Thursday, November 25, 2010

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Three Heroes That I Am Thankful For

Today's column is dedicated to my heroes.

My first hero I met several weeks ago. At an early morning breakfast following the elections, I met Eric Monte in person. If his name doesn't ring an immediate bell in your mind, Eric is the writer who created Good Times, The Jeffersons, and the movie that for hundreds of us who grew up in the Cabrini-Green housing projects, will always be our "coming of age" saga; Cooley High. I have been Facebook friends with Eric for awhile. I was originally under the impression that he was living in California, but in actuality Eric has been back here living in Chicago for a number of years. Eric's story is unfortunately like a lot of individuals who garnered fame and fortune only to lose the money it brought to drugs, and being cheated out of earnings by Hollywood moguls and bad financial decisions.

Eric's story of his rise to fame and subsequent fall should be a movie/novel or both. Hollywood is not kind and Eric made mistakes that allowed those in the business to take advantage of his naïveté. He did end up getting a $1 million settlement out of a lawsuit over Good Times, but that money was lost in his quest to put on a play he wrote. He ended up broke and living in a homeless shelter. Eric suffered a stroke, which left his speech impaired.

Fortunately, there are people who want to help Eric. After being introduced to him and hearing of his struggle, I immediately began to look into giving him a tribute that would put some money in his pocket. As I reached out to other former residents of Cabrini, I learned that a tribute was already in the works for him. Jackie Taylor, playwright and CEO of Black Ensemble Theatre, is honoring Eric and several other black playwrights on Monday, Dec. 6. The show starts at 6 p.m., the cost of the ticket is $20, and the theatre is located at 4520 N. Beacon. I'll be there and hope that you too will join me to honor the man who helped put a positive light on people who lived in public housing.

My second hero is someone I didn't know but I, along with the entire country, am grateful for what he did. Staff Sergeant Derrick Westmoreland spent 10 years in the Marines and the last 10 months doing a tour in Afghanistan. It is so interesting that we call it a "tour' seeing that going to Afghanistan is not on anyone's vacation radar.

Derrick is Johnny Westmoreland's brother. Johnny is another constant fixture on the Garfield Major Show that we do each Sunday night on WRLL 1450AM from 10 until midnight. Johnny's family, when learning that their brother was coming home, contacted the USO. Together the USO and the Westmoreland family put on a hero's welcome for Derrick. They arranged for television coverage of his return home, and a police escorted procession to his family's home in Oak Park. It was a magnificent sight to see. The response from people on the streets was fantastic, too. Thank you Derrick Westmoreland for a job well done.

My third hero is Terrence Davis, who recently held his retirement ceremony from the Navy. Davis was given the opportunity to make one final request for "permission to go ashore." I had never attended a ceremony celebrating a person's leaving of the service before. It was a wonderful event to see and the young sailors from Great Lakes Naval Base came out in force to put on a ceremony that was both informative and entertaining. "Anchors Away" Petty Officer Terrence Davis.

Visit my blog to see the links to the videos for both Derrick and Terrence.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Support A Local Author - Buy A Book For Christmas

Just over a year ago, my novel Billion Dollar Winner was released. As with most authors, the next step in the process is to promote and sell the book. In order to accomplish that goal, I joined a writers group that a local store owner on the South Side was attempting to put together. The first couple of meetings went well. Then all hell let loose. The group disbanded because of bickering.

By chance, I happened to meet one of the authors from the group at another event. He was putting together the opportunity for authors to sell their work at the Thompson Center (State of Illinois building). I got excited and jumped at the opportunity to vend my book downtown. We had a good run at the Thompson Center and, as a group, we continued to meet so often that we established ourselves as the Chicago Black Author's Network (CBAN).

We are a talented group of black Chicago authors who have banded together to form a network to highlight our work. 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's lit to fantasy, history and culture to inspirational and religious, we know we can fulfill whatever literary form your mind desires.

CBAN recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. As a group, we're proud we made it to this point, seeing that the previous group didn't make it one month. We haven't bickered and have all stepped up to the plate to work together to promote our books. We have encouraged friends who came to buy our works to purchase the books of others. We have given book-selling opportunities to others within the group when we learned of them. Trust me, it is very rare to find a group of people all trying to sell books, who are willing to share, but we have done it.

Earlier this year, we held a spring book fair at the Bronzeville Cultural Center. It was wonderful to meet the people who came out. Now we are coming to the West Side, and I hope everyone will come out and support this group. We will hold our winter book fair on Saturday, Dec. 4, at Chez Roué, 5200 W. Chicago Ave., from 11 a.m. to 5 pm. If you haven't seen the remodeling inside the landmark bank building on the corner of Chicago and Laramie, you are missing a jewel within our community.

The members of CBAN will not only be selling their books, but at 3 p.m., we will host a panel discussion on how to get your book published and marketed.

And we will have a really special treat starting at noon. Did you know that we have an African-American woman who makes wine? If you are a connoisseur, here is an opportunity to sample and support Simple Spirits. We'll also have an area resident who specializes in baking cakes, cookies and pies because nothing goes better with a good book than a glass of wine and a slice of cake.

Christmas is coming. A gift of a good book and a bottle of wine can be the perfect gift to give to those who are tough to buy for because they have everything. Our area has a number of individuals who are incarcerated. A novel is a great book to buy to send to a loved one who is away from Chicago, especially when the book is set here in Chicago and on the West Side - like my novel, Billion Dollar Winner.

For more information about the event, please give me a call at 773-330-6277. Or visit the website of CBAN at to learn more about our books

Saturday, November 13, 2010


There are a lot of groups of which I am proud to be a member. Then there is one that I made myself a member of because of choices I undertook. I am a member of the 72 percent of black women who gave birth to children without the benefit of marriage. Now, being a member of that group wasn't something that I undertook lightly or something of which I am most proud.

I was 28 years old when my daughter was born. I had been on my job for nine years, had a car that was almost paid for, had completed almost four years of college, and had money in the bank and excellent credit, and my own apartment. Looking back, my becoming pregnant was part of my natural attraction to my children's father. But in retrospect, as much as I love my children, becoming a single parent was the worst thing in the world that I could do to them.

There is a recent movement called No Marriage, No Womb started by blogger Christelyn Karazin. Her point was to call attention to the news about so many black women having children without the benefit of marriage. And ever since she began to blog about the phenomena, the backlash has been substantial. Being a single mother is considered an automatic "badge of honor" in the black community when more often that not, it is the underlying cause of many of the social ills that plague our community.

Before I became a single parent (my preferred term), I had the option of not continuing the pregnancy. I can still remember sitting in the playground at Sheridan and Ainslie and my friend Arnold offering to go to the abortion clinic with me and pretend to be the father. Having an abortion was never really on my radar, but I do recall being angry that I had lived my life for 27 years without becoming pregnant and the anger I felt at myself for "slipping up" birth control-wise and ending up being pregnant and unmarried. I was now becoming another statistic in the black community.

For seven years after giving birth to my daughter, her father and I participated in an "on again off again" relationship. When we were "on" the relationship was wonderful. When it was "off" the relationship was strained. When I found myself pregnant a second time, the only words out of my mouth as the doctor prepared to perform an emergency C-section after 32 weeks of pregnancy was "tubes tied." I tell you all this because I don't make a fairy tale out of raising two children alone. It was the hardest thing I ever did.

The sacrifices and strains of having to be both mother and father is an undertaking that I will tell anyone is something one shouldn't opt to do. One of my most painful memories was choosing to attend at an important meeting and missing helping my son participate in a project. And because their father chose to abandon his children when it came to participating in their lives, everything was left up to me. All decisions, all the rearing, all the successes and all the failures. Thank God the failures were few and far between. I now have two grown children, well-mannered, responsible and the kind of individuals that would make any parent proud. But getting them to that point came at a cost. Their father is a stranger to them because that is the decision he made to not participate in their lives.

I've written all this because I can see the pain and hurt my children suffered in not having an active father in their lives. I know that they had to fend for themselves often because I didn't have a spouse in the house to share in their rearing. I have neighbors and girlfriends who without them I couldn't have done it. I don't have family members on the West Side and while alive my mother was too disabled to be of much help.

So even though I raised children by myself, I am the first to see the disadvantages to having done so. Parenthood is far too important an undertaking for us to still have ill prepared individuals taking it on. Then to complicate it by having people as parents who are still more focused on "getting their own groove on" than raising children is the underlying reason why our community is becoming more dysfunctional day-by-day.

There is something very wrong when a man is good enough to father your children but not good enough to marry and build a life together.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Still No Anger, Still No Outrage

I didn't know Donysha Stovall, 28, her daughter Clarisma Torrey, 9, her son Nate Davis, 4, or her boyfriend's son Shaquille Davis, 16. On the night of Oct. 26, just before 10 p.m., shots were fired in the 300 block of west 151st place. When police arrived, they found Shaquille already dead at the scene. Donysha and Clarisma were declared dead at the hospital and Nate, his body filled with six to seven bullets, somehow managed to survive and is said to be expected to recover.

Everyday since the shooting, I have diligently searched the internet for updated information about the case. Two days after the crime took place, the only news available was that three suspects had been arrested in connection to the crime. But to date, their names, ages, race, sex, relationship to the victims and any other pertinent information has not been disclosed.

Black Leadership (what an oxymoron!) has been missing in action. I haven't seen or heard from any of the usual suspects denouncing this crime. There is something so intrinsically wrong in a society when a 4-year-old can be shot six to seven times and not a peep of public outcry occurs! No Rev. Jesse Jackson at the scene. No Father Pfleger leading a prayer vigil. No community activists, no columns from the daily newspaper columnists, no inquiring stories from the downtown television media, no rally by black preachers.

Well the lack of response may be from Nate, the 4-year-old, surviving. As such, his being shot is just paltry news. But what about Clarisma? She was just 9 years old. A fourth grader, learning to do long math, enjoying riding her bike, and anticipating what she wanted to be for Halloween. What would cause someone to shoot that little girl in the face? What kind of animals are the three that have been arrested for the crime? Who are they, and their family members too? Don't we as a society need to know the kind of person who believes he or she can shoot children with impunity?

I got to learn a lot about Donysha Stovall after her death. I went to her Facebook page and read every single post she wrote. When she entered her bio she said, "I am a crazy, sexy, cool person easy to get along with. I am also a hard worker, loves life, and family." I am haunted by the image of her smiling profile picture. Her eyes are so alive and she emitted life in the glow from her smile.

I weep tears for a young mother who was doing her best to raise her children. One of Donysha's earliest posts lets everyone know the kind of mother she was. She wrote, "At home having family time me and my daughter cooked dinner together now we are baking cookies." Or there was the other post about her son that is too long to post verbatim, but it basically had him asking her not to pick him up from the daycare by blowing the horn but to come inside and look for him like the other mother does for her son.

I was only able to find scant information about Shaquille Davis. I heard over the radio that he was buried without fanfare last week. It is also interesting to read that Shaquille had recently been released from the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. I wrote several columns about that facility earlier this year. The men who work there have been alleging that the violence occurring on the streets amongst our young people is being fueled by what is going on at that juvenile detention center. Is that the reason the major news media has dropped the reporting on these murders?

What I do know is that there was a time when we lamented about the weekly killings in the black community. Now the mayhem going on is at the point where we can say hourly shootings. And although Donysha, Clarisma, and Shaquille were murdered in Harvey, what goes on there also goes on within the city of Chicago's limits.

I know I cannot be the only one still angered and burdened by the ongoing violence in the black community. Talk is cheap and action speaks louder. I stand always ready to answer the call for action. What about you?