Organizer and facilitator Kevin Brown Photo by Heidi Randhava

Nathan Norman, Program Supervisor of the City’s Youth and Young Adult division, is leading an alliance of Black men who are concerned about the impact of violence on the Evanston community.

“We are specifically responding to the recent loss of Evanston Black males through gun violence,” Mr. Norman told a diverse group of community members who attended the Black Male Alliance Rally for Hope on Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the parking lot at the corner of Church Street and Dodge Avenue.

“We are Black men from all walks of life,” said Mr. Norman. Some members of the alliance are outreach workers for the City of Evanston, while others are community activists, Evanston police officers, or members of the faith-based community. Several of the alliance members spoke at the rally on Friday.

Mr. Norman worked with ETHS Boys Varsity Basketball Coach Rudy Meo to form the group after Evanston experienced three fatal shootings over a four-day period, two of which took place within a block of each other.

On July 23 Glenview resident Brian Carrion, 20, was killed in a shooting in the 300 block of Howard Street. DeaShawn, Turner, 21, was murdered in the 2200 block of Emerson Street, and most recently, Andrew Williams was killed by gunmen in the 1900 block of Hartrey Avenue. Prior to the shootings, there had not been a homicide in Evanston in more than a year.

The statistics surrounding gun violence are grim. Every day, more than 100 Americans are killed with guns, and 200 more are shot and wounded. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that African Americans are, on average, eight times more likely to be killed by firearms than whites.

Gun violence also impacts the lives of millions of people who witness it, know someone who was killed, or live in fear of the next casualty. The American Medical Association describes it as a public health crisis. Yet there is promise for a better future, because gun violence is preventable.

Members of the Black Male Alliance are taking steps to steer Evanston youth away from violence, and also issuing a call to action to community members.

“Over the next five weeks, through community marches, cookouts, neighborhood walks and one-on-one visits, we will talk with our young men and strategize together to develop community based solutions to end violence in our community. Our goal is to produce a plan with them that can be shared with stakeholders in the community, the City of Evanston and other community partners. We want to see, not only the young people in this community, but also every other resident be able to enjoy their community, be able to support one another, and be able to, most importantly, live in peace”, said Mr. Norman.

He thanked community members, speakers and organizations that participated in the rally, with special thanks to the men who are members of the Black Male Alliance.

Members of the alliance include:Pastor Karl Angelia Adair, Bamidele Ali, Kevin Brown, Jeron Dorsey, Genaro Hernandez, Officer Adam Howard, Officer Corey McCray, Jermey McCray, Justin McCray, Alando Massie, Rick Marsh, Pastor Demond Mills, Robert Pressoir, Robert Reece, Oliver Ruff, Officer Lloyce Spells, Pastor Rick Thomas and Maurice Wilkerson.

“We are calling upon all community members to stand in solidarity with us, to contribute their time, their talents, and the much needed resources to prevent future violence from happening in our community,” said Mr. Norman.

Community organizations represented at the rally include Youth Job Center of Evanston, Youth Opportunity United (YOU), Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, Northshore Acupuncture Center, and SAFER Foundation of Chicago, which offered voter registration.

Kulture Custodian, an Evanston based apparel maker, donated T-shirts with positive messaging on the back, such as My Brother’s Keeper, Self-Worth, Black Excellence, and We Care. The shirts were worn by alliance members and were sold at the rally, with proceeds going toward anti-violence initiatives.

In addition to Mr. Norman, there were 10 speakers who work in varying capacities with Evanston youth. Kevin Brown, former manager of the City’s Youth and Young Adult Division and currently an employee of the SAFER Foundation, served as the program mover, introducing each speaker. Pastor Rick Thomas delivered an opening prayer.

Following are excerpts of remarks by speakers at the rally.

Evanston resident Alando “Spud” Massie said the group is also a peace alliance. “It’s a chance to relate to somebody that you really don’t know – to see them in a different light. … I’ve been to so many funerals of young Black men who have died over senseless acts. With a small conversation, a different outcome could have been achieved. … It starts with us talking to young people, asking them what they need. Sometimes they just need to be heard, to be seen; they feel invisible.”

Jeron Dorsey, Program Coordinator at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, was born and raised in Evanston’s Fifth Ward neighborhood.

“My message is to our youth who are growing up in challenging times where racial inequality and violence has become the norm. … My one request of the youth of Evanston is that you lead by example and make the best choice for your future, not the popular choice. We together as a community must stand in solidarity to combat the violence that continues to plague our neighborhoods. We cannot continue to see families torn apart in these streets that we call home. Please help spread love and peace, and together we will win as a community,” said Mr. Dorsey.

“This is what community policing is all about. Looking out here and seeing people from all walks of life, standing strong, not in fear of the criminal element. It is important that we stand together,” said Police Chief Demitrous Cook.

He addressed the demand by some residents that the City defund the Evanston police department. “When I hear the word defund, that doesn’t make me fearful. Is zero-base budgeting defunding? Is incremental budgeting defunding? It can be, and if that’s the will of the public, to find programs that could be more suitable for some of the problems that we’re facing in our society today, that’s what I’m here to do. I’m an administrator, not a legislator. … I’m here to tell you all that I stand strong in the face of the public.

“This is a big city. We have big-city institutions here. We’ve got Metra, CTA, … Northwestern, one of the largest high schools in the state, the second largest water plant in the state. My job is to have the available resources and the appropriate amount of resources to protect those institutions and you all as the public, so that we can stand here in solidarity and peace, and make sure that the criminal element is out of here. …

“I assure you that the North regional Major Crimes Task Force is making headway on the recent murders. I’m confident that we’re going to yield results from that,” said Chief Cook, who recalled that the last multiple fatal shooting in a single month was a double homicide in 2013.

“But it’s your responsibility as well as mine, to stand together as community members, and fight crime. … I’m so happy that these young men [in the alliance] are taking the lead in terms of community involvement. …

“I live in this Fifth Ward. … I love living in this town. It has so much to offer. But if we don’t fight for it, and let criminals know that we’re against violence … and gunplay in our neighborhoods, … people are going to be looking for the police to solve all of these problems.

“We can’t do it without you. Problem-oriented policing and problem- solving is our responsibility as a community. And my door is open, not only to my office, but you can just come to my house and knock on the door if you want to talk about an issue,” he said.

Sarita Smith is a former Manager of Youth Initiatives at McGaw YMCA and a current employee of Evanston/Skokie District 65. “My personal mission in life is to give students back the narrative that has already been written for them. … Because some of you, no shade, are people writing those stories. I have been a person that wrote those stories. So I stand in my truth and intentionally put myself in positions to edit the rest of that story.

“That is what I did at the Y. Every time there was a day off of school … every other middle school kid was there. …We didn’t open the gym because everybody’s good at basketball – because a lot of young kids aren’t … but we made the space so we could have intentional conversations about re-writing those stories.

“Every day, if you are told the same thing by your peers, sometimes by your parents, by social media outlets, by news, by your government, by your … president, you believe it. It is very difficult for us to make children in our community responsible for the narratives our society writes for them every single day. It is up to us, particularly the Black parents and leaders of this community, to re-write and edit those stories.

“I’m going to ask you to take a moment of silence … to think about how, in the power that you sit in in Evanston, are going to re-write or help re-write students’ stories for them – how you are going to edit those stories or interrupt those stories, or disrupt those stories,” said Ms. Smith.

ETHS Track Coach and retired principal of Haven Middle School Donald Michelin has lived in the community since 1951, “over on Hartrey Avenue – I grew up at 1825, live now at 1823. So you know I don’t move too much,” said Coach Michelin, who was principal at Haven Middle School when speakers Jeron Dorsey and Nathan Norman were students there.

“The Fifth Ward has always been a great place … I don’t want to live anywhere else but Evanston, and could have lived somewhere else, and chose not to.

“We offer diversity. Look at this crowd here. You can’t get that everywhere. But we do have our problems. And what I found out as a teacher at Haven Middle School, as an assistant principal, as a principal – was that our Black males need the wrap-around. Family Focus would come over. We were blessed to have them at Haven. They brought that wrap-around piece. Our boys need that,” said the popular coach, who was better known as “Mich” to Haven students.

He said the racism he experienced growing up in Evanston continues to impact the lives of today’s youth, long after the de-segregation of Evanston schools.

“With young men you end up mentoring, you’ve got to be real and honest with them. …What happens with any type of violence, there’s always a disrespect issue … and so they’ve got to turn that around and deal with the disrespect that they feel. … Remember how you were. You can then turn around and help others. ”

Rev. Dr. Michael Nabors is senior pastor at Second Baptist Church in Evanston. “I want to begin by saying, and I have to say it as strongly as I can, not one more Black man can die from gun violence in the town of Evanston. Not one more. So many of us are already dying from COVID-19, so many of us are already dying from a resurgence of racism in this country. The idea that we are killing each other is completely unacceptable.

“We do know that there are extenuating political and social realities that date back hundreds of years. …There is a systematic structure that has been developed for us to hate each other in the way that we hate each other. But I’m telling you that love is stronger than hate,” said Dr. Nabors.

He recited an original poem that “is sort of like a rap. … It is the story of Black men in America,” said Dr. Nabors. (The poem appears in the sidebar to this story.)

Diversity consultant Gilo Kwesi Logan addressed the members of the Black Male Alliance. “If Black lives matter, …where are we holding ourselves accountable for that? You are doing it. … Black people showing that Black lives matter to us.

“I’ve lived in the Fifth Ward for the past 21 years, and I was raised in the Second Ward. In four days, there were three killings in Evanston, all of Black men. … In the years that I’ve been in the Fifth Ward, there have been two dozen Black men shot and killed in my neighborhood, where I live right now.

“I just want to personalize it. … Dozens of times, my wife, my children, we’ve heard gunshots from our home during our time living here in the Fifth Ward. Yet we choose to live here. So imagine that. There’s something to that. I’ve seen youth running from gunshots through my backyard. … Here we have handguns killing people in our community. The gun is a problem in the world. It’s a problem that exists here in Evanston,” said Dr. Logan.

He quoted activist and author C. T.  Vivian. “Blacks have a condition, not a problem. Whites have a problem, and that problem is racism. But that problem creates our condition.’

And we see that in the world, we see that in America, and we see that right here in good old, beautiful, suburbanite Evanston – in the town that I love dearly. So how do we address this condition?” asked Dr. Logan.

He said the concept of racial identity development, “which essentially says that, because we all live in a racialized society … we all develop a racial identity… and for too many people of color, it’s a detrimental identity that not only causes harm in our society…but within our own lives.

 ‘White racial identity development is the process through which that identity of privilege, of white supremacy, is developed – how it’s institutionalized in our society. …This is not singling out white people individually. …We’re talking about an ideology that we are all impacted by. … It’s also the perception of who we are as Black people. And too often, that perception that we hold of ourselves has been defined for us. …We are seeing ourselves through the eyes of other people.

“W.E.B. Dubois, over 100 years ago, talked about the dilemma of the double consciousness. We’re both African and American. That’s a dilemma within us that many of the speakers talked about, that we are trying to reconcile. And the struggle of that dilemma shows itself in violence in our community.

“We need a new perspective and a new eye on who we are as Black people. … We as a community must find ways to pool our resources for the betterment of our youth and the betterment of our adults. As was mentioned previously, it’s going to take a community effort. If we can’t do it here in Evanston, then where else can we expect it to be done?” asked Dr. Logan.

He also introduced the concept of Ubuntu.

“According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and I quote, ‘One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu, the essence of being human. …You can’t be human all by yourself. And when you have this quality, Ubuntu, you are known for your generosity. … We think of ourselves too frequently as just individuals. …You are connected, and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out, and it’s for the whole of humanity.’

“So when I look out here, that’s what I’m seeing. Ubuntu. Look at the diversity within this crowd. … As human beings, we are brothers and sisters, said Dr. Logan.

Meleika Gardner, owner of Evanston Live TV, shared her personal grief as a result of the loss of male friends and family members to gun violence – including her father, her step-father, and her nephew, Xavier Joy, who was gunned down three years ago on Chicago’s South Side.

“I grew up a very angry Black woman, in a lot of pain. … It wasn’t until recently that I decided to take that pain and turn it into action … to help young Black men and women,” said Ms. Gardner.

She became involved with We Will, a group of women who help women and children get involved in legislation. The nonprofit organization’s founder, Alexandra Eidenberg, supported Ms. Gardner in writing an amendment to Rep. LaShawn Ford’s Bill HB4954, which would ensure that all Illinois school districts continue to teach Black history in Kindergarten through 12th grade. Ms. Gardner’s amendment would require Illinois school districts to also teach pre-enslavement history in the curriculum.

“Growing up … learning about Black history, they start our history out as slaves … in shackles and chains. They don’t tell you the history of Black people prior to becoming enslaved. They don’t tell you … that we built civilizations … that we contributed to medicine and technology and literature and architecture.

“We have been fighting to pass this legislation, and it goes back into session in November … Please email as many of your local house representatives in the state Illinois as you can, and tell them how you feel about HB4954,” said Ms. Gardner, “so that all children know the true history of Black people.”

Kevin Brown praised the work that Mr. Norman did as his “right hand man” during the time that they worked together in the City’s Youth and Young Adult Division.

“This young man really was the initiator of this alliance, and an initiator of violence prevention as well as violence interruption in the City of Evanston. I worked for the City of Evanston for eight years, and we saw a 219% reduction in arrests for 16-24 year-olds between 2012 and 2018. … Parts of the program are still in effect today. … A lot of what happened really rests on the shoulders of … Mr. Nathan Norman,” said Mr. Brown.

“This is not a one and done. … Next week, we will be out mobilizing, converging on hot spots in Evanston speaking to young people, speaking to residents, letting them know that they have our support. And we’ll seek advice from them in how to curb violence in this community. … They say, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together,’” concluded Mr. Norman.

 

Bittersweet

Bittersweet

By Michael Nabors, Senior Pastor, Second Baptist Church of Evanston

 

This madness is in me, in my heart, in my brain and blood.

And like the power of the Nile that rises high and often floods,

I can’t sit on it, press it or keep it down.

It’s as close to me as my skin is brown.

I open up my eyes and I find it right there.

I open up my door, it’s in the sun’s bright glare.

I step outside and stand on the corner of my street

And the madness is in me, not too bitter, not too sweet.

It’s bittersweet.

The story of the Black man is bittersweet indeed.

It’s a universal story with a universal creed.

Like a plant in a garden that began with a small seed,

It got bigger and bigger, like an evil man’s greed.

You may well wonder what it is I’m talking about.

What is this thing that makes me cry, yell, shout?

What’s this thing that angers me and makes me just not care?

What’s this thing that strangles me and takes away my air?

It’s the story of the Black man, and Black man is my name.

If I’m not really careful, I’ll go insane.

There’s nothing more tragic than a Black man’s life

From birth to death it is filled with pain and strife.

Such odds are against him as he sleeps in his mother’s arms.

The only time he’ll be thrilled by a woman’s charms

Because nothing is more thrilling than simply trying to survive.

What are the odds that after twenty, he’ll be alive?

Hated and despised for who he is

Running and dodging bullets, passing by in a blurry whiz.

It’s tragic to see the future before your eyes, and wonder

Am I better off dead or alive?

There’s so much more that I want to say,

But there are not enough hours in a 24-hour day.

To tell you of the pain that I feel.

How can I let you know this thing is real.

How can I let you in on the Black man’s plight

Except to say that it stays with him day and night.

He eats it, he sleeps it, he drinks it at every meal.

He knows it’ll never ever stop until the world we live in is color blind.

And knows that we all are one of a kind.

Until then, every Black man that you look at,

When you look at him, recognize there is a bittersweet existence.”