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.
We offer District 65, we offer District 202, we offer that beautiful lakefront over there. I'm a Northwestern University graduate, class of 1973.
We offer diversity. Look at this crowd here. You can't get that everywhere.
But we do have our problems.
What I found out as a teacher at Haven middle school, as an assistant principal, and as a principal, is that our Black males needs wrap-around services. Family Focus, we were blessed to have them at Haven. They would come out, they got that wrap-around piece. Our boys need that.
At around third or fourth grade diversity separates with our young people. Where the white and Black and brown children were together in Kindergarten, first, and second, they start separating. Now your athletes stay together because of basketball, soccer, and so forth. But the other children go their separate ways.
Me and my good friend, the late great Bob Bost, Sr. were asked to speak at an elementary school in Winnetka about Dr. King, for a K-5. A Dr. King program. We walk in. And they got these two little guys to show us around. So my guy is a kindergartner, he had on a shirt, 'Future Trevian.' Bob Bost's guy had on a Michigan sweat shirt. He's going to Michigan. Because his father went, his uncle went, his sister's there, his brother's going. In Kindergarten! He's going to Michigan.
The point I'm making is this: those children already knew what their life plan is. We have to understand that our kids don't have that plan. That's why wrap-around programs are so important. We have to understand that our kids don't have that plan. White people in the audience know what I'm talking about. They've got that plan the moment they're born. That's what we have to do for our kids.
What you men have to do with these young men you going to end up mentoring, you got to be real and honest with them. The elders told me, and the people I was with in my generation: as young Black men we gotta be three times better. Three times better than anyone else to get a job. Three times better than anyone else to buy a house. Three times better to get anything in the US of A as a Black man in America. And that was the truth and it hasn't left that point at all.
And so what has happened through integration is we think our Black boys and Black girls are on equal terms and they're not. And that's being real and that's being true.
What happens with our youth, and what's happened with any type of violence, it's always a disrespect issue. They've got to turn it around, how to deal with the disrespect and failure that they feel.
We gotta give our boys a purpose, more than just athletics. Because when athletics can go no more, what you got?
The fifth ward is a great place, let's keep it a great place, let's go clean up our streets, let's take care of our business.
Gilo Kwesi Cornell Logan
You know, we talk about Black Lives Matter. And many people, including myself, as a Black man say Black lives matter. Where are we as black people demonstrating that. Right? Where are we holding ourselves accountable for that? And I just want to thank you all because you are that.
My people, it's been too long. How long? Too long.
I've live here in the 5th ward for the last 21 years. I was raised in the 2nd ward. I've lived in the 5th ward with my family. And as Chief Cook said, in a matter of four days, three killings of Black men.
Nearly two dozen Black men have been shot and killed in the 21 years that I've lived in the 5th ward. Nearly two dozen black men have been shot and killed in my neighborhood. I hear that. I see that. I feel that every day. Dozens of times. Dozens of times my wife, my children, from our home, we hear gunshots. Dozens of times during our time living here in the 5th ward, and yet, we choose to live here. So imagine that. There's something to that.
I've seen youth running from gunshots through my back yard. I've had a bullet lodged in my van for five years. I left it there. I drove around with it as a remembrance of all who've been killed by bullets.
In the past 10 years, over 90 people shot in Evanston. Twenty-six people were killed in Evanston just in the last six years. A disproportionate number of them were Black people, and mostly all Black males.
So the thoughts that I'd like to share with you comes from brother C.T. Vivian. He was an activist and author. He was a lieutenant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and I'm going to quote him.
He says "Blacks have a condition. Not a problem. Whites have a problem. And that problem is racism. That problem creates our condition." We see that in the world. We see that in America. And we see that right here in good old, beautiful suburbanite Evanston, the town that I love dearly.
But what's happening out there y'all is right here in our home. And in our backyard. It's a major problem. We have a condition that we have to deal with.
Now, we can give a whole historical lesson on the history of the 5th ward during segregation, what we had, what we lost, the cost that we have had to pay because of integration here in Evanston, that we still pay today. That's the condition that we're dealing with.
So how do we address this condition? I want to suggest two things. One, the concept of Racial Identity Development. We all live in a racialized society, hence we all develop a racial identity, whether we realize it or not. And for too many people of color, it's a detrimental identity. And that causes harm in our society, not only in our communities, but within our own lives.
If we want to talk about white racism, we need to talk about white racial identity development, the process through which that identity of privilege, or white supremacy, is developed, how it's institutionalized in our society. It's in the air we breathe, it's in the water that we drink. This is not singling out white people individually. It is not that. We're talking about an ideology that we are all impacted by.
So when we talk about gun violence here in Evanston, we need to look at Black identity development and the process by which Black people develop that identity--an identity that is detrimental to who we are as a people.
It's based on two things: essentially, the perception that we all share a common experience by virtue of being Black. But also the perception of who we are as Black people. And too often, that perception that we hold of ourselves has been defined for us. In other words, we are seeing ourselves through the eyes of other people.
As W.E.B. Dubois talked about over 100 years ago, it's the dilemma of double consciousness: we're both African and American. And that's a dilemma that we have within us, that many of the speakers are talking about, that we are trying to reconcile. And the struggle of that dilemma shows itself in violence in our communities.
We need a revolution, but we need a revolution within ourselves. We need a new mindset. We need a new perspective and a new eye on who we are as Black people. We as a community must find ways to pool our resources together for the betterment of our youth and the betterment of our adults. It's going to take a community effort. This problem is systemic. This didn't happen overnight. So the solution must be systemic,
Right now is an opportune time, given this dual pandemic that we are dealing with, to create change. The change has not happened. The change is in the process of happening. We must participate in that change, be a part of it.
I want to introduce the philosophy of Ubuntu. It's a South African concept of being a human being. The word ubuntu means humanity. Philosophically, it means the universal bond of sharing a connection as human beings. In our society today, we are losing the value and the quality and the beauty of being a human being. We are too often human 'doings,' because we're so busy doing, but we lost the human being, and we must cultivate our humanity. For me that's where the hope lies: in our humanity.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, "Ubuntu speaks specifically about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness, and when you have this quality Ubuntu, you are known for your generosity."
So when I looked out here, that's what I'm seeing. Look at the diversity within this crowd.
I want to thank everyone for being here. Black folks especially, because too often we're not represented enough in our own effort. And if you're not Black, I'm going to recognize you. To all the brown people, as we are coming together. All the white people. We all should be here, but we're all not here. So I just want to recognize you.
I come with a lot of pain and a lot of anger.
When I was nine years old, my father was gunned down. Eight bullets to his back and one through his forehead. And I just spoke to him the night before. My family tried to protect me from that information and I stumbled across his body in a room. Messed me up.
Two years later, my step-father was murdered. There's been so many murders.
I don't know if you all remember John John from ETHS in the 80s--used to walk me up to this bus stop right here at ETHS. He was murdered. My friend Nicholas at ETHS, lived near me. Gone. I saw him the day before. Gone the next day. Murdered. Gunned down. The list goes on. And the most recent was my nephew Xavier Joy on the south side of Chicago. Gunned down on his way home from work.
I have dealt with so many of the Black men in my family and close friends being gunned down that it caused so much anger. I grew up, yes, a very angry Black woman in a lot of pain.
And it wasn't until recently that I decided to take that pain and turn it into action to help all my young Black men and young Black women. I don't have children of my own, so this is my way of taking care of masses of children.
Many of us know, learning about Black history, they start our history off as slaves. That's how many of us grew up, just thinking we started out in shackles and chains. In most history books, the white man is superior. They're the heroes. They're the leaders. They don't tell you the true history of Black people prior to becoming enslaved and terrorized. They don't teach that we contribute to medicine and technology, and literature and architecture.
Do you know what that would do to a young Black boy, to know that that's where he truly came from? And not shackles and chains and beaten down by white men? Do you know what that would do for a young Black woman to know the truth of where she came from?
I hooked up with Representative LaShawn Ford on the west side of Chicago, the eighth district. He had a bill on the table Hb 4954. And it was to assure that they keep teaching Black history because they were trying to actually take it out of the history books. And I said I would like to write an amendment to that bill, where we include pre-enslavement, because it is important that all children, not just Black children, know the true history of Black people. Who we are, where we came from what we have contributed to this country.
I truly believe if a young Black man knows where he came from, it will be too difficult for him to pick up a gun and kill anybody who looks like him. Because all the men in my family have died by the hands of another Black man. In my heart, I forgive those Black men. I've come to forgive them.
It's systemic racism, what was fed into them that made them hate themselves to the point that they do not value their own life. So then they look at another Black man, and they don't value him. So if they're not brought up in a family that teaches them who they really are, then they go to school and they're taught that the white man is the hero and the leader.
This legislation will change the way Black history is taught, because I truly believe this bill will chip away at systemic racism. It will build, as Dr. Logan mentioned, self-identity, self-worth, self-value in our Black children, and it will teach other children of other cultures and white children to respect who Black people are in this country.
Here are a few other voices from the rally.
Lonnie Wilson (attendee)
Kids in our neighborhood need to learn we've all gone through this in different decades, and it doesn't have to turn out to be violent and it doesn't have to turn out to be death. When I was a kid, we'd go around the corner and make a circle around, and you'd have a fight and it was over with. Nowadays people are pulling out guns. It's a very bad way to deal with things. I think they forgot having heart. You gotta have heart.
Lloyce Spells (Evanston police officer, 5th ward resident, member, BMA)
Not only have I been a police officer here almost 21 years. I live here.
There's a call to action when we see violence in our community in any capacity, but when we see violence that is concentrated with the same group of individuals, in the same communities, in the same age group, we have to understand that they're speaking to us. They're speaking to us through this violence, that they're not being heard. There is some trauma, there are some issues that they're dealing with that they need help navigating.
And so we want every young man and every young person in this community to know that they're not alone, that they're not on an island, that there are Black men all over this city that care about their wellbeing, they care about their prosperity and their families, but that the way that we're resolving conflict with gun violence is not the way that you resolve conflict.
But that peace is possible. It is possible when it begins in your household. It begins on your block that extends throughout this entire community.
Rob Pressoir (member, BMA)
If you look around, all our T-shirts have the lion, which is If you look around, all our T-shirts have the lion, which is
kind of this majestic symbol. And then the crown kind of represents this concept of 'heavy is the head that wears the crown.' And so as a collective in the community, we're saying, look, if we come together, all of us can't solve every problem, but we might be able to solve some unique situations with the talents that we have.
And so by coming together, we can move a lot faster, a lot quicker, and maybe help a lot more people. Each person has a word on the back of their shirt that they feel most inspired by or what they feel represents them. But in total, all the words really represent everything that we're trying to do as a group.
The back of my shirt says, 'mentor.' I feel like that's really what my swim lane is.