On a blustery Tuesday morning a few weeks ago, several hundred Chicagoans gathered in Englewood for a street naming ceremony to commemorate the late comedian and actor Bernie Mac, born Bernard McCullough, who in 2008 lost his battle with sarcoidosis, a rare autoimmune disease. In the very neighborhood where he was raised, distinguished clergymen, colleagues, and family members erected a sign at West 69th and South Sangamon streets in his honor and reflected on the man they all respected and loved dearly.
The event was the idea of Denise Jordan-Walker, community relations director of The Bernie Mac Foundation who also served as his publicist.
“This is like a dream come true. This is a part of Chicago history,” said Jordan-Walker.
She added that the honor was long overdue for a man who gave back so much to the community. In attendance were students from Wentworth Elementary, Mac’s childhood school that he revisited on occasion to help fund several programs.
Clerics were there to discuss Mac’s unwavering faith and the strength of his character. “He’s a man who never gave up on his dreams. He beat all the obstacles that came against him, and became a success in spite of everything,” said Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Parish.
Mac was also remembered as one who stayed grounded, even as a celebrity. “Bernie grew up on this street and he never really left home,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson of Rainbow/PUSH. “He made it big, but he remained connected.”
Once he made a name for himself as a comedian, Mac was always willing to help guide the next generation of promising comics.
“Bernie Mac was a great mentor for a lot of people out here,” said WGCI radio host and comic Leon Rogers. “The best thing he ever said to me in life was, ‘Don’t wait for anybody to open the door. Push the door open yourself.'”
The day was especially emotional for Mac’s family. His widow Rhonda McCullough and daughter Je’Neice McCullogh spoke on his behalf and remembered him as a devoted husband and father.
“If Bernie were here today, he would hope that the naming of this street after him would help restore pride and dignity back to the Englewood community,” said Mrs. McCullough. “My dad was my soulmate. To have his wisdom, love and laughter in my life has been an honor and a privilege,” said Mac’s daughter while holding back tears. “To be able to know that there’s a street named after him, it just does my heart so good,” she added.
Mac’s rise from Englewood to Hollywood has been chronicled in the recently released documentary I Ain’t Scared of You. It’s hosted by his daughter Je’Neice, who interviews many of his co-stars, including Chris Rock, Cameron Diaz and Samuel L. Jackson.