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Title: Chatham invests in education // Parents believe that learning holds key to children's future Series: MAKING IT: The story of Chatham
Date: April 30, 1986 Publication: Chicago Sun-Times Author: William Braden ((PHOTO CAPTION CONTINUED)) Because your parents have paved the way for you to get an education." Chathamites take pride in their community's appearance. Lillian Steele tends to the public garden on South Eberhart. Eddie Robinson heads the Chatham Park Manor Citizens Radio Patrol. The patrol serves as the eyes and ears of the police. Gwenda Anderson sits on the front stoop with son Rakeen, 2 1/2. Chathamites watch out for each other and report suspicious activity to the police. Sgt. Marcus Grey (pictured here with Issac Hawkins) says times have changed in Chatham. "The crime rate is low. . . . But four or five years ago, Chatham was almost free of crime." Chatham's children believe they can make it. Yvonne Cotton, 14, says, "If I start out on the right foot, I can make it on my own." Chathamite Gloria Cotton says Chatham kids "have a future. . . . We set high standards in Chatham, for ourselves and for our children." ((CAPTION ENDS)) Three decades ago, upwardly mobile blacks broke out of the ghetto to settle in the South Side community of Chatham. Chatham became a focal point for the emergence of a black middle class that currently represents half of Chicago's black population. It is a vibrant community of excellence that is also a community in transition. This is the third of four articles on the people, the values and the future of Chatham. There's an old saying in black Chicago. "You have to work twice as hard to get half as far." You don't often hear that these days from the young people of Chatham. "These kids have a future," said Gloria Y. Cotton, a Chatham mother and the director of ambulatory services at Bethany Hospital. "It's almost like they're compelled to do well," she said. "We set high standards in Chatham, for ourselves and for our children. And we are seeing to it that these kids are educated."
Cotton was laying down the law to a group of seven teenagers, including her daughter Yvonne, who had gathered at the offices of the Chatham-Avalon Park Community Council on Cottage Grove Avenue. "I didn't have to work twice as hard," she told them. "All I had to do was go to school and apply myself. No matter what the color is, the education is there. You can make it. You can overcome any obstacle." Emphasis on education in Chatham has been described as "almost ruthless." The Rev. Michael J. Nallen, pastor of St. Dorothy's Church, said education for Chathamites is "almost like a god." The teens seemed to agree. All were planning on college, and on business or professional careers, from computer science to electrical engineering. "The opportunities are out there," said Tonya Berry, 18. "If you know what you want to do in life, there shouldn't be anything there to stop you whether you're black or purple or whatever. You just have to work hard at it, and believe in what you want to do." "It's not going to be easy," said Kenneth D. Daniel, 16. "But I feel if I just stay determined and don't let bad times get the worst of me, with a lot of hard work, I can make it. A lot more doors are open. And I've found, over the years, that if I put my mind to most anything, I can get it accomplished." "If I start out on the right foot, I can make it on my own," said Yvonne Cotton, 14. "It's going to be really tough," said Darrin P. Golden, 16. "At school they tell me that with a college degree you still might end up working in a grocery store. But I plan to make a lot of money. And I know I can. Times have changed a lot, from what my elders tell me. I don't feel it's open. It's going to be a challenge for the rest of my life. But I'm sure I can make it." "I can see myself making it in electronics," said Dan Hayes, 15. "If you believe you can make it, you can do it." "It's like my father always tells me," said Arthur Fykes, 17. "If you want to do something, you can do it, no matter who's there to try to stop you. Just go ahead and do it." "You don't have to work twice as hard," said Lloyd H. Rice, 16. "Because your parents have paved the way for you to get an education. My mother tells me how hard it was to strive for goals in the South and all that stuff. So I think it's easier now, because our parents paved the way."
"I expect to work twice as hard," Golden said. He split a grin and added, "That's because I plan to be twice as good." In at least one sense, these are all typical children of Chatham's upwardly mobile middle class. All seven are students at Catholic or private high schools. And that's cause for concern in some quarters, on two counts. Chatham's parents are supposed to be role models for poor black adults. But what about the children of the poor? The original idea behind school integration was not to have black children going to school with white children. The idea was to have poor children going to school with middle-class children whose values would somehow rub off. And that won't happen in Chicago if middle-class black parents insist upon sending their children to middle-class schools, including public magnet schools. There's also a question of how hard a new generation of Chatham parents will work to improve their community if they're not involved in the public schools. The parents understand this. And they regret it, they'll tell you. But they will put their own children first. And that includes Chatham parents who teach in Chat-ham's own public schools (which are above average). They bus their children to elite institutions. "Parents will pay any price," Father Nallen said, "because they realize education is the key to upward mobility." It also should be asked if Chatham's gung-ho teenagers have been sheltered from the subtle forms of racism that black leaders say they'll encounter when they enter the competitive work world. Probably so. But take the case of David Nunery, age 2, whose parents Lee and Carolyn are both young professionals employed by downtown banks. Said a family friend, journalist Michael Anderson, who grew up in the Chatham area: "Of course there's still racism, but is there any doubt that David will go to college? No. Not even a question. Graduate school? Of course. Can that child reasonably expect to do better than his parents? Yes. That's a big middleclass determinant. You expect to be a stepping-stone for your kids. "When I grew up, parents hoped in their wildest dreams that maybe the kids would do better. But there wasn't the certainty there is now.
"To be blunt, what did parents hope for their kids when I was growing up? If he was a boy, they hoped that he wouldn't get killed in adolescence - by the police, or by other young kids in trouble. That he wouldn't become a drug addict. That he'd get a job and hold a job and not get a girl pregnant. Those are not middle-class parameters. That's really a lumpenproletariat mind-set. "I'm sure that Lee and Carolyn's biggest fear is not that David will shoot heroin at 16, or knock up some girl at 16. The aspirations today are so vastly greater. And reasonably so. Objectively, blacks are better off than they ever have been. As a bald statement, there's no question about it. I had it easier than my parents did. And my children will have it easier than I did." The 33-year-old Anderson recalled that Chatham itself was a low-crime haven where people slept with open doors. And for years, Chatham was highly successful in keeping evildoers outside its borders. But times have changed, said Sgt. Marcus Grey, neighborhood relations officer for the Gresham Police District. "The crime rate is low," he said. "It's lower than anywhere else in the district. But four or five years ago, Chatham was almost free of crime. Young people are more mobile today, and they have just recently discovered Chatham. The people had not really prepared themselves, and they're alarmed now by stuff that happened all the time in other areas - burglaries, car thefts, purse snatchings, even some criminal sexual assaults." `There were four or five major robberies here in the last couple of months," Nallen said. "We were one of them. The nuns were hit for $3,000. The sisters were at prayer, and the guy just went up the stairs and took the lunch money. "There are a lot of car thefts. People have come to funerals and have gone out to find their cars gone. There are a lot of purse snatchings, a lot of knocking down of old people and taking their money. One lady had her fur coat ripped off her back right across from the Jewel, at 4:30 in the afternoon." Chatham's growing population of senior citizens is especially vulnerable to street thugs. Most homes have two working spouses, making them vulnerable to daylight break-ins. But neighbors watch out for each other and are quick to call police when they see anything suspicious. A stranger walking through will find his passage followed by parting curtains. And a reporter was told, during an interview with Chatham-Southeast Citizen Publisher William Garth: "Nobody can loiter on the corners. If we were to do this interview out on the sidewalk, you'd see people peering out of windows. And the police would be here in 15 minutes, at the most."
Residents also are revitalizing the Chatham Park Manor Citizens Radio Patrol, which at one time had more than 50 people cruising the streets 24 hours a day in private autos equipped with CB radios. The patrol is headed by Eddie Robinson, a 67-year-old retired carpenter, and it serves as the eyes and ears of the police. Suspicious situations are reported to a base-station operator, 74-year-old Herman O. Hamilton, who calls them in to the Gresham District. Chathamites cooperate fully with the police. But they're also prepared to defend themselves, if necessary. Clementine Skinner, a 70-year-old widow, recalled the days when the major South Side gangs were forming, in the early 1960s, and she said: "They came into this area offering `protection.' People met them at their doors with pistols and said, `This is our protection. You come back here, and we'll blow your brains out.' So they left Chatham alone. And that was very early in the game. If you stand up to these characters, they're just chicken." The Chatham-Avalon Park Community Council headed by Washington D. Burney is alerting residents to the crime problem by publishing police statistics in a newsletter, the Torch, edited by accountant Keith Tate. "We want to make sure that people know exactly what's happening," said Tate, 37, the council's executive vice president. "Because we have a lot of senior citizens, people might feel we're easy pickings here. But in addition to calling the police, we have people who are very adamant. And they will shoot. We want people to know that this is a community that will tolerate very little. We in Chatham will not have anyone come in here and sell us melting ice." Melting ice includes gang activity, narcotics - and plantation politics. "Chatham was the base of the black independent political movement," said political strategist Don Rose. "The middle-class people who moved in were economically independent of the Chicago machine, and they were the first people to rebel against the old politics. They elected one of the first black independent aldermen, Bill Cousins, back in 1967, and their neighborhood council was one of the pillars of the civil rights movement. They're the heart and core of Harold Washington's support. They register and vote - with vigor." "They're thinkers," Nallen said. "They're sophisticated and educated and they think for themselves. They may not vote for you. But they're going to vote for somebody. They're people who take their civic duty seriously." The 6th Ward that includes Chatham gave Washington his biggest majority in 1983, said Ald. Eugene Sawyer. But you'll hear some pointed criticism of
the mayor's performance. His links to influence peddler Clarence McClain, in particular, grate on Chatham's sense of middle-class respectability. ("Lie down with dogs and you get up with fleas," Skinner said.) "This is a community that's clearly expressing its concern," Rose said. "But I don't think Harold has lost his support. I think you're getting sympathetic criticism. And people shouldn't confuse that with disaffection." You'll hear some kind words for President Reagan. `At least Reagan tells you what he's going to do for you," Garth said. "Nothing. The Democrats tell you they're going to do something for you, and they don't do anything. My newspaper did not take a position on Mondale and Reagan. We were neutral in 1984. And what Reagan has done for patriotism in this country is unbelievable. Even in the black community. If they caught you burning a flag here now, they'd probably shoot you." "A lot of flags fly on the Fourth of July in Chatham," agreed William H. Finch, superintendent of Chicago School District 17. "The man has done much, in my mind. You just cannot, out of hand, say the man is lousy." Reagan's appeal is severely limited by cuts in programs that benefit senior citizens and education. And dismantling government is not an especially popular notion in a community that abounds with government workers. Next: The future of Chatham.
Copyright (null) Chicago Sun-Times This document provided by HighBeam Research at http://www.highbeam.com
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