My grandfather died when I was 10. I still remember vividly bits and pieces of his funeral. I recall we had a funeral limo that came to pick my family up and take us to the wake and funeral. I don't remember the exact spot where my grandfather was buried, but I know he was buried at Burr Oaks.
My grandfather was a true patriarch of his family. When he moved to Chicago from California, his children followed to be by their daddy. My grandfather's influence over his children was unbridled. My aunts and uncle would always preface everything they said with, "Daddy this" or "Daddy that."
My grandfather owned a large plot of land out in Robbins. I can still recall the cornfields and his huge vegetable garden and my mother warning me about "garden snakes" whenever I played outside. I also can still hear that special sound my grandfather's car made whenever we drove down the gravel road that led to his house. When I recall his house, I remember an attached garage, which he used as a store to sell Cokes that were kept in a chest-like cooler and how it was like a maze to get the pop out once you put your money in the coin slot.
I was only at Burr Oaks one additional time, that I can remember, after my grandfather's funeral. It was years later - to bury my friend, Charles Coleman, when he was killed by a fellow student while we were in high school. Charles was the kind of kid who was so well liked by everyone at Wells High School, his funeral was attended by the many different ethnic groups that made up the school. Now this was back in the turbulent 1960s, at a time when there was a lot of civil unrest going on. But the feelings for Charles transcended race. I still remember sitting in home room with Charles, and he had on his ROTC uniform and put his legs up on the drafting table, then challenged me to do the same, knowing that I had on a dress.
Why am I reminiscing so much about these memories? Because a lot of them were stirred up and brought to the forefront when the original story about Burr Oaks broke last summer. I admit I am not a person who goes to the cemetery to visit the graves of my loved ones. But that doesn't mean I don't love them or think of them often.
When the Burr Oak story first broke - and I know I am not alone - I immediately felt guilty for not having visited my grandfather's grave. Guilty because the bones of my ancestor may have been disturbed from his final resting place. Guilty because as a member of the black community I hadn't done anything to make sure what happened didn't happen. Yes, I know it is not my fault, but that doesn't make the guilt any less palpable.
I admit I have avoided writing about Burr Oaks. Even now as I write this column, the tears are streaming down my face because the African-American community has always had a special relationship with our "ancestors." Anyone who has ever attended an African-centered event knows that during the Libation Ceremony, water is poured into a plant while members of the audience call out the names of those who are no longer with us. The importance of keeping the memory of our ancestors alive is underscored by speaking their names. The more we speak their names and tell their stories, the more those ancestors continue to live.
Think of New Orleans and their funeral services. Unlike the solemnity of white observances, the funeral march is a party-joyful rather than somber. We call our funerals "Homegoing" ceremonies. And the best food ever is served at the Repast. We take pictures of our dead in their caskets and often display those photos in the dining room underneath the glass top of a buffet.
So for politicians to use Burr Oaks as the basis for their re-election bid to office has stirred anger in me - because my dead relatives and friends are not political fodder for those who want to gain the "black vote." Anger because there is enough guilt to go around for everyone to share when it comes to Burr Oaks. Anger because politicians, black and white, are so willing to use the dead that I, too, get caught up in it by having to write about it.
Election Day is next Tuesday, Feb. 2. Although the joke in Chicago has always been that even the dead vote, we must encourage everyone we know to get to the polls. Vote into office those who will best represent us and send out of office those who continue to believe they can use us.
I, too, got the email saying that Wal-Mart had caused the closure of businesses because of its presence in the Austin community. I also looked at the report that was prepared by the individuals from both Loyola University and UIC to back up that assertion. But after looking at all the facts, figures, dots and dashes, I concluded that I am neither a mathematician nor a statistician. But I am a “common-sense-tician” who must have been on another planet to have missed the devastation to my community that the report concluded. Especially since I pride myself on noticing situations and bringing them to the forefront before anyone else. So to hear that jobs were lost and businesses closed due to Wal-Mart’s presence right under my nose was unsettling.
Now I can’t do a fancy study like the one the report did. And truthfully, I’ve only been in the Wal-Mart twice since it opened. Once so that I could at least say when I spoke about the store that I had been in it and the second time when a friend needed a traveling toothbrush at the last minute. Otherwise, that particular store isn’t even on my shopping radar.
I have been paying attention in my own special way as to the effects that Wal-Mart was having on this community. When it was first announced that Wal-Mart was coming, both the Jewel on North Kostner and the Cub Foods in Washington Square bolted. They didn’t even bother to wait around to see what would happen. So it stands to reason that the smaller and at times pricier Walgreens with a tiny parking lot that requires the dexterity of a contortionist to get into should have closed down within a month of Wal-Mart’s opening. But it hasn’t.
And guess what? The old Jewel store has become the relocation site of Cook Brothers and a new Burlington Coat Factory moved in too. We have a new Menards and finally a replacement for the Aldi’s that we lost over a decade ago. There’s a new Chase bank branch and a Bank of America too. All of them within a stone’s throw from Wal-Mart.
And the old Cub Food site? Well after the community successfully boycotted the smelly Grand Mart store, they shuttered and went away (thank God) and we got Food 4 Less in its place. Marshall closed but then AJ Wright opened. Staples closed but America’s Kid came in. Now in my mind, that is all part of a normal cycle of store closings and openings.
But what isn’t normal to me is the report about Wal-Mart and how it was done. You see, those pesky researchers decided to base their decision on all businesses that closed within a four mile radius of the store. They looked at businesses carrying any merchandise similar to Wal-Mart. Their study area was Irving Park to the north, Roosevelt to the south, Harlem to the west and Western to the east. That areas encompasses part of or all of the following wards; 1st, 2nd, 24th, 26th - 29th, 30th, 31st, 33rd, 35th - 38th and 47th wards. That’s almost a third of the entire city that was affected by one store! HUH?
And there in lies the problem! You see in Chicago, each ward has around 40,000 voters. Add in the children, non-registered voters and everyone else and it is fair to say that there are about 100,000 people per ward. So how could one solitary Wal-Mart (and it ain’t even a Super Wal-Mart) be the cause of the failure of so many other businesses?
When the Wal-Mart first opened, it did cause traffic to be a mess. But that was more due to the city purposely not putting traffic lights in place and having those traffic aides out front to direct traffic. That was a cheap and cheesy ploy to get people to know that the store is located at 4650 W. North Ave since it sits behind the garages of the homes on North Keating Avenue. And that traffic nightmare continued for six months until Julian Alamillo was killed as he directed traffic. His death caused the city to hurry up and put in traffic lights. And ever since, things have moved smoothly.
Why is traffic such an important part as to why that report seems clueless? Well if all the people who would have shopped at those shuttered businesses in the compact geographical area were to now be shopping at Wal-Mart why that equates to about 1.5 million people or a portion thereof streaming into that store. Now I’m not the same kind of researcher as those who did this study, but I do think I would have kinda’ notice that many people streaming into Wal-Mart on any given day. And the traffic flow into and out of and around that store, even at Christmas time didn’t reflect that many people making their way to the store. Why traffic on North, Grand and Cicero Avenues should have been backed up for miles as people flock to Wal-Mart. But everyone knows that ain’t happening.
Also, since there are more people in a single ward in Chicago than in most suburbs, it seems ridiculous to use a four mile radius when a four blocks radius would have been better. People at Harlem and Irving Park don’t need to travel to Wal-Mart when the Harlem-Irving Plaza sits right in their mist. And I doubt that folks at Roosevelt and Western are trying to spend the gas money and time to get to Wal-Mart when other stores are minutes away. And the folks at Western and Irving? Why they are in such a traffic nightmare that they can’t even get to the Wal-Mart even if they tried.
Here’s my suggestion for the folks who did this report. Give the report to Ald. Howard Brookins of the 21st ward. He can then get the Wal-Mart store he wants in his community and watch while Evergreen Park’s stores which lie less than four miles away close down and the tax revenue is returned to the city.
Danny Davis told us when he endorsed Dorothy Brown that he was going with the Polls and choosing the leader in the race. As the Tribune has endorsed Ald. Sharon Denise Dixon, is there a poll showing her in the lead and therefore we should all follow suit?
FROM THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE:
7th District: Rep. Danny Davis seems eager to get out of the House. He pushed to be Cook County Board president four years ago, briefly sought the appointment to the U.S. Senate a year ago, and filed for County Board president this year but backed out of the race at the last minute. A seat in Congress should be more than Plan B. Nevertheless, he's running for an eighth term. He's not getting a free pass, though. He faces Darlena Williams-Burnett, chief deputy to the recorder of deeds and wife of 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett. Our endorsement goes to 24th Ward Ald. Sharon Denise Dixon, who has loads of energy and has been one of the few independent voices on the City Council.
I received a phone call about my column. There are two errors in my column. The meeting took place on December 29, 2009. The second error is that children held at the CCJDC are always in some sort of legal entanglement and not just left there by DCFS.
We currently have two black presidents. There's no need to discuss one of them because his term is just beginning and we'll be better able to judge his presidency in another three years. But for the other black president, his term is coming to an end and everyone wants to take over the job he's doing.
I won't rehash too much of what I said awhile back. You know the saying my granny always told me; "No good deed goes unpunished." As I looked into why so many were gung ho to punish Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, the bottom line as always is about money. And that money is not just in the $3 billion budget he controls, but it also has to do with contracts for those that will make even more money because of that budget.
Someone (and I apologize that I can't remember who) told me that if all I had was the contract for selling Snicker Bars at the Cook County Jail, I could make a million dollars or more a day. A million dollars just selling one candy bar? So, I began to do the math. First, I wanted to see if I could even get near a million dollars on a monthly basis before even trying to envision that type of earnings on a daily basis.
The jail at 26th and California holds 10,000 inmates at all times, sometimes more, seldom less. If each inmate buys a $1 candy bar twice a day, that is $620,000 a month ($2 x 10,000 x 31 days). Now, if all of those inmates have one attorney and they buy a candy bar every day, that's an additional $310,000 a month. If each inmate has two family members show up everyday and they each buy two candy bars, it's $1,240,000. Well folks, we're already over $2 million a month and I haven't added in those coming to court for trials, jurors coming into the court house every day, juveniles in court at the Juvenile Detention Centers, other people doing business with the court, all the county employees going into court like DCFS workers, sheriff's officers, bailiffs, witnesses and on and on. So, it becomes very easy to see the potential of $1 million a day when you include not only 26th and California, but the Markham, Maybrook, Daley Center and Skokie courthouses, too - lots of people going in and out of the court syste m every single day. And while waiting around, they are spending money. And although the millions isn't pure profit, even a third grader knows if you buy in bulk the price gets cheaper while the profits get deeper.
Of course the person who gets the Snickers contract is authorized by the county board. And yes President Stroger has some say so in how contracts are awarded. I was impressed to hear him state the other day that the lowest bidder doesn't always win the contract. Why? Because the city has proven time and time again that the lowest bidder if unable to complete the contract at the stated cost, then turns around and demands double the money in order to honor their contract. The county board isn't being foolish like the city. It is making sure that a contract can be completed for its stated cost.
My understanding also is that minorities have 35 percent of the county's contracts and that a large percentage of that 35 percent is African American. Now, compare that to the City of Chicago where we who are almost 50 percent of this city only manage to get around nine percent of the contracts. No one wants to talk about that though.
I've had some people wonder why I have become such an advocate for Stroger. Some have even made snide remarks that I must be on the payroll. Well, I'm not. No matter what, I am an advocate for fairness when I see my people being unfairly attacked. When the Daley Administration puts a nickel tax on every bottle of water, not a deposit, but a tax and no one complains and Stroger needed half a penny to pay for the hospitals, at least I know where that money went.
And to sum it up like a Cook County worker did to me the other day, they don't know anything about having to take a furlough day, something state, and city workers know full well.
Last Tuesday January 29, 2009 I went to a meeting convened by people who work at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center (CCJDC). The flyer advertising the meeting stated that its purpose was to tell the "untold story" about what has been going on at the center.
As I sat in the front row to hear clearly what was being said, I was most impressed by the number of black people who showed up at Englewood High School. It was a crowd of over 200 people on a bitterly cold night, and the majority of the attendees were men -men wearing the uniform of Cook County deputies, men who appeared to care about the problem and men who were respectful toward one another.
And the reason that the men made such an impression on me is that for those of us who "do" meetings, the fact that most of the attendees were men was a miracle unto itself.
The Juvenile Detention Center is the largest facility of its kind in the entire nation and can house up to 600 people under the age of 17. Some are there because of crimes they have committed, while others may be there because the state has nowhere else to place them while they have temporary custody.
Children have their own rooms with glass doors so they can be monitored at all times. Just one floor in the center is larger than 95 percent of detention centers in the entire country.
There are several issues that the employees have been bringing to the forefront over the past six weeks on Garfield Major's radio show on WRLL-AM. One of their main allegations is that the breakdown in discipline at the center is related directly to the increase in youth violence on the streets.
If word on the street is that going into the center is a piece of cake, then the lack of fear of incarceration can be a factor in whether or not they opt to participate in street violence.
Another major concern is that many workers have been told, after years of satisfactorily doing their jobs, their ability to retain those jobs will be based on a test and/or whether or not they have a college degree.
No consideration is being given to the fact that many of the staff members have over 10 years or more of experience in dealing with the type of youths who are being housed at the center. That type of on-the-job knowledge is better than any theoretical Ph.D. degree by someone whose piece of paper gives them accolades for theories, but who don't have any practical experience.
The employees have also made some serious allegations regarding the way the center is managed. At one time that center was controlled by the Cook County board. But a lawsuit 1999 placed it under court supervision. It is alleged that those who sued along with those who came in to take over are now benefiting monetarily from the change.
Some of the allegations that are being made include sweetheart no-bid contracts for and ghost payrolling for supervisors.
They also say that the center's budget has gone from $22 million just four years ago to over $40 million dollars today. Part of the reason for the huge increase in the budget, they say, includes making the children wear disposable shoes (who has that contract?) and making toiletries a commissary item (who has that contract?). And those glass doors to the rooms? Rarely broken in the past, they are now being broken at rate of 10 a month (who has that contract and why are the children so angry?).
One of the things missing in the presentation was information from young people who have gone through the center. Was the detention center better when it was under the country board than it is now that it is under the court system?
Is the college degree requirement being placed on current employees just another attempt to give well-paying jobs to college kids who can't find work in today's tight economy while sending black men to the unemployment line?
If there are parents who currently have children at the center or young people who were once held there and can shed some more light on what is happening, please call me. My number is 773-622-3863.
LISTEN TO LIVE EVERY SUNDAY WRLL 1450 AM - 10pm UNTIL 12am
Sunday, Garfield Major's show, “Talking To The People” on WRLL 1450 AM from ten until midnight. Call 773-591-6777. To reach Garfield Major, call 773-638-8462 or 8463.
Also visit ONIXLINK.COM to see my postings under the Writer's Block section.
EMAIL ME: WESTSIDE2DAY@YAHOO.COM
Arlene Jones' Biography
I was born in Chicago. I grew up in Cabrini Green. I attended Wells Sr High, the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle where I majored in Spanish and minored in Education. I have a diploma in Computer Programming.
I moved to Austin when I purchased a home here. I have two children.
I have been active in the community since moving here. I started with my blockclub. In the early 1990s, I worked with several people to try and form the North Austin Homeowners Association. I even went on patrol with a group of people who had a walkie talkie car patrol of the neighborhood.
As with most programs in the AA community, many factors led to the demise of those groups. Lack of support from elected officials was at the top of the list.
There were several people who had a group and we met out of DaVinci Manor. DaVinci Manor was at the corner of North Ave and Central where Walgreen now stands. Again there was very little interest in saving that building and our community lost a beautiful hall.
I have protested the state of the Central Ave bridge. I worked with Leola Spann and did many a smoke out including one in the 1500 block of North Lorel where drug paraphenalia layed on the ground. I have over the years here in Austin worked with the following groups at one point or another:
Northeast Austin Organization (Mary Volpe, Tom Hosea);
Northwest Austin Council;
Brotherhood of Black Men;
Westside Health Authority;
Every Block A Village;
25th District Housing Committee;
African American Employees at the Merchandise Mart (AAEMM);
Lafollette Park Advisory Council;
Garfield Park Conservatory Advisory Council;
Westside Executive Advisory Council;
Austin Landmark Cultural Center;
Concerned Citizens of East Garfield Park
and so many others that it gets hard to remember.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing. -- Malcolm X