The parking lot on the corner of Church and Dodge was packed with mourners yesterday evening. They gathered to pay their respects to Clarence Weaver and Wendy Weaver and their family and to celebrate the life of the Weaver's 32-year-old son Clarence "CJ" Weaver who drowned in Lake Michigan last Sunday while out enjoying the day with friends.
The Weavers and many in the Evanston community waited for five agonizing days before CJ's body was found early yesterday morning.
Dear Evanston live-streamed the service, which was viewed more than 10,000 times by the Weavers friends and community members near and far who were unable to attend in person. Many wrote touching messages of support, love, and condolence throughout the vigil.
Mayor Steve Hagerty, Robin Rue Simmons 5th Ward Alderman, Pastor Michael Nabors, Pastor Monte' L. G. Dillard, Sr., and others offered words of comfort to the family and words of praise for CJ, who, everyone agreed, had touched the lives of everyone he met.
Most poignant were the words of Clarence Weaver, who with his wife Wendy, own C & W Market and Ice Cream Parlor, kitty corner to the parking lot, a store that many people recognize as the couple's ministry and from where they have been feeding families and seniors twice a week for 20 weeks since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
Clarence took the opportunity to shout out Church and Dodge, a corner of Evanston that is still perceived by many to be dangerous and unwelcoming, but that is, in fact, the center of a resilient community. And he took the opportunity to call for criminal record expungements for young men who have made errors in their lives.
"This is an amazing corner," said Clarence. "Church and Dodge has an amazing history."
"I thank those that have come out. If I could call out individuals I would call everybody's name. I stand here right now on behalf of my son CJ.
Most men that have kids, the first thing they want is a boy. The second thing they want to do is give him their name.
There was a time where I felt that that was tough. Because I felt that each individual needs to have their own identity. So even though Clarence was named after me, we called him CJ, so he can be who he is. For him being my son is an honor. For him being CJ is an even greater honor ... CJ.
You have to understand. I grew up in Englewood, and I'll say that every time I get an opportunity, I talk about where I came from. And a lot of people look at Englewood as a bad neighborhood and a bad community, but it's not: the concrete that's made there is the same concrete that's poured here. And everything that I learned about the streets, and everything I learned about corporate, all those came into my family.
I used to always say that if I was walking down a dark alley, I would take CJ. And I would also say if I'm going to the board room I would take Malcolm.
I'm going to tell you, the older they both got, the more I was able to say that if I was walking into a board room, I would take them both. And if I was walking down a dark alley, as much as you all know about CJ, he's not the one you need to be afraid of.
But you know, I think the best way to handle any situation, no matter what happens, is love.
My favorite picture to this day is when CJ was working and he had Malachai (CJ's young song) by his side. And Malachai has the tape measure. And if anybody knows Malachai, whether he's with Alex in her shop, or in the store with us, or whether he's with CJ, whatever you doing, he's gonna do. And if you're there working 9,10, 12 hours, Malachai is gonna be there working 9,10, 12 hours.
And so the best thing that can continue to be poured into him is nothing but love, because Malachai is gonna be fine. Malachai's going to get through this because we're going to make sure.
And to all my son's friends are standing in the background. For the ones that grew up with him. For the ones that was on the lakefront, for the ones that walked with him when he needed to be walked with, for those that pulled him out. And for those with the restoration room. They have put together a partnership. We talk about the Black Business Consortium of Evanston, and what we're trying to do in the community, and these guys are going together already and sanding floors and learning how to sand floors, and how to refinish bath tubs.
And instead of walking down the street doing things that they shouldn't have done, which they had already experienced, they started paving their own way.
Mayor, I'd like to find a way for us to put together an expungement program for young Black men that make a mistake. They need to be relieved. That little problem that occurred in their lives but that they're working their way out of--they need not just a second chance, they need the same thing that we all need--they need a third chance, fourth chance, fifth chance.
I need ( Evanston Fire Department) Chief Brian Scott to come forward.
When CJ was doing his ride-alongs years ago, this is who he was riding with. CJ knew he could reach out and get a call back.
One day I saw Chief Scott and he said, 'Hey, how's CJ doing?' I said, 'Man, he's he's always asking about you guys.'
Sometimes you have to ask people to do you a favor and reach out and say hello. But I didn't have to do that. Chief Scott said, 'Oh yeah, CJ and I already have lunch plans for next week.'
Who do YOU need to reach out to? Who do YOU have the power and authority to change their lives and bring them into your fold and make a difference?
And you don't have to be a perfect person to do that. You don't have to be a CEO of a foundation. You do not have to be an alderman, you do not have to be a mayor. You can be the pastor's wife and show up on Saturdays and help.
You can just do what God puts on your heart to do because families need to be helped.
This moment is about CJ. And I will tell you I do not know many people that have loved as many people in all walks of life, different levels.
He could go to Howard Street. He could go to Foster. You can represent whatever clique you want to represent, CJ could walk in any place, amongst any group of guys, whatever you represent, and CJ could sit up there and hold a conversation and say, 'You know what, you don't need to do that anymore, you need to come work with me. Let me show you what we're doing.' He could draw people in.
This is the time when I'm speaking for my son. For those that have grown up and come up with CJ, his love has been expressed.
We prayed a prayer the other morning, and I can only leave you with this. And we said, Lord, if you're not done with him, and you're not ready to return him to us tonight, please finish the conversation with him and return him to us. And we thank God that he has."
But we know absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. And my son is present with the Lord."