A chat with Lonnie Wilson
Last week, lifelong Evanston resident, activist, and fixture Lonnie Wilson, 62, wrote the following post on his Facebook page:
"...I talk a lot about the street genius I was exposed to! Kevin Clay Sr. and Terry Pettigrew ... all of us urban intellectuals had an OG. Well, I want to create the OG project to celebrate this street wisdom. Now, as an old man, the lessons of the brilliance of my own, like Ricky Porter and Larry Perry. I'd like to know from others who are those black men in your lives? Let's celebrate these brothers and create a national OG brilliance story! Let's tell our own story!"
The post inspired lots of responses with lots of names: George Pitts. Rick Porter. Andrew (Goo Goo) Thomas. Earl Young. Marshall Giles. David Taylor. Pru Hutchinson. Edgar Webb. Ronald (Shoes) Dotson. Beau Price. Robert W. Clay Sr. AKA Pepper. Clyde Goodman. Bobby Jones. Cooney Parsons. Ladd Freeman. Donald Clay. Wayne Norris (aka Cisco). Lil Man. Stanley Simmons. Tex. Lu Bob Osborn. Ralph Green. Billy Simmons. Toppy. Carlton Fonzewoeth. Al Bowie. Eddie Tatum. Ronney Triplet. Red Baron. Rev Ike. Smiley. Greg Harden. Drew Stone. Dickie Boy. Willie Woods. Jo Jo. Keith Smith. Of course, Lonnie Wilson .... and more!
I wanted to find out more about Evanston's OGs (Original Gangsters), about Lonnie's term, "urban intellectual."
What do these terms mean to Evanston's Black community?
Why are, or were, these men role models?
What wisdom did they impart?
What does it mean to be "on the other side of the law," to commit crimes, be part of an alternative economy, and also be a teacher, mentor, earn people's love, command their respect, offer kindness and generosity, and impart knowledge and wisdom?
What does one do when the larger society shuns you and opportunities evade you, when paths that are available to others are not available to you?
Lonnie tells me about it in the video below.
Another lifelong Evanston resident and two-time Evanston/Skokie School District 65 member Jerome Summers wrote a memoir, Parables from the Outskirts of Polite Society. In it, Summers' talks a lot about "street life" and "square life," and how he maneuvered between then to become a successful man and world traveller.
Born in 1955, Summers left Evanston for college 800 miles away at age 20, after serving as a pallbearer at three of his friends' funerals--all drug- or alcohol-related. At the last funeral, he says, he heard God's voice telling him, "Straighten up your life or you're the next one in line!" Though he pledged then and there to lead a square life--to avoid jail and death--still, he says, "My heroes have always been bad guys."
Summers struggled at college initially, having nothing in common with the other students.
"It is not my intent to glorify street life. It's a hard, perilous, and possibly dangerous way to go. By my junior and senior years [in college] the school environment became more hospitable to me. I certainly encourage ... people to be lifelong learners ...," he says in his book.
"However," he continues, "When I was going from hand to mouth for food, clothing, and shelter on a daily basis, it was the kindness of strangers in the street and larger community who accepted, supported, and embraced me. So I speak of them with affection and give them their due respect. Those in the academic community did not. It's no wonder why so many of our young Black and Latino men turn to the streets."
And it's no wonder--after centuries of institutional racism, individual racism, segregation, discrimination, and lack of educational, economic, and housing opportunity, that people look there for work, guidance, acceptance, and wisdom.
[NOTE: Above, one name that was mentioned was Rick Porter. Lonnie warned me, "If you look him up on Google, you won't get the same stories about him that I would tell you." I looked him up. Rick Porter was a high-ranking member of the El Rukhns who was shot and killed in 1997 on the south side of Chicago. "He was kind to me," Lonnie had told me. "He didn't want me getting into the lifestyle he was in."]