The main street, Stony Island, will soon be renamed Bishop Arthur Brazier Avenue. It is not without controversy. Change is hard, even a street naming. This is not an honorary street naming it is a major street naming, where maps change, addresses of residences and businesses change and the postal data changes.
Many agree that Bishop Brazier should be memorialized but some disagree that it should be the main south side artery of Stony Island. I think it is befitting. Woodlawn and Dorchester are major streets in the area where Brazier served and lived his life. Some say that his church is not located on Stony, therefore it is a mistake to name Stony after him. His life’s work was extensive and expansive and while the Woodlawn community had his signature work, the entire south side benefited. His work improved the City of Chicago.
He engaged social change. Today Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an American historic icon, but when he came here in 1964 he was called a “troublemaker” by the powers at hand. Brazier was one of a precious few that helped King organize. The work ultimately benefited the entire city and lead to new opening housing laws.
Brazier fought to save Woodlawn from the expansion of The University of Chicago as they began to move across the midway. Brazier had another vision. His leadership as a community organizer delivered a new politic. He also fought the crime of The Black Stone Rangers. He was an authentic community organizer that fought city hall, the university and the gang bangers. He led the fight for the people. He gave people a voice.
He became political yet never lost his spiritual focus. He did right because it was right to do. He was one that, eventually, politicians – white and black – went to for advice. Business people went to him for support and advice. He built the community making it attractive for banks, the university, schools, the YMCA and even the CTA to come to Woodlawn. His work is recognized as that of a model organizer. He fought the good fight. He united people, stake holders and made his case and went about his work.
He was a simple guy. His career started as a postman, he attended Moody Bible School and he studied with Saul Alinsky. He grew into a force from the ground up.
He was a prince of a man, eloquent in his manner and firm in his approach. When he spoke people listened. He was a wonderful leader, approachable but always real, weighing the pros and cons of a situation. He was a realist not an idealist. He had his faith and he never wavered.
Stony Island is a major artery on the South Side of Chicago; Brazier was too. He grew his church from 100 to 20,000. His work was major and often his kind of work goes unnoticed. He touched lives, he changed people, and he even saved a few. His work wasn’t for popularity because he wasn’t always popular. Some of his stances were proven to be right, as years came, but not at the time of his urging. He was supportive, not just vocal but also with money. He faced the challenges of his day face to face. Fighting the gangs was not pretty work. There were no foundation grants and there were usually anti forces. Brazier was basic.
Those that criticize, I raise a simple question, what will they name after you? Will it be a tree planted, a school, a park, the street where you lived, or the road that you traveled? The question is not is Brazier worthy of Stony but is Stony worthy of Brazier. Perhaps when you glance up and see the Brazier street sign, you will drive better or walk straighter because you are on Brazier Avenue.
The Politics of Rahm
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a political force and his political capital has waned in the Black community. The school closings have not served him well. Indeed he is challenged in the Black community at this time. However, naming Stony Island after Bishop Brazier will not help his political future because people are not stupid. The Black community is so underestimated. He is a politician and politicians do political things.
As streets are named and great people are memorialized in this city, I have never heard the controversy that this has stirred. South Parkway became King Drive after Martin Luther King’s death. The Harold Washington Library, that is, the downtown central library was most appropriately named after our late mayor because of his love for books and reading, but his name is not etched on the building. Jesse Owens, one of the greatest athletes of all time has recently lost the name of his school as we approached his century birthday and his daughters fight to maintain the school name. The Mahalia Jackson School has closed.
But when we name the Maggie Daley Park to be filled with flowers and trees after the first lady at the tune of $50 million. Where is the protest? When we name Daley Center after the late Mayor, it was appropriate. How do we honor a great Black voice, the ultimate community organizer, we hear about the ecology of the street Stony Island.
To live in a city is to participate in its life and its development. Brazier was a major player in Chicago and his life made a difference, for many. Stony Island is appropriate.
What does Stony Island mean? The street will have greater meaning as Brazier Avenue. And perhaps, just perhaps someone will do enough research on the man and his mission to see the full worthiness not only for him but for the street too.
Bravo to Dr. Byron Brazier, for having the idea to memorialize his father in such a major way. The name change will serve the city well for years to come. Amen.