Wednesday, May 19, 2010


My novel hs been chosen by Dr. Louverta Hurt, retired CPS educator and head of Congressman Danny K Davis' Education Task Force to be used this summer by 25 Upward Bound students to learn Financial Literacy, Economic Development, Business Creation and Entrepreneurship.

I am going to work out the lesson plan. My minor in college was education. I will keep folks updated as the time approaches and how it goes.

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A Change Must Come and Fast

When I first read and heard State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th district) calling on the National Guard to come into Chicago as a solution to dealing with the violence, my heart sank. I am old enough to remember the guard not only coming into the black community during the riots in the 1960s, I also remember vividly the fear I felt when old man Daley gave out the "Shoot to Kill" order.

So the thought that over 40 years later, a black elected official would make a similar call to suggest having them come into the city was upsetting.

To his credit, Ford didn't just make the call and then proceed to go ahead with his vision. Rather, he hosted a town hall meeting this past Monday at McNair Elementary School. Form came seeking community input and boy did the community show up to give it. In attendance were elected officials, including Aldermen Emma Mitts (37th), Deborah Graham (29th) and Sharon Dixon (24th). Even Commissioner Earlean Collins came out, as well as newly installed State Rep. Camille Lilly (78th). Missing were many of the elected black male officials, for some strange reason. William "Dock" Walls, who is running as an independent for governor, came out and added his support and voice to the mix.

At a few minutes before the 6 p.m. start time, the room was pretty empty. But it soon filled to the brim with people, including young black males carrying signs saying, "Jobs Not Guards." Anyone who has read my columns knows that I have a simple, easy to remember five-word plan to cure the majority of ills that have befallen the black community. They are Economics, Employment, Education, Ex-Offenders and the fifth one Excuses - none accepted.

With the gym at McNair being filled to maximum capacity, the message given and being sent by our young, unemployed black men was simple. They want employment and they want it now. Most impressive in his passion and speech was Mark Carter, an ex-offender who is now one of the leading voices coming from the younger generation. They want a piece of the state of Illinois' governmental pie and it's not welfare or food stamps they are seeking. Out of a $310 billion budget, according to Carter, black elected officials only got $425 million for their communities. It is a drop in the bucket and since we contribute a lot of money in to the state for taxes, we should get our fair share back.

Another impassioned speaker was Luster Jackson. I met Jackson when I first moved to this side of town and read about the plans to just take the people's property at Homan and Jackson for a new traffic court. Anyone who takes a few minutes to study how land grabs work in this city will find that the black community always becomes what they assume to be the easiest target. I was a novice when I first started attending those meetings to fight that land grab. But even back then, I understood that when you're fighting city hall, every person who shows up sends a message that the people care. Jackson was successful in stopping the development of that courthouse. He also recently shut down the Marshall High School redevelopment project due to racial discrimination in the workforce.

I came away from Ford's town hall meeting impressed that there is a new mission and message coming from those who are tired of being overlooked. No longer will our young people be content to allow the "usual suspects" to keep us in the "status quo" of all talk and no action.

The Eisenhower Expressway project is the baseline. That project runs straight through the heart of the West Side and will be the measure by which we will see if those young folks are serious or not. For weeks, the companies working on the project have been taking applications. Now, let's see if those who have been threatening to shut that project down if blacks aren't hired in substantial numbers will be successful.

If it comes down to that, I won't have to report on it. I will be one of the folks standing tall with them

Food for the Soul and the Stomach

Are you a proud West Sider? With calls for the National Guard to come into our community, one can easily be jaded over living on this side of town. I do not want to diminish the problems that we have, but at the same time someone does need to focus on what is good about living here.

One of the best things about living on the West Side is an organization that has always been at the forefront regarding this side of town: Westside Branch NAACP. I recently rejoined the organization when chastised by President Karl Brinson for having let my membership lapse. The organization has moved and is now located at 5820 W. Chicago Ave. in the Sankofa Cultural Center.

If you want to be part of an organization that is not political or religious but is focused on doing good, then this is the organization to join. The meetings are held on the first Saturday of every month at 1 p.m. and it is not unusual to have at least 30 members present. Every year our branch holds its annual Freedom Fund Banquet. This year it will be held on Saturday May 15, at the Best Western Hotel, 4400 Frontage Rd. in Hillside beginning at 6:30 p.m. The cost of the ticket is $50 and can be purchased by calling 773.261.5890. If you are a business owner, then please buy an ad showing your support for an organization that is always out front in supporting this side of town.

And speaking of this side of town, I want everyone to support four restaurants that I visited in the past couple of weeks that may not be on your normal dining radar. The first is J&W Jamaican Jerk at 5148 W. Madison St. From the chicken & waffles for breakfast to the jerk chicken and ribs, everything was fresh, hot, and very tasty. I had the jerk chicken and it was smoky and jerked just right. The staff is helpful and friendly and whether you take out or eat in, this restaurant deserves the support of everyone.

I also had the opportunity to visit Ms. Lucille's Soul Food Kitchen at 108 W. Madison in Oak Park. The fried pork chops were scrumptious, the yams were laced with butter and vanilla, and it was refreshing to see succotash loaded with okra on the menu. I went with one of my girlfriends and she and I both had to drag ourselves out of the restaurant from having eaten so much.

Now, the next restaurant I must recommend may come as a surprise to some. I had left the radio station around midnight on Sunday and driving home my stomach began to growl. I hadn't had anything to eat since that morning and I was starving. As I drove past Chicago Avenue and Kedzie, the sign in the Popeye's Chicken, 3202 W. Chicago Ave., said their drive thru was open. Now, at 12:30 a.m. the choices for what to eat on this side of town are few and far between. So I made my purchase and took the food home, not knowing what to expect. I want to tell you that when I opened the bag, everything inside was fresh and hot. And for the first time in years, I had a chicken breast that was moist and perfectly cooked. The food was so good that I called the manager the next day and shocked her with a compliment and not a complaint. I even went on the Internet and sent a form to their main headquarters about how good that chicken was.

Lastly, for over a year I have seen the Mississippi Hot Tamale cart on the corner of Laramie and Iowa. I never knew black folks made tamales, but I got a real history lesson when I went on the Internet. Whatever the origins, I finally stopped and sampled those tamales. They are inexpensive, tasty, and very juicy since they are boiled and not steamed.

So, when you come to the NAACP banquet, let me know which restaurants you tried and give me and the restaurants in question your reviews.

Stand Up and Be Counted

Last Friday I attended a first-of-its-kind graduation. The 44 women were dressed in blue graduation gowns with matching mortar boards. The smiles on their faces reflected their pride in having achieved the goal of graduation after completing their curriculum.

Most family members are always proud at a graduation, and this graduation was no exception. I had never seen so many faces filled with pride as those displayed by the audience. As they watched their loved ones march down the aisle to get their diplomas, the cheers from both the audience and members of the graduation class reflected the end of one arduous journey and the beginning of another. You see, the average age of the graduating women was around 40 and the curriculum they had just finished was one from ACCESS Health Network. It was the Women Returning Home Inaugural Graduation for women who are ex-offenders.

I never asked any of the graduating women about their past. Their past isn't as important as their present and future. You could see in their eyes the obstacles they had overcome. Every one of the women who graduated had been drug and alcohol free for at least 30 days. Remaining that way is always a challenge seeing that they are still inner city residents with all the trapping of turning back to drugs and alcohol is smack dab in their faces. But because of the support of those who run Women Returning Home (WRH), they were able to stave off the lure of returning to their former lifestyles and remain committed to the program.

When the names of the workers from ACCESS were called, the cheers were thunderous. The workers, case managers James Jones, Carmelita Tunstall and Basje Lewis along with team leader Takala Welch, had gone above and beyond in supporting those ladies as they transitioned back into everyday life. Let us too applaud them and the women who are now given a second chance. The women are back with their families and can try to heal the pain and suffering that their incarceration brought on.

As I watched the joy those ladies were expressing, I thought about the people they left behind in the penitentiary. Will those other women who will one day return to the community find a service like WRH waiting for them? Or will they end up alone and without support, become a part of the cycle of recidivism? I also thought how those women who are now home can be counted as part of the current 2010 census and that their individual count will help to bring monies back to our community for programs like the one they had just attended. And I also thought of the hundreds of thousands of households in this city who are ignoring the census.

There are millions of federal dollars a community can get based on the census counts. For example, the federal government only acknowledges the census count based on the form it receives. So, although Chicago may have three million residents, if no one sends in their census count, then programs like WRH can't ask for money to serve 100,000 thousand ex-offenders.

But if every Chicagoan returns their forms, or calls in their census to 1-866-872-6868, we can all be counted and the monies that are needed to service the needs of Chicagoans can be met.

And here's another reason to complete the census: Our community hasn't been targeted to get counted. With every census the African-American population is being eroded. Last time it was the bi-racial category. This time they are making Hispanic, which is a culture and not a race, a category. So take 10 minutes and let the government know about you and your entire family. Get counted to be counted!

Jobs results from buying into the "Green" Economy

This past Saturday I was a co-host on the radio show Emilie and Friends, which is broadcast on WVON 1690-AM every Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. I got the opportunity late Thursday afternoon, which is the reason I didn't mention it in last week's column.

The show focused on "green" jobs, the much touted field everyone is talking about as the key to our slowing rebounding economy. If you're like me, you're not really sure what a "green" job is. Because of the multitude of experts that were part of the show on Saturday, I'm now better versed and able to explain what the "green" economy is.

First off, the term "green" just means anything involved in being ecologically responsible. Windows that keep in cool air in the summer and hot air in the winter are now "green" as opposed to just being called "energy efficient." The job of manufacturing those window to installing those windows to even the selling the windows all fall under the "green" umbrella.

Once I was able to understand the "green" economy in those terms, it was easy to understand the entire spectrum of jobs that can be created as a part of the process. Banks will lend money to buy, manufacture or install the windows. There will be a need for someone to move the windows from the factory to the store, and then from the store to the location where the windows will be used. There are jobs to be had in designing the house that uses those windows. There will be jobs designing landscaping products that will be used around the house that will help to make the house even "greener." The scope gets even bigger when you add wind and solar power as major catalysts for the "green" economy. Those new industries, for the most part, will be created right here in this country with jobs that cannot be outsourced.

Another interesting dimension of the "green" movement is urban farming. One of the best examples comes out of Milwaukee, Wis. Besides creating urban gardens which help produce fresh fruits and vegetables locally within the city, there are projects that include Aquaponics where fish like Tilapia and Yellow Perch can be raised indoors. Urban beekeepers produce honey and products that utilize it. There are those who raise worms, which produce manure, the perfect fertilizer for your plants and garden. It is easy to see how "green" is a full circle of things that are interrelated.

In the last hour of the show, one of the guests mentioned reusing items that normally would go into a landfill when houses are demolished to make way for a new home. I immediately thought of my own kitchen. My original kitchen was a horrible sight to see. Imagine yellow plastic tiles on the wall topped off with black bull-nose tiles. The floors were an ugly red and white checkerboard tile. The cabinets were OK, but didn't give me any countertop room. When I had a second story added and the kitchen was partially destroyed in the process, it gave me an opportunity to redo the kitchen.

As most people are aware, remodeling a kitchen is costly. Saving money became my main goal. What I ended up doing was finding a house in Winnetka that was about to be torn down. The cabinets were extra tall and one needs to have ceilings at least 9 feet high to use cabinets that are 4 feet tall. I was the only one who bid on the cabinets and ended up paying $700 for an entire kitchen of cabinets. I paid a friend to remove them and then re-used them in my own kitchen.

I did it because of economics, but this is also part of the new "green" industry. Companies now specialize in selling parts of houses to be used by people when they need parts to repair their own vintage homes. There are even resale stores that specialize in selling those items for the home.

Here on the West Side, we have the Chicago Center for Green Technology at 445 N. Sacramento. I would suggest that anyone who wants to learn more about the future of "green," and the jobs that can come with it, visit the center and learn more.