“Every city in America has a block of undesirable blocks where undesirables subsist,” said poet James McGrew while reciting his poem, “The Block,” during an Oct. 15 100 Men Stand Against Violence Challenge organized by, and held outside of, Deer Rehabilitation Services, 3936 W. Roosevelt Rd., in North Lawndale.
“Children on the block pray like this,” McGrew said, halfway singing the lines. “‘Our father which art who knows where, curseth be thy name to kingdom come. You feel me? The block does not love you. You may fight and die for it. But the block will never be yours.”
The crowd of several dozen people, most of them men (many of whom were dressed in various schemes of Omega Psi Phi fraternity’s customary royal purple and gold), listened to McGrew and other male speakers share their experiences of growing up on those “undesirable blocks.”
The men, bonded over generations, shared stories of escape and overcoming; of older black men rescuing younger black men; and how that heroic tradition, somehow, was allowed to die; and how it needs to be revived.
“Violence is a substance for all of the other things that somebody might be missing,” said U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th), whose short genealogy, many of the men who gathered at the corner believe, illustrates how those life-killing blocks McGrew described might be transformed into more edifying environments.
“As Dennis [Deer, the psychologist and president of Deer Rehabilitation Services] was talking, he reminded me that I worked with his mother and father,” Davis said. “Vance Henry, who works for the Mayor of Chicago — I worked with his father and his mother. Ald. Michael Scott, Jr. (24th) — I worked with his daddy, I worked with his mama and I worked with his grandmamma.”
“Often times, I see on social media and other medium black girl magic,” said Deer. “Well, I’m going to call it black man magic. We’ve got to get our black men standing up. We’ve got to uplift them and uplift ourselves.”
Henry, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s deputy chief of staff and an ordained Baptist minister, grew up in North Lawndale, where he still lives. He said the first time he ventured beyond the constricting boundaries of his ‘block’ was when the late Michael Scott, Sr. — the former president of the Chicago Board of Education and a longtime political powerhouse in the city — took him on a trip to Michigan.
“Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Why do you still live on the West Side? Why do you live in Lawndale?’ I said, ‘Because I am Lawndale,'” Henry recalled.
“The first time I stepped outside of this neighborhood, his father,” Henry said, pointing to Ald. Scott, Jr., “took me and some boys [from the neighborhood] up to a ranch in Michigan and it changed our lives. It gave us another sense of what the world was. And while we appreciate the block, we have to understand that it’s the responsibility of black men to help expose other black men. A young black man can’t be a black man unless another black man helps raise him.”
Deer, a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, described those interlocking nodes of black male support that Henry and Davis illustrated as “bridge-building.”
To put a capstone on last weekend’s bridge of sorts, Deer encouraged the dozens of men gathered in front of his office to sign a Pledge Against Domestic and Community Violence before they released royal purple balloons into the sky.
Members of Deer’s staff also collected contact information from residents in order to recruit participants for what the psychologist promised would be more outreach efforts to come.
“We have to understand,” Deer said, “that unless we’re able to grab [others] and bridge-build, then our living might be in vain.”