Her brother, Chase, said, “I am what I am because of what my grandfather taught me… He came to every one of my football games at home and away… He wanted me to be the best that I can be.” What a family legacy.


Perhaps Gene’s final act of kindness and goodness — his enduring legacy — to his beloved Maywood will be to shock this town into understanding that we need to come together, with all the talent we have in this village, to resurrect the kind of community we used to have, and to make it even better.

Rest in Peace, Gene.

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In Remembrance of Mrs. Bettye Rivers

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by Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.

Proverbs 31:26  (KJV)
She openeth her mouth with wisdom;
and in her tongue is the law of kindness.

“We were there, because so many parents weren’t.”
Grady Rivers, Sr.
Boston Globe, October 1, 2006

They were always “there.” This is a tribute to a beautiful lady who was always there, along with her husband, to support the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Maywood’s young people. Mr. and Mrs. Grady Rivers, Sr. were fixtures at sporting events when the Village of Eternal Light was in its glory days. Anyone who came of age in the 1960s and 70s knew Mr. and Mrs. Rivers because they were the kind of “community parents” who made their presence known. They had the kind of visibility that provided stability for Maywood and its young people. They were a part of the group of parents who, like my own, breathed a real sense of community into Maywood as White flight was gripping this village. The community parents took pride in our town, undergirded it firmly, and kept it strong and secure, for as long as they could, while building traditions that most of us will never forget for all the days of our lives.

One can’t help but admire the way the Rivers loved their sons, Grady, Jr. (“Gar”) and Glenn, or the way they provided wise counsel, intelligent guidance, and the blessed assurance of their support for those boys. Even beyond that, the fact is, they were always there to speak a kind word, and provide loving encouragement, to all the kids in the neighborhood. So many of us who grew up in Maywood have nothing but fond memories of Mrs. Rivers and her husband. We basked in their presence, as we understood and embraced their standards; and I am deeply saddened by her transitioning — just as I was when Mr. Rivers passed. I told the friend who delivered the news to me on Saturday afternoon that she had just ruined my day.

I remember when I filed my papers to take the bar exam to become a lawyer. I chose Mr. Rivers, a law enforcement official, as one of my references who could vouch for my “good character and fitness” to be a lawyer, a position of public trust. He had known me since I was a little girl sitting in the bleachers on the little league field with my parents watching my older brother play. However, Mrs. Rivers was the one who helped him fill out the document, as he attested to in the field on the form that asked who aided him with his responses. I recall that Mrs. Rivers was as proud of my accomplishment as she could possibly be, because that was a time when other people’s parents were proud of the kids from the community who did what they had advised us to do — go forth and acquire knowledge. In fact, Mr. Rivers once told me that Glenn, who entered the NBA before graduating, would earn his college degree “if for no other reason than to shut his mother up!” As we all know, Glenn went back and earned that degree!

I also warmly recall chatting with Mrs. Rivers when I finally made it to the Chicago Stadium, as it was then called, to witness Glenn (“little Glenn Rivers” to me) play a professional game. (My younger brother, Duane, used to tell me all the time that Glenn was “really good” when he played at Proviso East, and I used to laugh and say, “little Glenn Rivers?”  After all, I left town for college the same fall he entered Proviso, and all I could remember was little Glenn pulling my hair on the playground when we were both students at Garfield Elementary.) Anyway, during that Stadium encounter, despite the fact that her son had been in the NBA for a while, and was a star at that point, Mrs. Rivers’ conversation centered around my work as a licensed attorney. Ever thoughtful and sweet, always kind and loving, that moment has always stuck out in my mind whenever I have thought about Mrs. Rivers over the years.

Then, too, I have to chuckle about the fact that Mrs. Rivers had no problem “fussing” at Glenn. That very night when the “star” came out of the locker room with no socks on, in the wintertime, Mrs. Rivers “gave him the business.” Everyone there cracked up laughing with the full understanding that we will never be too grown or elevated to be beyond our parents’ reach, or Mrs. Rivers’ reach for that matter! (Glenn and Gar will always hear her voice.) And even though I had not seen Glenn in years, there were no airs. He was as nice and kind as I remembered him to be — another testament to the good parenting he had received.

I once heard famed poet, author and professor, Haki Madhubuti, who first came to prominence during the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, paraphrase an African proverb when he said, “When a Black elder dies, it’s like the closing of a library because they take so much knowledge and wisdom with them.” I can only hope that this village, her beloved village, learned some of that wisdom Mrs. Rivers possessed. Mrs. Rivers was a woman of class, substance and integrity, a significant member of this community and a woman of tremendous virtue. She was Maywood royalty.

Gar and Glenn, from my family to yours, you have our deepest and most heartfelt condolences.

Black Men and Women Contributed to the Nation’s Military History in More Ways Than You Think

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Consider the Perspicacity of Cornelius Coffey

By Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.

When my parents moved into their first apartment in Chicago, the landlord who lived in the flat below treated them with the upmost kindness and care. My parents became very fond of Cornelius Coffey and his wife, Anna, and two years later they made the Coffeys the godparents of their newborn daughter.

The Coffeys lavished me with unconditional love and gifts galore – nothing was out of reach for “the godchild.” And, because he was so generous and unassuming, my parents were astonished when they discovered that Cornelius Coffey was a world-class aviator.

Born in Arkansas in 1903, Coffey was fascinated with cars and mechanics as a kid. He had a brilliant, analytical mind that grasped every intricate detain of how car engines and parts work. One day, at a barnstorming aerial show, he persuaded a white pilot to let him look at a plane’s engine. He said he observed that it was not that different from the car engines whose operations he had already mastered.

Coffey began building and flying planes and earned a private pilot’s license in 1928. Later, he was accepted into an aircraft mechanic’s training program in Chicago. However, when he and his friend, John Robinson (who was to become a famous pilot for Haile Selassie’s Ethiopian military), arrived to take the courses, they were refused entrance because they were “Negroes.” But the white man who employed them as car mechanics threatened to sue, so the owner of the school admitted them. My godfather and Robinson understood that, rather than litigate the case, the plan was to fail them. But he and Robinson confounded the plan by making the highest grades and graduating at the top of their class.

Coffey went on to become the first African American to be licensed as a commercial pilot and a master aircraft mechanic. Then, in 1938, he and his first wife, Willa Brown, another pioneering black aviator, founded the Coffey School of Aeronautics, which became the only school not affiliated with a college or university to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. And that was just the beginning.

Coffey and Brown were founding members of the National Airmen’s Association of America, and the association helped convince the federal government to contract with the Coffey School, and other black institutions, to educate and train black pilots. The couple then trained aviators who became instructors for, and actual members of, the famed Tuskegee Airmen. During World War II, those talented men stunned the world with their disciplined and extraordinary flying skills, their expert judgment and their mastery of all things aeronautical.

My godfather’s contribution to the fight for justice and equality cannot be overstated. He trained black men who patriotically went into battle overseas while, simultaneously, fighting racism from their own country and breaking down virulent racist ideology in the process.

In addition to training airmen, Coffey was a prolific inventor. Among other things, he invented the carburetor apparatus that de-ices planes so they can fly in frigid temperatures – a version of which is still used in the airline industry today. And his brilliance never failed him – he was still flying his airplane and examining engines for the Federal Aviation Administration as an octogenarian!

I am ever grateful that my godfather was able to receive his plaudits before he died in 1994. He is honored in the Smithsonian, the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame and the National Air and Space Museum. And since he trained many of the first African Americans who became aircraft mechanics for commercial airlines, an educational foundation at the American Airlines Maintenance Academy bears his name.

A master educator and aviator, Cornelius Coffey is still guiding people who want to fly. The next time you descend into Chicago’s busy Midway Airport, the air traffic controllers just might direct your pilots to fly through the Coffey Aerial Navigational Fix (or route) named after my godfather. Coffey was the first African American so honored, and I am honored to have been his goddaughter.

Note:  This article (with small insubstantial changes) first appeared in the Huntsville Times on March 16, 2008 under the title “Godparents who helped steer a nation’s aviation history.”

Where Do We Go From Here: Can We Build A Stronger and Better Community?

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by Rhonda Sherrod

(c)2013

All around Maywood, there appears to be a new energy surging.  From the dark recesses of places where people once felt hopeless and overwhelmed, weary and fatigued, light is filtering through.  Today, Tuesday, May 21, 2013, the first female Mayor of Maywood will take her oath of office to serve the constituency of the Village of Eternal Light.  The novelty and freshness of this moment feels inspiring; so, hopefully, this can be a turning point for our town.

After all, haven’t you had enough?  How many of our bright and hard-working youngsters, like Dashamone (Deshawn) McCarty, 19, a three-sport athlete from Proviso East who had just completed his first year in college, have to fall before we make a decision to refuse to accept the completely unacceptable?   My heart aches concerning the death of that young man — a beautiful Proviso East Pirate, cut down in the prime of his life — and I am keenly aware that many other residents feel the same sense of pain and loss.

However, we need not feel helpless.  Dashamone‘s death should be a clarion call.  His death should be the one that makes us wake up to what is happening in this town and to what our own responsibilities are in the larger scheme of things.  This loss should be the loss that jumpstarts us into the reality that we do not have to sit by idly and watch as kids get murdered in the streets… one after the other.

Indeed, this is a critical juncture in Maywood’s history.  I am cognizant of the fact that some people are feeling dispirited because they are expecting a “council (or trustee) war” to erupt the moment Mayor-Elect Edwenna Perkins begins wielding her mayoral power.  But, as our president, Barack Obama, would say, “Let me be clear:”  We do not have to accept obstructionism in our municipal government and especially not at a time when the stakes are so very high for all of us.  I am all for intelligent, robust and healthy debate, but, in the final analysis, that debate must yield a felicitous response so that government can work.  So, instead of bracing for madness and folly, we should be preparing to defeat any and all unwarranted and malicious behaviors.

Wake up, Maywood!  We pay these trustees and they are supposed to serve the best interests of the citizens of this village.  Fighting, bickering, and trying to obstruct village business will not be in anybody’s best interest, and if that is what anyone in public office has in mind, then we, the people, need to make it clear that we will not accept it.

We have some very serious problems facing this town.  As examples, we have a public safety problem, a problem with our schools (at the secondary and elementary levels), and problems with our water expenses and system of receiving water.  Taxes are too high and foreclosures are problematic enough to threaten the viability of our community.  We need economic development and jobs for our youth, we need to attain clarity and effectiveness regarding government finances, we need more cultural and social programming and recreational outlets for our children (and this is especially true with a long, hot summer impending), and we need greater support for struggling parents.  We also need governmental entities that work together.  In other words, our elected officials — all of them — need to get it together and get to work tout de suite.  

We, the people, have absolutely no time for foolishness emanating from public servants in this town and we, the people, need to make it crystal clear that we will not sanction hostility, inactivity, ineffectiveness, or incompetence.  Every public official that represents this village, newly elected/appointed or not, needs to come to the table with his or her “A” game.  And we, the people, need to make sure that they get the job done in the best interest of the people.

We need to give these public servants commands and make it manifestly clear to each and every one of them that they serve at our behest.  If they don’t want to do what is best for the town, then they are perfectly welcome to return to the private sector so we can get replacements who will properly represent the residents.  And perhaps most important of all, Maywoodians need to first understand and then proceed with the proper paradigm:  These people work for us.  They are our employees, and we want and need an open, accessible, transparent, honest, and high functioning government.

We all know that in every field there are people who want the job and the title, but who don’t want to do the work.  In the public sphere, it is our job, as citizens, to determine who is doing what and to ferret out and oust anyone who does not have the integrity to put the needs of the people before any and all silly, petty, irrelevant and useless nonsense.  Nobody wants a fight, but if there is a politician who is looking for one, then we, the people, need to give that politician the fight he or she is looking for.  Our message to such a person should be simple, clear, direct and uncomplicated:  Work for the good of the town and in the best interest of the residents or leave.

So, on Tuesday night, go ahead Maywoodians, and party like it’s 2099, because we have done something historic.  But when Wednesday morning rolls around, let’s get to work — with a new perspective — and make our village flourish.

“Yes We Can” build a stronger and better community.

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If Education is the “Passport to the Future,” Then What Lies in the Future For Our Kids?

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“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”  Malcolm X

By Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.

(c) 2013

Our public education system is in crisis.  In general, the nation is in crisis because we are being outpaced by other countries that are coming on strong academically.  More specifically, the Black community is beyond the crisis point.  As the popular axiom states, “When the country sneezes, Black America catches a cold.”  In other words, whatever ails this nation is likely to constitute a much worse problem in traditionally oppressed communities.  That is the result of more than 300 years of a lack of equal protection under the law.

There was a time when the elementary and secondary schools in Maywood were among the jewels of the state.  Not very long ago, Proviso East High School was documented and acknowledged as one of the best public schools in the country.  According to the 2012 Chicago Tribune High School Report Card presentation (and the State Board of Education), in the Spring of 2010*, a mere 1.6% of the juniors who took the ACT at Proviso East “scored high enough on at least three of the four parts of the ACT to be considered ‘college ready’ for key [college] freshman classes.”** (The data was “computed based on ACT scores for 97.4% of students taking the test” at the school.)

When I reflect upon the untold sacrifices that so many hard-working Black parents in the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s made to purchase a home in Maywood, for the express purpose of having access to excellent schools for their children, it makes me very sad to know what our public schools have devolved into.  The school system was the primary asset that made Maywood so appealing.  One of my elders told me there was a time when, “you barely had to send a transcript to a college” if you graduated from Proviso East because the school had such a sterling reputation.

Perhaps we need to reacquaint ourselves with the history and struggle of some of Maywood’s fine citizens.  Many of the Black parents who came to Maywood to live were migrants from the brutal, illogical, hateful activities of the Jim Crow South where insecure Whites tried to truncate their talents, their dreams, their sense of self… their humanity.  Many of these migrants had initially moved to Chicago, a large, vibrant city, because it had been touted as “The Promised Land” for Black people — particularly those living in Alabama and Mississippi.

Escaping through the portals of the US highway system and, later, by way of Interstates 65 and 57, respectively, (as well as the Illinois Central Railroad Line), Black people from the deep South found that, in fact, Chicago was not the exalted Promised Land as it had been billed.  Instead, they discovered the wisdom of Malcolm X to be true.  At some point, Malcolm astutely noted that, “…long as you’re south of the Canadian border, you’re South.”  But the migrants were able to enjoy some modicum of freedom in Chicago and, in any event, anything was better than chafing under the irrational, bewilderingly racist behaviors of the southern practitioners of Jim Crow.  Through hard work and thrift, the Black migrants in Chicago were able to create rich, vibrant communities that pulsated with the dynamic life that the South had tried to deny them — communities built with another exaction of blood, sweat, and tears. They realized that, although all was not as had been promised, still, they could make it.

As these newly minted Chicagoans began to stake their claims, settle into married life, and start their families, they began to perceive something rather insidious.  Fully aware of the circumscribed educational opportunities from which they had fled, they began to see the handwriting on the wall as the “White flight” exploding all around them resulted in a diminution of services and proper staffing in the public schools.  Even worse, the public high schools were becoming more and more infested with gangs and other negative elements that made it difficult for learning to take place.

So, they moved to the Village of Eternal Light, steadfast in the understanding that their children would not be denied access to an excellent education.  Back then Black parents sometimes had to battle racism in the schools, in the form of certain teachers and counselors who operated with the racist (and false) assumption that their children were incapable of competing in elementary school District 89 or Proviso East, but that was a fight these Black parents were more than willing to have.  After all, they had survived the Jim Crow South.  So, engaging in principled advocacy and intelligently articulating sound arguments for the advancement of their children’s education was, quite simply, child’s play for these warriors.

Now, here we are in the year 2013, and District 89 leaves a lot to be desired.  Proviso East (and West) leaves a lot to be desired, and, quite frankly, the Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA) is not operating at the standard that one would expect an “academy”  or a magnet school to operate.***  According to the 2012 Report Card, the state has PMSA in “Academic Early Warning” status.

Now, I don’t doubt for one minute that there are teachers and administrators in all of the area schools who are dedicated and hard-working, and who are determined to extract the best out of their students.  (And I firmly believe – no, I know – that our kids are smart, talented, and capable.)  However, considering the fact that we have so many academic problems in D89 and at Proviso East, one can’t help but wonder if some people are, for whatever reason, slacking in both entities.  That question needs to be investigated and, if there are some who are slacking, there needs to be proper remediation.

So, where do we go from here?  Well, at the very least we must have school boards with intelligent, well-conceived, well-articulated visions for how to pull our schools out of the ditches they are in, and that operate with passion, energy, and innovative ideas.  These boards need to focus like a laser with the overarching goal of transforming the academic culture so that most, if not all, of our students want to get the stellar education they need and deserve.

On April 9, 2013, the voters in Maywood (and surrounding municipalities) have an obligation to discharge.  Now, it is your turn, Maywoodians, because we all have a part to play in upgrading the quality of life in our own community, and everyone knows that you can’t expect to have strong communities without good schools.  We can keep running – farther and farther west – away from our livelihoods and the convenience of having ready access to the amenities of a cosmopolitan city.  Or, we can make a decision to use the skills, talents, and intellect that our community elders invested so much energy into having us develop and govern ourselves intelligently.  That’s right, we can engage in deliberate acts of self-determination.  So, yes, it is your turn to act.  While you ponder whether or not you are going to vote this election cycle, I ask you to take a minute and consider the following.

Everyone knows that in a so-called democracy it is a fundamental right of citizenship to vote, but it is even more meaningful than that for Black people.  How many courageous Black lives have been lost in order for Black people to have the unfettered right to vote?  How many Black people were wounded, maimed, disfigured, and beaten within an inch of their lives for Black people’s right to vote?  How many Black people were evicted from their tenant shacks, run off their property, fired from their jobs (and derived of their meager hard-earned pay), or even run out of town because they had the audacity to hope and then to demand a simple, basic right of citizenship — the right to vote?

How many Black people were humiliated time and again as they sought a ballot?  How many were degraded, spat upon, called “nigger,” kicked, slapped, punched, and threatened at gunpoint?  How many were asked stupid, unanswerable questions (“How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?”) as a precondition to getting a ballot while sick laughter abounded?  How many were derided and shamed for not owning property, to pay a property tax on, in order to vote?  How many were asked to pay an exorbitant poll tax, when they were already living a subsistence lifestyle, in order to vote?  How many were asked to recite obscure sections of the state and/or federal constitution in order to get a ballot (things that, no doubt, the bigoted questioner could not have done if his life depended on it)?  How many courageous Black soldiers died on the battlefields of America’s wars, defending a country that would not allow them or their family members to vote?  

And now we don’t want to do something simple, but immensely consequential, like studying the issues and candidates and then casting votes for the proper governance of the schools that the children in our community attend?  Knowing that now, more than ever, a good, solid education is crucial to the success of our children in this globalized society, you still don’t want to vote?  Here we sit, near the edge of a world-class city (Chicago) that was first settled and founded by a Black man, Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, and you don’t believe our kids have a right to a quality education here?  Indeed, we are residing in a village where Black people have laid down a firm legacy of hard work and sacrifice in order to succeed, and now we are… what?  Tired?  Deflated? Dejected?  Disengaged?  Really? 

Well, the next time you part your lips to utter an exasperated comment about “these kids” who don’t respect you, just remember that they know that you don’t respect them either.  If you did, you would at least try to see to it that they get the education they need; and one of the ways you can do that is by making sure that the best qualified of the group of people who are running for school board get elected to make the important decisions that affect our kids on a day-to-day basis.  If we respected our kids and believed in their potential, the way that our elders believed in ours, we would not tolerate anything less than what we came to Maywood to get in the first place — a good, solid education.

Just as our elders saw Chicago change, Maywood has changed.  The difference is that we have a large enough concentration of voters and enough knowledge about the process of governing in the North to exercise self-determination.  We have come much too far to give up now.  We need intelligent people on the school boards who are not beholden to anybody or anything, and who will act independently while using best practices to insure that our kids are being educated.  The taxpayers in this town have every right to expect no less than that.

So, please, study the issues and the candidates and VOTE.  Your voice matters and time is running out.

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*Although the 2012 report cards for Illinois public high schools are readily available on the internet, the composite (as opposed to subject by subject) “college readiness percentages for each school are still being reported for the year 2010 (by the Chicago Tribune).  I attempted to get updated information from ACT regarding how many Proviso East students met the “college readiness” benchmark for 2012, however, the ACT representative I spoke with informed me that I had to be affiliated with the school in order to access school information.  She insisted that “provisions in the contract” ACT has with the schools prohibit her from releasing any information to me.

**The ACT High School to College Success Report contains the following definition: “College Readiness refers to the level of student preparation needed to be ready to succeed – without remediation – in an introductory level course at a two or four-year institution, trade school, or technical school.  A College Readiness Benchmark Score is the minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in the corresponding credit-bearing college courses.  The corresponding credit-bearing college course used to determine College Readiness Benchmark Scores for English was College English Composition, for Math was College Algebra, for Reading was Social Studies, and for Science was College Biology.”

***According to its 2012 Report Card, PMSA did not make “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP).  Also, according to the Chicago Tribune Report Card presentation, in 2010, at PMSA, 35.7% “of juniors scored high enough on at least three of the four parts of the ACT to be considered ‘college ready’ for key [college] freshman classes.”  As a point of comparison, for example, the Tribune reports that at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in 2010, 83.6% of the juniors were considered “college ready.”  Additionally, for comparison, in 2010, at Oak Park and River Forest High School 53.2% of the juniors were considered “college ready.”

The Chicago Tribune notes that:  “Reaching the ACT-college ready score shows that high school graduates have at least a 50 percent chance of getting a B or higher, or at least a 75 percent [chance] of getting a C or higher in an associated freshman class. (For example, the English ACT subtest corresponds to a freshman English Composition course.)”

Links for Proviso East High School (2012):

http://schools.chicagotribune.com/school/proviso-east-high-school_maywood/

Illinois Interactive Report Card

Links for the Proviso Math and Science Academy (2012):

http://schools.chicagotribune.com/school/proviso-math-and-science-academy_forest-park/

Illinois Interactive Report Card

      

To Stimulate Dialogue in Maywood, The Quinn Center at St. Eulalia Parish Hosts Presidential Debate Screenings

by Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.

On this past Wednesday, October 3rd, I had the pleasure of watching the presidential debate at the Quinn Center at St. Eulalia Parish.  It was my first time, in all these years, stepping foot into the parish on Ninth Avenue and Bataan Drive. That is true even though, many years ago, one of my cousins was educated at St. Eulalia.

It was a very enjoyable evening as my friend, Liddell Lacy, another longtime Maywoodian, and I watched the debate with complete strangers.  It had been Liddell’s idea to ask churches in Maywood to hold screenings for their congregants so that we could watch the presidential debates as a collective community.  The ultimate goal is to start generating keen interest in some of the local issues that beset Maywood in anticipation of the upcoming 2013 local elections.  We want to have a very engaged and knowledgeable electorate, so that people can make very informed choices when we cast our votes.  After all, people bled, were maimed, and died so that we can participate in all elections, not just federal elections.  More to the point, as former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, once cogently stated, “All politics is local.”

If we want good leadership and positive change in this village, then we need to identify willing people who embody the qualities and characteristics we consider important.  Then we should insist that they articulate their vision, plans, and strategies during a series of local public debates, and, unless they are found to be wanting, vote them into municipal, county, township, and state offices.  If we want resources to flow into our village so that we can rebuild it, we need public servants who are not afraid to do their jobs — officials who will govern transparently so that we, the people, can work with them and demand the things we need in our neighborhoods and schools.

Although Liddell was unable to connect with all the churches, some of the churches he contacted expressed genuine interest.  However, because of time constraints and other issues, only one, St. Eulalia, actually made the idea come to fruition while working with Liddell.  Gabriel Lara, the Director of the Quinn Center, has also committed to hosting viewings for each one of the next national debates.  We are hoping to have more churches, as well as our senior citizens homes, involved during the next two presidential debates. (Meanwhile, all of Maywood is invited to watch the vice-presidential debate with us this Thursday, October 11th, at St. Eulalia.  Although the debate begins at 8:00 pm, you are welcome to come at 7pm to watch some of the pre-debate coverage.  We would love for you to stay afterwards and join in on the discussion about what we need to do in Maywood to upgrade the standard of living in the village.  Or, you can come to the parish after watching the debate at home — and bring some other residents with you!)

The other viewers at St. Eulalia last Wednesday were very concerned about Maywood.  They were absolutely delightful.  Moreover, a very serious, informative, high-level discussion about local issues unfolded after the national debate.  I was so pleased to find, yet again, that there are good people all over who are sincerely concerned about this village.  I am hoping that Liddell will be able to get other church participation for the next presidential debates.

(Once again, you are invited to come to St. Eulalia for the next two presidential debates (that location is set); or, you should be on the lookout for information about screenings at other churches, if you would like to participate in those anticipated public viewings.)