Chicago God Damn

Chicago is two cities. Nina Simone’s lyrics are appropriate. She sang a song, Mississippi Goddamn. Change the city to Chicago and you got it. This was made crystal clear at the recent town hall meeting held at the South Shore Country Club, hosted by Chris Hayes of MSNBC, and viewed on national television.

The televised meeting featured real people who are faced with the problems plaguing the South and West Sides of Chicago, primarily the Black community. They spoke about pain, frustration, challenges and change. They spoke honestly and openly, even as Mayor Rahm Emanuel attempted to hush their voices behind the scenes, realizing the national program would showcase Chicago negatively.

We watch downtown being built to the hilt. Skyscrapers old and new tower the city, adding to the most beautiful skyline in the world. Meanwhile on the South Side, where blues music matured, as we have the discussion on violence and crime, we see zero gain in economic development that would employ the dangerous kids on the streets. We see a total lack of resources from all government sources. We see no reward for our Black political capital. We are living a tragedy when these kids are shot at random in the playground and in the car with their parents.

Why are we just quietly watching our own demise?

The crime in Chicago, as recognized by President Trump and ignored by President Obama, is out of control. The city fathers don’t really know what to do and neither do the people in the neighborhood. Hello national troops. Trump may have a good idea as sensitive and as resistance it might be, we have to admit to these kids are out of control. Government funds should be distributed to Minister Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam and let the good times roll. He and his army of bow tie men, seem to be only ones who have community respect and control.

The marchers hold crosses for each kid killed last year.
The marchers hold crosses for each kid killed last year.

The mayor has started a “mentoring” program, but the funding is external to the community for those who do the work. Rahm’s paternal attitude insults, as the killings continue to embarrass the city nationally and globally.

We see the children killing each other, and people are frightened, or at least wary, all the time. Children, little girls, sitting in the car, being shot in the head for absolutely nothing except being normal. The little girl in the car with her family, as her mother is getting off work killed. And the most recent crime is a 2 year old killed on the West Side shot for sitting in the back of the car with his pregnant aunt.

Last week a young boy, only 15 years old, was set on fire in a garage. People are beginning to train their children to duck on a moment’s notice, like we are living in a war zone, which we are.

Someone is feeding our young children guns so they can shoot and kill. This is a problem for all of us. The Black community has been invaded and is quite vulnerable. Who is doing this and why don’t the police capture them?

Where is the Economic Development???

We see the press conference on the massive dollars that come to Chicago for transportation development, but zero for business development to target the South and West Sides.

We hear of the transportation expansion that will take years to build, but what about jobs now? We see social service programs closing because of a lack of state funding.

We see school buildings being torn down or sitting empty as they have closed. We see the threat of everything, but no plans for development and/or re-development of anything addressing Black economic problems.

And yet, we still see the creative aspects of the community soar. Chance the Rapper, a kid with great parents from the South Side, just made history at the Grammys with an ingenious way of promoting himself – by giving his music away for free instead of selling it.

All of this to ask, as we celebrate precious Black History Month – is this damage structural and by design, or has the Black community strayed so much from conventional wisdom that collectively we don’t recognize right from wrong, that we are afraid of our children and ourselves? Why are we so quiet and passive? Why are we just quietly watching our own demise?

The Demise of Black Business

The Ebony/Jet Building sits empty today on Michigan Avenue.
We are watching African-American business simply vanish. Ebony and Jet magazines have been sold as well as the iconic Johnson Publishing Company building, once the Black pride and joy of Michigan Avenue.

Johnson Products was sold long ago and the building on the Dan Ryan where it was headquartered has sat vacant for more than a decade. Soft Sheen was a business that put its money where its mouth was and financially contributed to the historic election of Harold Washington as Chicago’s first Black mayor. Soft Sheen’s gone.

As of this month, Seaway Bank, once the nation’s largest Black bank, is no longer Black-owned. At one time Chicago, the Black business capital of the world, had nine Black banks and now there are none. The turnover of Seaway Bank went largely unheralded. The only paper that covered it with significance was Crain’s Chicago Business.

The entrepreneurial efforts of the late Ernie “Stu” Collins, a local businessman who went door to door to secure the necessary funds for the bank charter, are long gone. Collins started the bank for a very simple reason – Black businesses could not get loans from downtown banks to open and grow their businesses.

Collins and a group of like-minded entrepreneurs literally took matters into their own hands and Seaway was born. Jacoby Dickens was the second-generation entrepreneur who moved it forward. Another group of Black businessmen opened Independence Bank for the same reasons. And now there are none, yet the problem still exists, this lack of capital for Black businesses.

The generation that is often called “The Greatest” – from the World War II era – is aged and dying off. They were hard workers. War heroes, army trained, trade school trained, factory workers, they often worked two jobs to save money to make their dreams come true.

The Black men and women in this group lived in segregation and felt the pain and denial of America’s full equality and participation. Then their highly educated children come along, with advanced degrees, and can’t hold on to what was established as their inheritance in a changing world.

There was a time when a small group of Black businessmen would have raised the $15 million that would have saved Seaway Bank from being taken over by new, non-Black owners, with new deposits, investments and political machine money. Not so in 2017.

Black folk in the Black community need to take control of our destiny because our future looks very dim.

Nina Simone today would be singing Chicago GodDamn, not Mississippi.

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