Another savory ingredient has been added go to gumbo that is Chicago’s Black community, Even critics of the July 7 Dan Ryan shutdown would have to agree it was successful beyond measure. What many observers predicted would be a turnout in the hundreds no doubt were amazed when thousands of Chicagoans of every hue descended on the 79th St. ramp to launch the protest march. By all accounts, Fr. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina’s Faith Community, whom many consider unorthodox for a Catholic priest was the architect of Saturday’s mass assembly and march. 

The shutdown was the easy part-now the real work begins


While Pfleger has a stellar reputation in much of Black Chicago, he is just as excoriated in other parts of the community. The admiration for the South Side priest stems from the reality that is he is willing to speak out on issues that adversely impact Black and Latino residents. His detractor, sometimes refer to him as Tarzan, as though he is the great white savior of the “natives.” Neither tag seems to phase him much as Pflger takes on cause after cause unabashedly followed by Black cohorts. As the adage goes “therein lies the rub.”

The argument about the priest’s presence as the leader of so many Black causes has rubbed many Black folks in Chicago the wrong way. The vitriol is especially present, as is the praise, on social media. Pfleger’s self-appointed role adds to the chasm that seems to be keeping Black people from coalescing here. That matter is on top the many that have historically and traditionally separated opinion and actions.

Not long after the second Great Migration of Black people from the South to Chicago, we have wrestled with, tolerated, and opined about the kinds of Black folk who live on the West Side versus the South Side. Yes, the wrestling, opinion, and tolerance have traveled the other way as well. It didn’t take long before another ingredient was added-maybe the most ungrounded of them all-light-skinned Black folk and dark-skinned Black folk. That aimless topic still rears its head periodically today. No, that pointless nonsense did not disappear with the arrival of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Community members whose contributions of decades ago yet still have some benefit are blasted by young Black so-called activists because the former aren’t visible at marches and demonstrations. However, they fail to recognize that the older generation can be invaluable re strategy, institutional memory, and temperament.

As if those weren’t enough, our community is loaded with members who see Black people of means, politically connected, and suburban Chicago residents as the enemy. They stoop to name-calling e.g. Toms, sellouts, and other unflattering labels. And without much understanding of how government works, there is no shortage of Black folks willing to castigate Black elected officials, as do-nothings or again (sigh) sellouts. Privately, some Black elected ask how or why they should be willing to help people who never have anything but vexing comments. 

CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who initially spoke against the Shut Down is shown with Fr. Pfleger

There was a time not that many decades ago when Black people simply didn’t throw one another under the bus, at least publicly. The thinking was that was an open invitation for white people to do the same thing. And for the most part, it worked.

No one should be surprised if the Pfleger-Black leadership ingredient continues to simmer for awhile. Frankly, it has been there for decades; however, the success of the shutdown surely has caused it to boil over the top of the pot. Extending the discussion about the shutdown for a prolonged period will be detrimental. The talk we need now is what is next and who will be involved. Everyone doesn’t need a seat at the table.

The next steps must be all about strategy. And those at the forefront of the discussion need to be folks who have a keen understanding of:

  • policy
  • municipal finance
  • state government
  • public safety
  • public education

These are the topics when addressed by experts in these areas can yield the most impactful results. Fortunately, there is an abundance of Black people in each of those disciplines., Most likely they are not highly publicized names, but they know their stuff. Undoubtedly many people who have been on the front lines for years will feel they should be included. But what is needed, if there is to be progress is strategy and planning and not necessarily demonstrations. If it turns out more demonstrations are needed the best people for that won’t be difficult to find. 

For the shutdown to have residual impact, Black Chicago must decide if it will continue as legions of splintered groups hurling insults at one another, or whether it is time to put all the disrespect and pointless disagreements in the past and move forward with thoughtfulness and boardroom-type actions that will bring industry, large and small to our community so there will be jobs. We must begin to do for ourselves and quit holding onto the claim that invisible band of the white man is restraining our progress, Nearly 100 years ago, in 1919, the last Black Renaissance Man, this country has known – Paul Robeson- laid out the path for us to follow. During his valedictorian speech at Rutgers College, he said:

“We of this less favored race realize that our future lies chiefly in our own hands. On ourselves alone will depend the preservation of our liberties and the transmission of them in their integrity to those who will come after us. And we are struggling on attempting to show that knowledge can be obtained under difficulties; that poverty may give place to affluence; that obscurity is not an absolute bar to distinction, and that a way is open to welfare and happiness to all who will follow the way with resolution and wisdom; that neither the old-time slavery, nor continued prejudice need extinguish self-respect, crush manly ambition or paralyze effort; that no power outside of himself can prevent a man from sustaining an honorable character and a useful relation to his day and generation. We know that neither institutions nor friends can make a race stand unless it has strength in its own foundation; that races like individuals must stand or fall by their own merit; that to fully succeed they must practice their virtues of self-reliance, self-respect, industry, perseverance, and economy.

Paul Robeson’s words from nearly 100 years ago ring true today

But in order for us to successfully do all these things, it is necessary that you of the favored race catch a new vision and exemplify in your actions this new American spirit. That spirit which prompts you to compassion, a motive instinctive but cultivated and intensified by Christianity, embodying the desire to relieve the manifest distress of your fellows; that motive which realizes as the task of civilization the achievement of happiness and the institution of community spirit.

Further, the feeling or attitude peculiar to those who recognize a common lot must be strengthened; that fraternal spirit which does not necessarily mean intimacy, or personal friendship, but implies courtesy and fair-mindedness. Not only must it underly [sic] the closer relations of family, but it must be extended to the broader and less personal relations of fellow-citizenship and fellow-humanity. A fraternity must be established in which success and achievement are recognized, and those deserving receive the respect, honor, and dignity due them.”

To not follow Robeson’s words and what we know is correct is a disservice to the successful shutdown, and an assurance Black progress in Chicago is eons away.