Saturday, July 31, 2010

Our "FRIENDS" have a strange way of showing it

I've been writing about Bethel New Lie the past two weeks. In an era where many of us have become callous, the mistreatment of seniors galls me no end. At age 56, my road to senior citizenship is my future. I hope to not ever have to live in a senior building, but should it happen, I want to know that I will still have rights and am able to make decisions about how I live. Sadly, the seniors at Bethel's facilities for both the independent living and assisted living aren't being treated as such.

For months now, those living in the independent living building at 4950 W. Thomas have been infested with bedbugs. Yup, those same yucky critters from the "goodnight, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite" nursery rhyme have taken over the building. The exterminator hired by Bethel has ordered the seniors to "toss out" their furniture and mattresses as the first step in addressing the issue. But in speaking with famed West Side exterminator Garfield Major, he tells me only a lazy exterminator makes people throw out their furniture. There are methods that can be used to kill the bugs while saving people's possessions.

I thought of that when I learned several seniors with little to no money were forced to purchase new mattresses and furniture after being told to throw out their possessions. When they went to Bethel New Life for assistance in paying for that sudden expenditure, they were told no financial help was available. Many of those seniors had lived there for years without bedbugs but now found themselves inundated with them. The current and most effective method for killing bedbugs without having to throw everything out is to heat the area between 135 and 150 degrees for several hours. Every critter has a heat tolerance limit and then it dies. Bethel is now using this method. But prior to the heat method which doesn't require furniture to be tossed, those who did lose their furniture have had little to no recourse in recovering the money they spent while already living on a limited and fixed income.

I understand that Bethel has opted not to respond to what I've written. That is their right. However, no response is a response. Plus it would be interesting to hear why they don't live up to all those Christian principles they espouse. Seniors at both complexes say they are being subjected to subtle threats. If they speak out, they are afraid they'll be labeled troublemakers and their ability to stay in the complex will be put at risk. My voice can only go so far. Those of you who have grandparents, family members and friends living at Bethel need to speak up and stand up for the residents.

Staying on the theme of standing and speaking up, I want to congratulate 8th District state Representative LaShawn K Ford for having introduced SB-3531. That bill is called the African American Employment Act. In an era where far too many black elected officials do little to truly help the plight of black people, his bill is an attempt to make sure that black people get fair treatment in employment with the state.

The act is designed to:

1) improve the delivery of state services to Illinois' African Americans;

2) increase the number of African Americans who are employed and promoted throughout state government;

3) assist state agencies in meeting goals established by the African American Employment Plan; and

4) establish an African American Employment Plan Advisory Council.

The bill requires the Department of Central Management Services to develop and implement plans to increase the number of African Americans employed by state government, including those at supervisory, technical, professional, and managerial levels; prepare a state African American Employment Plan; annually report to the General Assembly about each state agency's activities to implement the plan; and assist state agencies with training programs to meet their affirmative action and equal employment opportunity goals.

This state already has a similar bill for Hispanics, signed into law by ex-governor Blagojevich in 2005. Yet the similar bill for black folks is languishing on Gov. Quinn's desk. It was sent to Quinn on June 4 and once signed would be effective immediately. I placed a call to Quinn's office, asking if perhaps he needed a pen, but was given myriad reasons why Quinn hadn't signed the bill yet.

I strongly urge people to call Quinn's office and ask why he hasn't signed the bill. His number is 312-814-2121. Election time is coming. I believe he is playing politics by not signing the bill and waiting until he can get the biggest bang for his buck. In the meantime, black folks are suffering. Everyone should remember that come Nov. 2, 2010 when we go to the polls. The mistreatment of black people should never be ignored.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

If She Makes It On The Ballot, Will She Win?

(FOX News Channel) - Wisconsin state legislature candidate Ieshuh Griffin wants voters to know she is "NOT the white man's b*tch" and is NOT happy about being prevented from spreading her message, Fox News Channel reported late Thursday.

Griffin, who is running as an Independent, wanted that statement -- and capitalization -- posted under her name on the ballot for state representative, in the place where the candidate's political party would usually be listed. But the state's Government Accountability Board (GAB) denied her request.

"It's not racist, it's not a slur ... it's not pointed to a particular person. In my point of view, the average politician is a token," said Griffin.

She is now suing on the grounds that her "freedom of expression" is being "suppressed."

GAB spokesman Reid Magney explained why Griffin's request was denied, saying, "Staff determined that her language used on her declaration of candidacy is pejorative in nature and does not satisfy the requirements of Wisconsin statutes."

During a hearing, a board member asked Griffin if she would be satisfied omitting the expletive and simply writing that she was "not under the white man's influence." Griffin did not respond to the query.

Griffin is running to replace State Representative Annette "Polly" Williams, who is retiring after 30 years in office.

Source: FOX News Channel

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bethel New Lie Part II - Unedited Version

There has always been the understanding that “to tame the natives, you send in the missionaries.” The same juxtaposition can be said of the black community. Just create a non-profit, 501C-3 organization that tells poor black folks on the west side that it is interested in helping to solve our economic/social/educational problems and voila, everything will appear to be alright.

When Bethel New Life got started in 1979 that is what it offered. Bethel chose a passage from the Bible to create its mission statement. If you’re not a biblical scholar, I highly recommend pausing right now before reading this column and looking up Isaiah 58:9-12. Those verses are so ironic (especially the twelfth verse) when you think of why they were chosen in 1979 and how current leadership at Bethel has made them a mockery in 2010.

In doing the background research for this column, I found a statement that then founder Mary Nelson wrote a few years back. She reflected that in choosing those biblical passages for their mission statement, it would “keep Bethel focused on a combination of justice, compassion, and building on the capacities of its own people.”

Well can someone please tell that to the recently hired administrative staff at Bethel? You know the outside folks that now run it and the majority of whom have less than two years worth of experience working there. What “justice or compassion” did Bethel put forth when it fired almost everyone who worked at the supported living facility (SLF) located at 1134 N. Lavergne? The WestSiders who were terminated had ten-to-twenty years of service there plus they lived right here in the neighborhood. I’m not going to be politically correct and say “let go” or “laid off” because what Bethel New Lie did is to use that missing ‘f’ on both their terminated employees, the people living in the SLF and to the Westside community they purport to serve.

Bethel has reached out with its left hand to get money, from both governmental and private groups, while its right hand has done all it could to contribute to the very problem that plagues the black west side; a lack of employment Then to add to the irony of it all, Bethel recently announced it was going to help create 700 jobs this year. I wonder if all the employees they hired after firing the previous staff will be included in that count.

Bethel F’d their terminated employees because they were doing a “fine job” towards the residents of the SLF. I spoke with quite a few residents and they are in tears over losing those employees because they had come to know, like, and trust them. So much for Bethel “building on the capacities” when it claims that to do the job the person needed a college degree, yet the new “degreed” current employee can’t even manage to do something as simple as get the seniors at the SLF to the funerals of current and former residents. I got to keep shouting it so that everyone understands, college is theory. Real work experience can never be trumped.

Bethel has F’d the current residents because those living there are not nursing home patients. They are independent people who need the security of knowing that help is nearby should they need it. But there is no “help” to send when the new staff is so trifling that they removed photos of the residents from off the lobby walls and devastate the activity room by throwing away board games the residents had placed there so that they could be a community of elders. Now the once active residents of the SLF who used to go on several outside trips a week are now making a visit to the first floor television room their main outing. The residents who used to be very happy with the food are now infighting because some of them got two breakfast sausage while others only got one.

Even worst, some of those residents are being disrespected when current workers drop serving utensils on the floor and then when those workers attempt to still use the utensils without washing them off are told to “shut up” when they complain about the unsanitary actions. The residents who used to have a voice in how their building is run (it is their home) now are not asked for any input into what is going on. They are expected to accept what is offered. Several residents say that the new staff members haven’t even taken a moment to introduce themselves to the residents. Hey Bethel…, SLF is support and not manipulation. Those seniors are not in prison although the treatment of those seniors is closely approximating it. And rather than encourage those seniors to keep their minds active by having them read the morning paper, the new staff has taken to reading the newspaper to them as if they are in preschool.

Bethel mission statement for seniors is this: “Elders living to the fullness of life in community.” The question that remains is who gets to make the decision about that fullness? The elders or the employees?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bethel New Life Employees Deserve Better

I received a call several weeks ago, someone asking if I knew that Bethel New Life had laid off the majority of their staff at the assisted living facility. No I didn't know that I told the caller; but I would look into it. In the past, I had been invited to the facility on a number of occasions. I had also visited on my own at unannounced times. Every time while I was there, I paid attention to the staff in action. Why?

Because my 93-year-old aunt is living in a nursing home and has recovered to the point that assisted living would be more appropriate for her over a nursing home. Even at her age, my aunt is capable of living on her own as long as help is nearby in case of an emergency. The nursing home where my aunt currently resides is little more than a warehouse for the elderly. The residents are gathered together daily to spend hours on-end in the dayroom, with little-to-nothing to do accept listen to the drone of the television set. The residents are not permitted to move about. Rather, they are kept in their wheelchairs.

So when I saw the active and lively seniors at Bethel New Life's assisted living facility and their interaction with the caring staff, I was extremely impressed. Far too often facilities that have black residents and black staff are held in a negative stereotype. To see such positive interaction between the staff and resident was inspiring. It was also important that I have a personal relationship with the staff. I wanted to know the people who would surround my aunt so that I could trust her with them. Unfortunately, my cousin who has the power of attorney over my aunt lives on the South Side and didn't want to move my aunt to the West Side. But had she given the OK, and I would have placed my aunt there without hesitation.

A few weeks ago, I ran into another friend who had been terminated from Bethel. I also recently met with a group of the terminated workers. Having known many of them and seen their work, I can attest that they are not "disgruntled" ex-employees. They are folks who worked their butts off for Bethel, only to be rewarded with a letter telling them their positions were being eliminated.

Bethel's rise to prominence began in 1979. Its emphasis in housing came out of a Lutheran ministry focused on a two square mile area of the West Side that was primarily African American and low income. Over the years, Bethel has grown from an initial staff of two people and a budget just under $10,000 to employing roughly 350 people and with a budget of more than $12 million. In 1989, Bethel took the plunge and purchased the old St. Anne Hospital campus. The organization has successfully turned the one square block area at 4900 W. Division into a thriving area. This was not done single-handedly by one person. Bethel's success at that location is directly related to the people who used to work there. They were employees who were vested not only in the success of Bethel but lived in this community as well.

How has Bethel New Life come to be known as Bethel New Lie? It is a symbolic response to what Bethel has done to its terminated staff, as well as to the community it purports to service. My dropping the 'f' out of their title is exactly what many of the staff members expressed to me how they felt after working for so many years to make Bethel a success. Now, their services were no longer needed.

It is also my reflection on how I perceive Bethel's opinion regarding the people in the community that they purport to serve. As a nonprofit agency and Christian-based organization, they are willing to take in millions of dollars to train people, yet those same people cannot get an opportunity to work for that very agency. Bethel is showing its hypocrisy. Many of the employees that were let go had worked for Bethel for years. But in a recent change of management, the emphasis has been on removing the majority of people who were brought into Bethel while founder Mary Nelson was in charge.

The excuses Bethel gave are many. Next week, I will discuss them at length.

Where Are the West Side Park Festivals?

I've just finished four days sitting in Washington Park with my group, the Chicago Black Authors Network ( at the International Festival of Life event. My authors group is a collaboration of writers who have joined forces to promote our works.

Our goal is to bring our novels and literary publications to the forefront for the reading public. We are dedicated to being a Chicago Renaissance for both urban literature and fiction/non-fiction in general. From romance to comedy, children to fantasy, history and culture to inspiration and religion, we know we can fulfill whatever form of literary works one's mind desires.

When I left home to go to the park, the heat was stifling. But once I got to the park, the constant breeze across the wide open space made the heat tolerable. I'm not normally a person who likes to sit outdoors a lot, but I do love going to the different parks whenever there's a festival. There is something about the vendors grilling food, tents filled with merchandise and the sound of music drifting over the park that creates a memorable atmosphere. As I sat there watching the festival-goers enjoying themselves and reflecting on the 18th annual Festival of Life, I had to ask myself, where are the West Side park festivals for the black community?

I know every year there will be a huge week-long festival in Humboldt Park to celebrate the Puerto Rican parade. The Caribbean Festival, normally held in Union Park, was combined with the African-Caribbean Festival of Life this year and moved to Washington Park. We haven't had a real Taste of Austin festival in a couple of years. Now even the Cubans are getting into the act by holding a festival at Riis Park on August 7-8. But where are the two day or longer festivals for the black community? Where are the festivals for Douglas, Columbus, and Garfield parks which all sit in the midst of the West Side?

Why are festivals important to have? Because they bring people to the park to celebrate, socialize and network. They unite us via common music, food and culture. Yet even though the black West Side is a huge community, we aren't seeing any festivals that highlight our presence here.

We do have Congressman Danny Davis' Back to School Parade and Picnic as well as state Senator Ricky Hendon's West Side parade and picnic, but those events are political. What I want to see are events we can celebrate in our parks. We could use a huge Juneteenth celebration (June 19) in, say, Garfield Park. We can work to re-establish the Taste of Austin again in Columbus Park. We could have a celebration of Southern life in Douglas Park, seeing that the majority of black folks here came out of the south to live on the West Side.

Now I know some of the first words out of many of your mouths will be, "How come Arlene Jones doesn't do something about it?" I don't have a problem volunteering to help, but the bigger issue is this: What are you the reader willing to do? As always, I can be reached at 773-622-3863 or via e-mail at

Lastly, I must make a comment on Taste of Chicago. I hadn't gone there in a number of years but did so this year. I am grateful I can do what I call "Chicago Public School Math." If one has to pay $8 for 12 tickets, that means at 50 cents a ticket, we are spending $6 toward food and $2 toward taxes. I came to that conclusion when I saw the highest ticket price was 12 tickets for any item. After doing the math, I opted not to spend a dime at the Taste. Shame on the city for pure greed in implementing a 25 percent tax on those tickets.

Here's To A Few Good Men

An entire issue of a newspaper dedicated to men. That put a smile on my face. Like most people, there have been some really good men in my life, so those will be the ones I focus on.

My grandfather was a truly good man. No matter where he went, he took his children with him. He was the kind of patriarch that, even today, his 93-year-old daughter will preface her statement with, "Well Daddy said this," or "Daddy would do that." My grandfather was an excellent cook. He had been a cook on the railroad and whenever granddaddy was cooking, it was sure to bring the entire family out to his small house in Robbins. Every time I cook a pot of gumbo, I make it using a tomato base and not a roux because that's the way my grandfather did it.

Growing up, I have had men in my life who made a major difference. Rev. Thompkins would drive to Cabrini-Green on Sunday mornings to pick us up for church. I can still remember his white station wagon coming down the street to get us. I can remember him asking, as we came of age in his church, how come Mary and Joseph couldn't be portrayed by black kids in the Christmas pageant? Without fanfare, my integrated church had a black Mary and Joseph. Thank you, Olivet Presbyterian, for practicing what you preached.

My mother only had one brother who lived in Chicago and my Uncle Dave was always the subject of conversations when my aunts got together. He wasn't perfect, but he was there for his children, raised his family, and always did what this society expected of a man.

When I was a little girl around 10, there was a man, Mr. Cunningham out of Kankakee, who used to come into Cabrini in a white truck. He would bring bread, cookies, and donuts and sell it off the truck. He used to come and get me to be his helper. I can still remember his funny excuses when he would pull by the tavern to use the bathroom. He was always respectful of me, and I was like another daughter to him.

I had several wonderful male teachers while in school. Mr. Wilson, my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Gant and Mr. Palmer. All three of those black men, who worked at Jenner Elementary School, made such a huge impression on me that over 45 years later I can still remember their names and faces.

In high school, my music teacher Joel Helfand taught me to appreciate classical music and exposed me to the greater world around me. My Spanish teacher, Mr. Blaylock, instilled a love of language in me.

I have dated some wonderful men. My ability to be friends with many of them once the relationship ended is a testament to the wonderful people they are. I still get Christmas cards, phone calls and invitations to go to plays with them even though our relationships didn't work out.

I have wonderful male cousins. They are committed husbands and fathers. I readily think of them whenever someone starts to talk negatively about black men. When I see them still in marriages that have lasted well over 40 years, I use them as my reality.

I have worked with some really good men. From being on the job with them, to those who are active in this community, to the ones who put this newspaper together, they are the unsung heroes who do the work without getting the accolades.

Let us rejoice in our good men. Let us all take the time to accentuate the positive and negate the negative. Let's celebrate the good men who surround us. All I ask is that men take the time to find the boys who lack the proper etiquette of manhood and help direct them to betterment. When that happens, the problems in our community can be solved.

I will be at the Festival of Life, 55th and Cottage, July 2-5 from noon until 10 p.m., vending my novel at the Chicago Black Author's Network tent. Stop by and pick up a copy. Or call me at 773-622-3863.