I hate to see former 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran go to jail. Not to say he didn’t engage in criminal behavior, but it seems he was caught up in a family economic situation that caused his mishaps. Last month, he was sentenced to a year in prison.
The late Bishop Arthur Brazier introduced me to Cochran. Bishop was supporting Cochran and hosted a private fundraiser for him. Cochran was impressive and on fire, with great ideas for his ward.
His background was impressive – he was a former policeman on the vice squad and he clearly understood budgeting, because he handled the budget for the Chicago Police Department.
I thought Cochran was an upright guy. He coached a basketball team and had a real affinity for the kids in the neighborhood. Some called him arrogant, but I saw him as an assured, confident Black man who would serve his community well. Willie and I became friends.
One fine March day, I broke my knee as I was jogging and slipped on black ice. Getting use to a cast is difficult and challenging. Getting around is cumbersome at best and trying to maintain a busy schedule is a joke.
Willie and a group of friends came over for a party the day the cast was put on. I went to sleep on the couch as my friends had a great time. But then it was time to go upstairs and my friend, Melody Spann-Cooper, assisted me. Willie was very observant.
He came back the next day with dinner and told me a story to make sure that I didn’t get frustrated and start feeling sorry for myself.
He told me about playing football in college. He also had a motorcycle that he loved riding. One day Willie crashed and broke many bones in his body. He told me he was in a body cast and in traction for about a year. He had to learn how to use his body again.
Why are you telling me this, I asked him. He said, so you don’t get discouraged. You just broke your knee; you will be fine with therapy. He told me about therapy. He told me I would know when it was going to rain because my knee would ache.
I was very challenged with the stairs in my house. Willie took me to the stairs and demonstrated how to maneuver on your butt and one leg guiding you backwards. We went up and down the stairs twice together. The third time I managed alone. I learned to manage the stairs with one leg. Got it.
Willie returned weekly for about a month to make sure I was doing the right thing. He saw my body leaning to the strong side and he showed me how to balance. He showed me how to walk in the middle of the staircase with crutches and not lean.
He would talk about being in control of your body, not your body being in control of you. You expend a lot of energy maneuvering with a cast and you tire easily.
Willie was a great friend and his pointers were invaluable; he did, indeed, keep me from feeling sorry for myself. I thought it was mighty nice of him to pay attention to my broken knee and me and be concerned as to how I was fairing psychologically.
He knew all the sign and steps because of the motorcycle accident and the recovery he went through. He even came by the day the cast was removed. I was nearly hysterical seeing this funny, crumpled up leg connected to my body.
But Willie helped me adjust every step of the way, physically and psychologically. He prevented me from feeling sorry for myself and got me through it.
That’s the Willie Cochran I know, not to be forgotten.