Social injustice, anti-Black racism, white supremacy.
How these social ills contribute to negative outcomes for young Black men in Evanston and how a group of Black men plan to respond to the recent gun violence here.
On Friday night August 7, a group of Black men, brought together as the Black Male Alliance by anti-violence activist and Evanston's Youth and Young Adult Supervisor Nathan Norman, gathered in the parking lot opposite the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center for a peace rally against gun violence. Though the rally drew a smaller crowd than the group had hoped (only one City Council member, Ald. Cicely Fleming, 9, attended), participants were racially diverse and enthusiastically supportive of the men's mission.
In late July, three homicides occurred in Evanston--two in the 5th ward and one in the 8th ward--over just four days. These murders compelled Nathan to bring this group of men together for action.
Donning t-shirts bearing a majestic crowned lion on the front and a word or phrase on the back (resilience, mentor, self-worth, hugs not slugs) the 20 or so members of the group committed themselves to at least five consecutive weeks of intensive outreach into the Evanston community, predominantly the 5th ward, which has historically been most affected by gun violence. Their goal: to gather information directly from residents, particularly young men, about what they need to stop gun violence.
The rally, which included comments by well-know 5th ward residents and leaders, was emceed by Kevin Brown, former manager of the City of Evanston's Youth and Young Adult Division that houses the City's cadre of outreach workers. Brown was fired late last year despite a concerted community effort protesting the decision and now works at the Safer Foundation, which helps people with criminal records get jobs.
Below is a video summary of the event and transcribed comments (slightly edited for length) from the evening's speakers:
-- Nathan Norman;
-- Michael Nabors, NAACP Evanston/North Shore president and Senior Pastor of Second Baptist Church;
-- Alando Spud Massie and Jeron Dorsey, BMA members;
-- Evanston Police Department Chief Demitrous Cook;
-- Sarita Smith, Manager of Student Assignments, D65
-- Donald Michelin, retired principal of Haven Middle School;
-- Diversity and inclusion consultant Gilo Kwesi Cornell Logan; and
-- Meleika Gardner, Evanston Live TV.
Each speaker's words are crucial to hear. Really hear. Please read and listen.
Then, if you can support the Black Male Alliance's efforts--financially, if you have a business and can offer jobs, if you'd like to mentor, and more--email us and we'll send your information to Nathan.
A lot of times people say that violence occurs and nobody does anything about it. Well, these men that are gathered here today are actually doing something about it, not just speaking about it. They're going to be going into the neighborhood. And they are going to be meeting young men who are engaged in activities that we'd like to see redirected.
Between the years of 2012 and 2018 we had a tremendous program (the Youth & Young Adult outreach program). Some of it is still in effect today.
A lot of what happened between 2012 and 2018 really rests on the shoulders of a young man who has a lot of vision, a lot of leadership, and a lot of impact on our young people in this community.
One thing I want you to know is that Mr. Nathan Norman helped to save a lot of lives. A lot of bad things that could have happened were prevented because of this young man.
I'm a local community activist. I'm born and raised here in the 5th ward of Evanston. I'm a part of a collective movement that was established to be advocates against violence to come out here strong and show our community that we care and that we won't tolerate the violence that's happening within the community.
We also want to offer resources to the young people in this community, we want to let them know that we care, that Black lives do matter, and we want them to know that they matter to us as well. That's one of the biggest things that moved me to come up with this idea: how can we show our community that we support them? How can we show the young people that people that look like them, are in the same community as them, want the best for them? This is just one of many efforts to come.
Who we are: we are Black men from all walks of life that are concerned about violence and its negative impacts upon the Evanston community. We're specifically responding to the recent loss of life of Evanston Black males through gun violence. We are also concerned about social injustice, anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and how these social ills contribute to the negative life outcomes for young Black men.
What do we want: we've come together in solidarity, to show our community that Black lives matter. We're calling upon all community members to stand in solidarity with us and contribute their time, their talents, and much needed resources to prevent future violence from happening in our communities.
Lastly, our call to action: we want to work in partnership with the young Black males in the neighborhoods to develop strategies and plans and actions that will address their growth and developmental needs. Over the next five weeks, through community marches, cookouts, neighborhood walks, and one-on-one visits, we will talk with our young men and strategize together to develop conducive community-based solutions to end violence in our community.
Our goal is to produce a plan with them that can be shared with stakeholders in the community, the City of Evanston, and other community partners. Because we want to see not only the young people in this community, but also every other resident, be able to enjoy their community, be able to to support one another and be able to, most importantly, live in peace.
Black lives do matter, and we want to show our community today is that Black lives definitely matter to us as well.
This is not a one-and-done.
Next week, we will be out mobilizing, we will be out converging on hotspots in Evanston speaking to young people, speaking to residents, letting them know that they have our support. We'll be seeking advice from them on how to curb violence in this community. And we're going to continue to do things each weekend. We're sacrificing our time, effort and our energy to make Evanston an even more conducive community.
This is a collective body. This is a movement, a critical mass, that has been assembled to support this community.
Pastor Michael Nabors
I appreciate greatly all these young Black men who have come together and decided that something must be done. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month. Something must be done right now to stop what is happening in our town. Not one more Black man can die from gun violence in the town of Evanston. So many of us are already dying from COVID-19. So many of us are already dying from a resurgence of racism in this country.
The idea that we are killing each other is completely unacceptable.
We do know that there are extenuating political and social realities that date back hundreds of years. We are not just going on the street and shooting each other. There is a systematic structure that has been developed for us to hate each other in the way that we hate each other.
But I'm telling you that love is stronger than hate.
This is called Bittersweet. It is the story of Black men in America.
This madness is in me in my heart, my brain, and blood And like the power of the Nile that rises high and often floods
I can't sit on it, press it, or keep it down, It's as close to me as my skin is brown.
Open up my eyes and I find it right there I open up my door it's in the sun's bright glare.
I step outside and stand on the corner of my street And the madness is in me not too bitter, not too sweet,
The story of the Black man is bittersweet indeed
Its a universal story with a universal creed
Like a plant in the garden that began with a small seed
It grew bigger and bigger like an evil man’s greed
You may well wonder what it is I’m talking about What is this thing that makes me cry, yell, shout?
What's this thing that angers me and makes me just not care? What’s this thing that strangles me and takes away my air?
It's the story of the Black man, and Black man is my name If I'm not really careful I’ll go insane.
There's nothing more tragic than a Black man's life From birth to death and is filled with pain and strife.
Such odds are against him as he sleeps in his mother's arms, The only time you'll be thrilled by a woman’s charms.
Because nothing is more thrilling than simply trying to survive.
What are the odds that after 20 he'll be alive?
Hated and despised for who he is, Running and dodging bullets passing by in a blurry whizz.
It's tragic to see the future before your eyes, And wonder, “Am I better off dead or alive?
There is so much more that I want to say But there are not enough hours in a 24-hour day,
To tell you the pain that I feel. How can I let you know this thing is real?
How can I let you in on the Black man’s plight, Except to say it stays with him day and night.
He sleeps it, he eats it, he drinks it at every meal. He knows that it will never ever stop until The world we live in is colorblind and knows that we all are one of a kind.
Until then, every Black man that you look at, when you look at him recognize, there is a bittersweet existence.
Alando Spud Massie (member, BMA)
Overall with the violence, I'm tired. I know you guys are tired. I'm tired. You know, it's so senseless. And the problem is for years we turned the news on. And we saw the plague happening in North Lawndale or Englewood, but it's at our back door right now. I've been to so many funerals of young Black men who died over senseless acts. With a small conversation, something could have been achieved.
And it starts with us.
It starts with us talking to young people, asking them what they need. Sometimes they just need to be heard, to be seen. They're invisible.
How can I help you write a resume? How can I help you fill out and application? How can I help you? And until we start asking them those questions, is going to get closer to your house.
We have to do what we can to bring them in.
Jeron Dorsey (member, BMA)
I was born and raised in Evanston’s 5th ward. My message today is directed at the youth who are growing up during such challenging times where racial inequality and violence has become the norm.
I want you all to know that you are the ones who have the power to reverse the wave, and we need you to join together and speak out against these issues.
Back when I was child growing up in Evanston, we laughed and played all throughout the town without a care in the world. As all kids do, we did have scuffles and disagreements but it never resulted in gun violence. However, as I grew older, two times in my life I have experienced losing close friends to gun violence right here in this town. Craig Smith and Shannon Pickett were two close friends of mine who lost their lives in these Evanston streets, which inspires me to speak out on these issues.
My one request from the youth in Evanston is to lead by example and make the best choice for your future, not the popular choice. Together as a community we must stand in solidarity to combat the violence that continues to plague our neighborhoods.
We cannot continue to see families torn apart in the streets where we call home. Myself and a host of other leaders in this community who you will hopefully get a chance to meet today, are here for you. We have to learn to discuss issues amongst our peers so that they don’t resolve in senseless violence and loss of lives.
Please help spread love and peace and together we will win as a community.
Chief Demitrous Cook
This is what community policing is all about. Looking out at people from all walks of life standing strong, not in fear of the criminal element.
It is important that we stand together.
When I hear the word defund, it doesn't fear me. If that's the will of the public to find programs that could be more suitable for some of the various problems that we face in our society today, that's what I'm here to do. I'm an administrator, not a legislator. You all legislate, and I do.
This is a big city. You know, we have big city institutions here. We have Metra, CTA, Northwestern, we've got one of the largest high schools in the state, we got the second largest water plant in the state. So this is big-city activity. And my job is to have the available resources and the appropriate amount of resources to protect those institutions and you all as the public so that we can stand here in solidarity and peace, and make sure the criminal element is out of here.
We've had three murders in this town last month.
It's your responsibility, as well as mine, to stand together as community members and fight crime. Don't be afraid to fight crime.
These young men here: I'm so happy that they've taken the lead in terms of community involvement, going on the blocks in this town where we have strife and letting the people know who are out here selling drugs, keeping people up at all times of the night, firing handguns, endangering our children. Let's protect our children. Let's consolidate and do things together as a group before we have one of our children killed.
I live in this fifth ward. It's a great place to live. It has so much to offer. But if we don't fight for it, and if we don't start letting these criminals know that we are against violence, and we are against negativity and gun play in our neighborhoods, they're just gonna take over and people are going to look to the police to solve these problems. We can't do it without you. Problem-oriented policing and problem solving is our responsibility as a community.
My door is always open. Not only to my office, but you can just come to my house and knock on the door if you want to talk about an issue. If you want my home phone number it's 847-864-1210. If I've got something to eat, you're more than welcome. I normally do.
Let's fight for what's right in our neighborhoods. Let's let these criminals know that we're not going to tolerate it and that will be better for our kids' future.
Instead of me listing out names of people that we know have been impacted by gun violence, particularly our Black males, I'm going to ask you to list out those names.
The name that I remember is Wayne Hoffman, sixth grader at Haven. He was a part of our crew, got lost to gun violence in this town. That was my first personal experience with someone being lost to gun violence in my town. Shook me. It is still with me. I still have his obituary in my house. I'm 37. So can you imagine the traumatic impact of that being compounded on our babies every day? It is up to us to change that.
My personal mission in life is to give students back the narrative that has already been written for them. I'm gonna let that sink in a little bit. Because some of you are the people writing those stories. I have been the person that wrote those stories. So I stand in my truth and intentionally put myself in positions to edit the rest of that story. That is what I did at the Y. I called on these men almost daily. Every time there was a day off of school, one of them came to the Y, because every other middle school kid was there.
So we can make space for those kids and help them rewrite those stories.
Every day, if you are told the same thing, by your peers, sometimes by your parents, by social media outlets, by news, by your government, by your weak President, you believe it. It is difficult for me to understand how we hold the children in our community responsible for the narratives our society writes for them every single day. It is up to us, particularly the Black parents and leaders of this community, to rewrite and edit those stories.
That is what I I'm about and I hope many of you join.
We are going to take 60 seconds and take a moment of silence. I'm going to ask you to think about how, in the power that you sit in in Evanston, are you going to rewrite or help rewrite students' stories for them in this town. Because in Evanston, based on my personal purview, Black and brown students are taught to be here and be thankful that you're here. Not taught to interrupt, not taught to disrupt, but just be thankful that you are in this nice suburb that has a lot of money and great schools, even though they still treat you as second-hand citizens.
Please join us in the interruption, the disruption and the dismantling of systematic racism here in liberal Evanston.
I've lived in this community since 1951, over on Hartrey Avenue. The 5th ward has always been a great place and I don't want to live nowhere else, but I could have lived somewhere else. We have our problems, we're not perfect. We've got a lot of work to do. But people come to this community for what we offer.