When I first read and heard State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th district) calling on the National Guard to come into Chicago as a solution to dealing with the violence, my heart sank. I am old enough to remember the guard not only coming into the black community during the riots in the 1960s, I also remember vividly the fear I felt when old man Daley gave out the “Shoot to Kill” order.
So the thought that over 40 years later, a black elected official would make a similar call to suggest having them come into the city was upsetting.
To his credit, Ford didn’t just make the call and then proceed to go ahead with his vision. Rather, he hosted a town hall meeting this past Monday at McNair Elementary School. Form came seeking community input and boy did the community show up to give it. In attendance were elected officials, including Aldermen Emma Mitts (37th), Deborah Graham (29th) and Sharon Dixon (24th). Even Commissioner Earlean Collins came out, as well as newly installed State Rep. Camille Lilly (78th). Missing were many of the elected black male officials, for some strange reason. William “Dock” Walls, who is running as an independent for governor, came out and added his support and voice to the mix.
At a few minutes before the 6 p.m. start time, the room was pretty empty. But it soon filled to the brim with people, including young black males carrying signs saying, “Jobs Not Guards.” Anyone who has read my columns knows that I have a simple, easy to remember five-word plan to cure the majority of ills that have befallen the black community. They are Economics, Employment, Education, Ex-Offenders and the fifth one Excuses – none accepted.
With the gym at McNair being filled to maximum capacity, the message given and being sent by our young, unemployed black men was simple. They want employment and they want it now. Most impressive in his passion and speech was Mark Carter, an ex-offender who is now one of the leading voices coming from the younger generation. They want a piece of the state of Illinois’ governmental pie and it’s not welfare or food stamps they are seeking. Out of a $310 billion budget, according to Carter, black elected officials only got $425 million for their communities. It is a drop in the bucket and since we contribute a lot of money in to the state for taxes, we should get our fair share back.
Another impassioned speaker was Luster Jackson. I met Jackson when I first moved to this side of town and read about the plans to just take the people’s property at Homan and Jackson for a new traffic court. Anyone who takes a few minutes to study how land grabs work in this city will find that the black community always becomes what they assume to be the easiest target. I was a novice when I first started attending those meetings to fight that land grab. But even back then, I understood that when you’re fighting city hall, every person who shows up sends a message that the people care. Jackson was successful in stopping the development of that courthouse. He also recently shut down the Marshall High School redevelopment project due to racial discrimination in the workforce.
I came away from Ford’s town hall meeting impressed that there is a new mission and message coming from those who are tired of being overlooked. No longer will our young people be content to allow the “usual suspects” to keep us in the “status quo” of all talk and no action.
The Eisenhower Expressway project is the baseline. That project runs straight through the heart of the West Side and will be the measure by which we will see if those young folks are serious or not. For weeks, the companies working on the project have been taking applications. Now, let’s see if those who have been threatening to shut that project down if blacks aren’t hired in substantial numbers will be successful.
If it comes down to that, I won’t have to report on it. I will be one of the folks standing tall with them.