All Jonathan Lake wanted to do was write out his frustrations about his father not being in his life. Little did the 11-year-old West-Sider know what impact those words would have.
Lake, a sixth grader at Mozart Elementary School, 2200 N. Hamlin, wrote the letter ?”titled a ‘Black Man Without a Black Father ?” just before Father’s Day. His mother Afreda Johnson encouraged him to write it.
“It was actually out of frustration that he wrote that,” she said. “He was angry about some things, considering the fact that his dad is not in his life.”
Johnson said she typed the letter, but that the words were all Jonathan’s. She showed it to family and friends. She took it to church and showed it to people there. Johnson said the people who read it were touched by it, and their reaction helped cheer up Jonathan. She showed it to her godmother, Mary Hartsfield, who was so moved that she sent it to the Austin Weekly News, which published it Thursday, June 15, just before the Father’s Day weekend.
Jonathan’s mother, though, had no idea that her godmother sent it to a local newspaper or that it was published. She was even more surprised by a phone call she received a few days later from another admirer of the letter: Illinois Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn.
“I didn’t know who he was really,” Johnson recalled. “I didn’t know who I was talking to. At the end, he mentioned it, and said this is the lieutenant governor, and I was like ‘OK.’ It was all shocking and I didn’t know what to say. I’m glad I didn’t hang up.”
Quinn, who read the letter after picking up a copy of the Austin paper at a restaurant in Oak Park, contacted his brother John, a coach at Oak Park’s Fenwick High School, 411 S. Scoville Ave., to see if there was space in his summer basketball camp for Jonathan.
“It’s common for him to call me and say, ‘I’ve got an assignment for you,'” said Coach Quinn. “As the younger brother I’m use to getting assignments. He said he had a young man who needs some help and direction. He explained the situation to me. Then he brought the letter that Jonathan wrote, and I said, ‘Sure, we can positively take him.'”
Quinn’s office called the Austin Weekly News for Jonathan and his mother’s phone number on June 19. He called Johnson the next day.
“I came across it and clipped it out,” Quinn said after reading the letter. “I think anybody reading the letter would be struck by how well-written and how moving the letter is.”
Johnson and her son met the lieutenant governor in person last Thursday at Fenwick on the last day of the camp. The two-week camp ran from June 19-29. Jonathan started camp the first week, running drills and playing five-on-five pickup games, but only after his mother was able to come to the school and check things out first.
Johnson said she didn’t know a Fenwick High School even existed. After visiting the school, meeting with Coach Quinn and seeing the camp, Johnson was more than happy to have her son attend.
“It was a blessing that it happened,” she said. “This was a good opportunity for him to experience something different outside of where we live.”
Jonathan, a quiet but personable kid, doesn’t think he did anything special.
“I just wanted to write about my dad,” he said.
Johnson said she wished the camp was for the whole summer, but is glad her son’s pain turned into something special.
“That’s exactly what he wrote that day. It came out of anger and frustration, but something good came out of that.”