HEARTS AND MINDS: More than 100 wooden crosses were placed on the steps of the Golden Dome in Garfield Park on June 19. They symbolized the lives of lost soldiers. | AustinTalks

When Jim Hobson returned to the West Side of Chicago from Vietnam in 1969, he saw some things that reminded him of the war zone he had just left behind.

“My year there was hectic, gruesome and deadly. But we had a job to do as Americans, and we did that job,” said Hobson, an Army veteran.

It was upsetting to see violence and death on Chicago’s West Side, he said.

Since then, the former supervisor for the Chicago Park District’s Garfield Park said he’s worked to rid the West Side of violence.

Hobson said when he first began working for the park district in 1990 he saw death and destruction in the community, something he still sees today.

“We cannot afford to continue to allow this to happen. I’m sick of tired of hearing about all the brothers dying,” Hobson said.

Zebadiah Anderson said for years Hobson has given children in the community a safe place to go, and it’s crucial to have someone like that on the West Side.

Anderson and Hobson were two of about 30 people who gathered on June 19 at Garfield Park’s Golden Dome Fieldhouse to commemorate Juneteenth, an annual celebration marking the end of slavery in 1865. More than 100 wood crosses were placed on the fieldhouse’s staircases, symbolizing the lives of lost soldiers.

The celebration was organized by the West Side Historical Preservation Society, Garfield Park Advisory Council and Greg Zanis of Crosses for Losses.

Ricky Brown, CEO and founder of the West Side Historical Preservation Society, said he came up with the idea to honor veterans after noticing they rarely get recognition and decided to do something special for them.

Carol Johnson, the group’s president and secretary of the Garfield Park Advisory Council, said after holding the event for the first time last year she wants to continue to make it bigger each year and make it their “signature event.”

“This is an important, yet serious day for our community to celebrate liberation and freedom,” Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said.

Ervin, an Austin native, said residents need to preserve the history of the West Side. Brown agreed, saying African-American children today do not know the history of who they are or where they came from.

“In 2019, we still have hatred, bigotry and poverty in our community,” Brown said. “Kids do not see themselves in history books; we are descendants of kings …”

Kendale Brunson served 26 years in the Army, including two combat tours in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

After his first tour he wrote a song titled “Post Traumatic Stress” to help himself cope; 12 years later he wrote the second verse to the song and now has a full album out called “Lessons in Life” with four songs dedicated to veterans.

“I wanted to make the album something anyone listening could hear and enjoy,” Brunson said. “It is not only my story, it is everyone’s story.”

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson gave thanks to all the men and women who have served in the military. He said it’s important for residents to be aware of the incredible work that has been done by the people around them.

“Let’s continue to lift up the voices of those who need to be heard,” Johnson said.

Wednesday’s event concluded with Hobson raising the Pan-African flag, only the second time that has been done at Garfield Park, according to Anderson.

“This flag represents us,” Hobson said. “To be ignored as African-Americans in America is an atrocity.”

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