From Gary to G'Lo to Gilo Kwesi Cornell Logan: the Making of a Man and a Mission.
Shakespeare famously asked, "What's in a name?" In Dr. Gilo Kwesi Cornell Logan's case, it turns out, a lot.
Gilo's Evanston roots are deep--four generations precede him, and his three young sons follow him. But he also has wide wings that have taken him around the world on many years' worth of immersive experiences that have challenged, changed, defined, and influenced him: how he sees himself; what he calls himself; and how he sees Evanston, race, and humanity.
Gilo lives in Evanston's fifth ward with his wife Miah Logan and their children. He is a well-known figure around town with his flowing dreads and friendly demeanor. He is the second son of William Logan, Jr., Evanston's first Black police chief.
With a BA in marketing, a master’s degree in elementary education, and a doctorate in adult and continuing education, you may well have participated in a town hall about race, diversity, and inclusion that Gilo has facilitated with the Evanston Police Department, Enrich Evanston, Dear Evanston, and many other Evanston organizations.
We sat down to chat at Curt's Cafe South. Here's some of our conversation that spanned his Evanston history, his thoughts about race and racism, and what makes him who he is.
As President of Logan Consulting Services, a global consultancy firm, Gilo's mission is to help leaders, organizations, teams, and individuals develop leadership skills to succeed in an increasingly complex and global society.
DE: Tell me about your family's history in Evanston.
GL: So on my father’s side we come from Greenwood South Carolina. My grandfather, William Logan, came when he was a child in 1905. His mother, known as Mama Logan, brought him up here.
His father, Charlie Logan, stayed behind. I don't know why. During that time, there were lots of lynchings happening. It’s not like my great-grandfather was being lynched, not that we know of - but just because of the lynchings and oppression - there were busloads of folks who came together to Evanston from Abbeville, Greenwood, and other places in South Carolina.
DE: Do you literally mean busloads?
GL: Literally busloads.
My grandfather William and Rose Powell had three children, one of them being my dad, William Logan, Jr., the former police chief. My dad had three kids: my older brother William Logan III; my sister, Cheryl; then me. I also have a cousin Cheryl Logan. She works at Family Focus Evanston. She’s married to Kevin Brown [he's the manager of the City's Youth and Young Adult Division].
DE: And then on your mom’s side?
So there’s my mother, Marcia Logan, whose maiden name was Barksdale. She had a brother Howard. He was also a police officer in Evanston. Their mother, my grandmother, was Ruth Cromer (whose brother, my great-uncle Cornell, was also a police officer in Evanston. I was named after him). My mother’s father, Papa, passed away young – before I was born. His name was William Cromer.
My great-grandmother's name was Helen Cromer. Her maiden name was Cornell. We call her Jinky. She came to Evanston as a child in 1895 with her mother Ellen.
They came from Canada, through Windsor, and I’m still kind of researching this, but – to my knowledge - they descended from African Americans who had escaped through the Underground Railroad to Canada. When slavery was abolished, they ended up coming back here to the North Shore. One sibling went to Chicago, one stayed in Evanston, and one went to Glencoe, so the black folks in Glencoe--that’s also our family. They have St. Paul AME Church in Glencoe, which is the oldest African American church on the North Shore. It was established in 1884.
DE: Growing up, what kind of a kid were you? what kind of life did you lead? Where did you grow up?
GL: I grew up in the second ward in the house I lived in all my life until the house I live in now in the fifth ward. Other than traveling overseas, I’ve lived in two houses my whole life.
I was born at Community Hospital, delivered into the world by Dr. Elizabeth Hill who also delivered my mother, father, brother, and sister. I went to Ms. Marshall’s nursery school, which was a Black nursery school, then to Washington, Chute, and Evanston Township High School (ETHS).
My mom’s family was considered an affluent Black family, whereas my father’s family was poor. My parents started out very much a working class, mainstream, conservative African American family.
DE: What did your mom do?
GL: For many years, she stayed at home raising her three kids and helping to raise her three nieces and nephews. She was the primary caregiver. Once I went to high school she became the health clerk at Haven school for almost 20 years.
DE: And did you live predominantly in “Black” Evanston? Did you connect to “white” Evanston? Did it feel diverse? Did it feels separate?
GL: My parents married and were one of the first Black families to move to the neighborhood I grew up in, in the second ward, on McDaniel between Dempster and Main Street.
My foundation is Black. The hospital I was born in, the pre-school I attended, our family plumber, landscaper, carpenter, handyman, dentist, doctor, lawyer, my parents’ social clubs like the Chessmen Club of the North Shore, Inc., were all Black.
Our neighborhood became all Black because of White Flight. I did have friends of other races in school, on play dates, at birthday parties, on my Y team, and so on. But the primary social thread was Black. I always had a few African American teachers, and I believe my parents advocated for that. I played in FAAM Hoops – which was all Black then with Black men as coaches there and on my Y team.
In high school, I socialized with any and all races and groups of people. That includes dating, partying, music I listened to. A very diverse upbringing, and this is one thing my travels really gave me appreciation for -- how grounded my family was in the Black culture and community in Evanston. Just having role models who were African American men and women who were successful professionals.
My father was always supporting and helping people out, giving them opportunities, and supporting their businesses, so I grew up with that. That was a normal part of my experience. I have an appreciation for that. It’s beyond cool that that was a part in cultivating my identity as a young Black boy.
DE: And do you remember as a young Black boy recognizing that you were black?
GL: Oh yeah.
DE: In what way? Did you feel discriminated against? 'Othered?' Did you feel proud?
GL: All of that. All of it. I can even go back to preschool. Even when I started kindergarten, after school we would go to the preschool for child care. And we’d go to Washington for kindergarten, which was diverse and integrated, but we’d go back to Ms. Marshall’s Nursery School, which was all Black. And so just from a cultural standpoint, just the love and affection and the music and the food and the child rearing and the standard expectations and the ways of communicating--it was all being cultivated there--but at the same time we had friends of different races and ethnicities.
I remember Bobby Kaiser, he was a little white Jewish kid. He lived on the block next to us and we used to sleep over at his house and I remember that was the first time... I remember I went and took a shower and I saw this straight hair in the sink and I’m like wow! Little things like that.
Or we’d sit down to eat at Bobby's house and we’d have spaghetti and meatballs. It was just the noodles and meatballs and the sauce, but when I ate spaghetti and meatballs at home, it was all seasonings and flavors and all different types of vegetables in it.
But I remember as a little kid, I remember noticing the differences. I used to wear a little white towel and put it on my head and pretend to be like Bobby and do my hair like this [waiving it over his shoulder], and I’d put it behind my ears.
And hanging around whites as well, I was the target of racism, for sure.
DE: And when your family were sitting at the dinner table, did you talk about race?
GL: That’s an interesting question. No and yes. No in the sense of you know, again, my family was very middle class, mainstream conservative, suburban trying to fit in type of family. Yet, yes – racist police and ways my family was targeted by white cops, the topic of dating girls outside of my race, racism my dad experienced, the need to be twice as good and work twice as hard as a white person – there were no excuses.
I think part of that was from my grandfather, my dad's dad. He was considered to be, 'one of those Malcom X negroes.' He was the protester who’d get right in your face and call oppression for how he saw it. He was the one being ostracized for his activism.
That maybe influenced my dad, because he’s like the opposite of that. And I’m kind of the opposite of my dad, in a sense. So, we didn’t talk about it in that sense, but yeah, ‘you’ve gotta work twice as hard,’ oh yeah, all those lessons and messages were definitely instilled in me. And teaching me how to navigate into the environment and culture. Like making me aware of how l'd be perceived and judged as a Black person.
Like for example, when my dad was retiring from the police department, I was a little bit older, he would walk the dog, smoke his cigar, and I would walk with him and he would say, ‘Look, I’m doing what white folks do. I’m gonna retire, but I’m going to get another job. I’m going to get my pension and my salary. I’m going to double my income and it’s gonna be an easier job.' And in terms of that element of fiscal literacy, fiscal competency, in terms knowing how to work the system fairly and legally and the advantages and privileges that come with working the system.
But in terms of code switching. I was four years old, we were in Washington, DC, and my father was graduating from the FBI national academy. And at the graduation, we walk in and we go to meet J. Edgar Hoover who was the director of the FBI.
So there were 50 officers; two were African American men, my father and Chuck Jackson, and of course they made them roommates.
Chuck ended up going on to be head of security for the NFL.
So I remember, we went to go meet J. Edgar Hoover, and I went to go shake his hand. I went to give him like the black soul handshake, and he fumbled the handshake, and it was a funny moment, and I can only imagine it was a tense moment for my father, for my parents. But it was a little bit hilarious.
But just that notion that even at four years old that was just normal to me, to give that kind of handshake. I wasn’t trying to be funny, I was just, that’s how you shake hands, that’s what I knew.
And I remember thereafter being shown, ‘No no, this is how you shake hands in this setting, this is how you shake hands in that setting.’
So in terms of code switching, I’m four years old being taught how to code switch through shaking hands with J. Edgar Hoover. We have a photo with him, and he’s standing behind me with his hands on my shoulders. And I think about that and I think about all he was responsible for and yeah, that’s a whole other story.
I remember when I was in junior high school. One local restaurant made a reference to me and my friends, all of whom were African American, as 'you people.' When I went home and told my dad he said, 'Come with me.' We got in his car, drove down there, got in line, and when it was our turn, my dad stood right up to them pointing at them and said, 'My son told me ...Listen! Don’t you EVER talk to my son like that, you hear me? Don’t EVER talk about ‘you people’ to my son or any of his friends, etc.'
SO – though we didn’t sit around the table talking about this, he taught me by his actions to stand up for yourself, your people and confront racism.
DE: So given that you’re more--that your dad had this idea of fitting in more with the dominant culture and now you’re taking back your culture-- do you guys get along?
GL: So let me preface it by saying that some of it, for him, is generational. Like that generation of men. So as a Black man in that generation, a lot of times that’s how you had to make things happen. So, it’s not a criticism of him or Black men who felt that’s what they had to do.
So there’s that aspect to it, plus, after his first year at college, he was drafted into the military, into the Korean war, so he has a military training and background. And then he brought that into law enforcement, so in terms of authority and following rules and expectations, that’s all part of his upbringing.
But to answer your question. Yeah, we get along. Now we have a loving, wonderful relationship, with my family, not just him but my family.
We definitely had our ... I was always different than the rest of my family. A lot of it was growing up, my experimentation with different identities, trying to figure out who I was.
DE: Tell me more about that.
GL: I went overseas and came back. So here I am. I got my bachelor’s degree in business marketing, SIU had a pretty good school of business back then. And I remember a police officer in Evanston, Fuzzy Washington-- he was kind of like the voice for this perspective--he pulled me to the side one day and he said, ‘Hey, baby Logan, so man, you graduated now, what’d you graduate in?’ and I said, 'Oh business marketing,’ and he’s like, ‘Aw man, what’s the next step?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’ll work, I’m pick up a job delivering newspapers, and I’m working my old summer job driving a forklift, and a delivery man, and I’m going to work for a couple of months and I’m going to save money and pack a backpack and go travel.’ And he was like, ‘Boy! Have you lost your mind? What the heck are you talking about?’
DE: Because traveling after college was not the usual track?
GL: It was unusual, pretty unusual, for an African American, and so he’s like, 'Why are you throwing it away? Why are you wasting your life after all your parents put into you, and all that’s been invested in you, you’re supposed to come back here, get your job, start a family and give back to your community.’
That was his notion, and I didn’t do that – at least not then and not in that way. So when I left for overseas, I was like suit-and-tie, I was bald-headed, and I came back and I had dreadlocks, and this rough beard, and I changed my name, and I went through all this stuff – a transformation.
DE: So what was your name?
GL: My birth name is Gary Cornell Logan. My chosen, cultural, and legal name is Gilo Kwesi Logan. So this was a huge clash with not just my father, with my family, my community. Yeah, I was out there. Yeah, I was changed. I was different, talking different things, thinking different things. I looked different.
See, I had a crown in my tooth, and when I was traveling. The crown came out, and I was fine with that. I came home like I was toothless, and my beard and my dreadlocks were this long, they were buck wild, I didn’t go to a salon and get them twisted and manicured, I just kinda let it grow. It was like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’
DE: Wow Ok, so go back to your name.
GL: For me, instead of 'changing' my name, I look at it like I gained some names, like titles. Ever since third grade, an elder in our community, George Dotson--he’s a long-time Evanstonian, he’s a Chessman, he was on the board of Family Focus--he worked at Robert Crown back then, and he gave a whole bunch of us nicknames, based on watching us.
First I was ‘Sweet-lo,’ because I would play basketball and football, how I’d catch the ball, shoot the lay-up, like, ‘Oh, that was a sweet move.’ So Sweet Lo, evolved to G-Lo; G-lo – G, for Gary and Lo, for Logan. It was a 'nickname.'
Fast forward about 20 years, and I’m traveling the world living with indigenous people of color. It was in New Zealand that one of the Maori, a guy named Hone Ngata, challenged me saying, 'Why is that your just your nickname? Wasn’t that name born from your experience? Didn’t it come from you’re your people? Don’t you identity with it? Then you can embrace it as your name. 'Gary' is a European name. You can choose to define who you are, not by their terms, but by your own.
What he was sharing with me was part and parcel of who he was as a Maori – people who have reclaimed their indigenous identity.
So, I reflected on it and realized, there was no meaning to my name, Gary. I was named that because ... my parents didn’t really know; because they liked it. Whereas, I was traveling the world searching for meaning, purpose and connection.
I was not looking for an 'African' or a 'different' name or an 'indigenous' name. So, I went on to add an “I” to G'Lo in honor of first, 'I,' the Individual on my journey; the process of Individuation. Second, 'Me' on the Inward Journey, a soul searching journey, and third, in honor of the MANY Indigenous people around the world who took me in, taught me, fed me, loved me, and cultivated a transformed identity, my identity, as an African American.
Hence, 'Gilo.' Then I come to find out, in West Africa where my ancestors come from, it means, 'let it remain.' A woman who has many miscarriages – when she finally has the child that lives, she says 'God, let him remain.' This relates to me because I was the 'miracle child,' the 'mistake,' because my
parents used contraceptives, but I was 'unplanned,' and they 'let me remain.'
Also, in Japan there is a name 'Jiro' – which, in Japanese is pronounced 'Gilo.' It means, 'second born son.' Well, guess what? I am the second born son in my family.
Kwesi is my cosmic name, my day name. Born to shed light to darkness. And in West Africa where my ancestors come from, I was staying with the Akan people, and Kwesi is a name in their culture. They say depending on the day you’re born, it has a stamp of your purpose in life. So I was born on a Sunday, and Sunday is 'Kwesi.' Sunday is like a child of the sun and the sun brings light to darkness, born to bring warmth to people. Sunday is the first day of the week, so I’m supposed to be born to be a leader. So I embraced it. Not that I saw myself as a leader, but something to aspire to be.
I kept the name Cornell because it has meaning – my grand uncle who passed before I was born was named Cornell -- and I was named after him. That is my great-great grandmother's maiden name. And Logan is a slave name that comes from the Logan plantation in South Carolina where my dad’s family is from. It's Irish/Scottish. I felt I did not have the right to change that name.
DE: Why not?
GL: For a few reasons: because of my ancestors before me who carried that name; the meaning my ancestors and my dad have given that name by how they lived/live their life, and because it IS part of my story as an African descendant that I embrace.
DE: How old were you when you traveled? It was after college?
GL: I left the first time in ‘89.
DE: When you stepped off the plane when you got back home and showed up, were your parents like ‘what?’
GL: They thought I was in Mongolia. They didn’t know I came home. No-one knew I came home. So I snuck into Evanston, and I came in at like 3 a.m. so nobody could see me.
I remember I met up with my old girlfriend, and I borrowed her car and I drove around Evanston at night, just so I could like look at this place and slowly begin to re-acclimate myself – or so I thought.
So I just looked around, you know, 5 o’ clock in the morning. I went through a whole process of trying to re-acclimate myself to society and to the country. And then, with my girlfriend, we set my brother up, and I surprised him. He was at a pool hall and I walked in. I had on sunglasses. He didn’t even recognize me at first.
Then I surprised my sister, then I worked with them and we surprised my parents. So it was kind of like stepping stones. And then after surprising my parents, I became a recluse. I was a hermit. I would be in the house for like two to three months. I was nocturnal. I would stay in all day because I didn’t want to see anyone, and I would go out at night. I would go shopping at night.
DE: How long had you been gone for?
GL: The first time in ’89 I was supposed to be gone two to three weeks, and I ended up being gone a year and a half, mostly by myself. Then in ’94 at the age of 28, I left for three-and-a-half years. Since then I've gone between one to four months at a time for a total of about eight years in 23 countries.
So when I came back I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my experiences. I was like ‘Wait, did I change, or did Evanston change? And that’s how I became a writer. Through journaling and trying to process and make sense of what in the world was going on.
And then as a Black person, my Black friends didn’t understand what the hell I did and why I did it. They’d see me and they’d be like ‘Oh Gilo, where’ve you been?’ I’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I was in Thailand.’ And they’d say, ‘Oh man, I can relate to that. I went to Jamaica for two days.’ And I’m like, ‘Jamaica for two days?’ I was in a plane crash, I caught malaria, and I was like, I had gone to places where people had never seen Black people before, and you’re telling me you went to Jamaica for two days on a resort and you can understand?
DE: So you felt totally alienated?