Chicago Tilden High School
I cannot forget entering Dunbar High School in 1976 from the ‘low end’ (i.e. Englewood). I was now attending a school with students who grew up in communities like my uncle and aunt, the nice hoods (i.e., Chatham, Morgan Park, and Kenwood). Yet, I was still dirt poor, one pair of shoes, struggling to keep my slacks up, and wondering what the fuck. I could see a difference in the students; I knew who was poor and who was well off. Growing up in poverty, you possess a keen sense for details, hell your life depended on it. Dunbar Vocational High School was a flagship institution, unlike my community high schools’ Tilden and Englewood for which I refused to enroll in either.
The ‘Bar’ was uppity’. It wassurrounded by condominiums, close to the lake, and minutes from ‘The Loop’. There was plenty of intra-racial discrimination and prejudices going on at the ‘Bar’. If you were a student not from one of the nice neighborhoods, it was tough. Presently, ‘Bar’ alums get together pretending these cultural and sociological differences did not exist. Bullshit. Students from the projects and communities like Englewood were treated different. Some of us were poor and from the other side of the tracks. We felt the class divide as other impoverished Blacks had throughout history in America. Maybe I should have stayed home at Tilden or Englewood.
The High School Riot
My wife Debra is a graduate of Tilden (79) and many ghetto mites from “The Dodge” attended school there. Tilden located 4747 South Union in Bridgeport was the local pub for dropouts, malcontents, and reprobates. It was surrounded by poor Irish trash and dirty cops all too willing to play the contest, “Catch a Nigger Alone Tonight”. From my knowledge, one did not want to hang around Tilden after dark. Not surprisingly, It was the home of the Daly’s (Mayors of Corrupt Chicago), racists cops, and Irish lads doling out Mick justice on Black students and citizens. Whites and Blacks did not get alone and violence was a norm.
Consequently, the violence at Tilden often spilled into the streets. It was not uncommon to hear on our intercom at John Hope that Tilden was participating in their annual fucking school riot. Even today, I can recall the intercom warning us that Tilden students were marching South on Union street, destination John Hope Middle School. It was madness, large numbers of Tilden students, Blue and Whites swirling around 55th & Garfield Boulevard, D.T’s in unmarked cars, putting hands on cats not moving fast enough.
This was the 70’s and police brutality was the norm in Black communities, there was no Twitter or cell phones to capture the mayhem. Somewhat scared and perturbed at the same time, I wondered, what the fuck are the Tilden students mad at our middle school for? What the hell was the problem? More importantly, did our neighbors want to kick our youthful asses? I hated Tilden before then, but now I disliked it even more. Which is why I was all too willing to rib my friends who attended it.
Till this day, I can recall looking out the window of House 4B at John Hope as police cars and bodies pushed the angry mob on its way. Why the fuck did they come up to John Hope? If a former rioter could contact me and explain the reasoning, I’d appreciate it. Conversely, I hated what I witnessed, mean faces, brutal cops, and frozen school officials. The whole fucking Garfield Boulevard was ablaze with tight-ass slacks, fucked up Afros, and worn out platform shoes. In essence, Black folks just stomping their feet, mad as Hell. I just don’t know nor understand their reasons.
Presently, I’m still in the dark about this mass aggression, but this form of violence became the norm, sadly. This was one of my neighborhood schools, where nearly most of my rat pack attended, mostly for recreation. Consequently, I never wanted to attend Tilden. I was a Dodge City Ghetto mite, but I wanted to attend the ‘Bar’ because my older brother did. But, boy athletic wise, I wished often I played football at Tilden. I know, my Mighty Men/Women just booted me out the club, but it’s true. I regret not playing with my neighborhood cats on the gridiron. Plus, they won it all in 1979-80. I love my ‘Bar’; Mighty Man through and through.
I speculate, John Hope Middle School turned out some of the best talent in athletics. The school encapsulated individuals from the surrounding neighborhoods that could flat-out play football, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, swim, and track. Although, the big schools like the “Bar” CVS or Simeon had nice neighborhoods surrounding their landscapes. Tilden on the other hand, had Bridgeport Irish cats waiting to push an unsuspecting nigger’s cap back after dark. It was no secret, if you couldn’t get in the good schools (e.g., Dunbar, Lindblom, Whitney Young) your shit was stuck at Englewood or Tilden. I never wanted either; so, I went to the ‘Bar’, poor as hell and academically fragile.
The “Bar” was a mixture of uppity ass students and low-end Ghettomites from the South side. Even today, I know uppity ‘Bar’ graduates, well not that uppity, but some still believe someone should be grateful to pull their chair out for them. Tilden on the other hand was bare knuckle Negroes who I played sport with growing up, Tilden had tough individuals from tough surrounding neighborhoods. Thus it should be no surprise that they field two of the best athletic programs in Illinois at that time. Male wrestling and football at Tilden was unprecedented, no one could fuck with them on the field or the square. The Blue Devils stood above all Chicago High Schools and the State of Illinois for that matter in the late 70-80’s. Fear was there calling card, pain a ready prescription. Their two teams were made up from the best Englewood and the surrounding Ghettos had to offer…
(Part 2 to be con’t)
On the field or the mat, the “Blue Devils” were fierce and unapologetic competitors. Hmm, let me put it another way, they kicked plenty ass, each team built by two of the best High School coaches CPS produced…In fact, these two teams remain in my opinion one of the best in their era, hands down…from Marcus Bell, Nate “Slick” Cole, and Jamie “Fatdaddy” Barton…to wrestlers Doyle Harris and Tommy Howard. The Blue Devils strangled the life out of all who dare enter the arena…
Tilden Wrestling vs Chicago Public School System (1974-79)
Tilden Football vs South Shore and Julian High School (1979-80)
Hello crack, goodbye innocence
I have some athletic and lest say self-determined grandchildren. I had them attack a small playground like wolves on a wounded deer. Most of these shots were taken by Ariana and Aniyiah cousins and the two oldest. Both have a keen eye for photography, I allow them to shoot most shots as I groom them for child labor. In Chicago next week for graduation, I believe Ariana. Not sure if Aniyah is also on tap. Again, the greatest pleasures in life are free and little formal education is required.
(friend (fr nd). n. 1. A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts you. 2. A person with whom one is allied in a struggle …(3) “a person who’ll do things for you when it’s of inconvenience to them” (Rod Davis).
I have developed a term that signifies my conceptualization of friendship: Uncomfortable Sacrifice. This is just one tenet of friendship, however, I have found it to be the soundest tool to measure how it works. As such, camaraderie is risking your personal comfort zone for another. I’m not talking about fake charity. Keep the transparent, “I know you could do it” or the proverbial ‘tough love’ b.s. to yourself. These and other statements need works to mean anything of value at least in friendship. With that said, I have a short list of friends.
Omer Avci is a friend. I met him a few years ago when I joined the College Learning Enhancement Program (CLEP) as a reading instructor at Northern Illinois University (NIU). I sat in on his classes as I was trying to see how not to screw up my students. I modeled my early teaching after him and Dr. Armstrong. Unfortunately and fortunately, this past spring he completed his doctorate degree and is heading back with his family to his home country (Turkey) after eight years in the U.S. By the way, without Omer’s support and others my comp exam could have been harder.
Omer always had time, always. He never passed me on to someone else, not once. This cat defended his dissertation while helping me with my comp exam. My friend Rod Davis is like that and so am I. If you’re our friend, we will not let you down, not once. We’ll give to you and forgo our own agency under many circumstances. Omer did the same with no excuses, no b.s. he just said…What do you need?”
I will miss him dearly…
My friend, Dr. Omer Avci
The Invisible Dragon
By Robert A. Williams
Jesse held his timid posture inside the project’s hallway, absorbing the rumbling sounds from the apartment. The loud stench of urine did not drown out the violent voices as he listened silently. His slender frame, as a ship on bumpy waters, rocked steadily as he decoded the languages. These evidently hateful sounds came from the apartment as always after multiple day crack binges. Nevertheless, under the influence of crack, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts, Jesse with unbridled animosity ignited after hearing the scorning noises. Pissed, he flushed his clenched fist down his mouth and screamed inaudibly. While his character received rebuke from inside, he heard a voice say, “Jesse ain’t shit and never will be shit” pierced through the apartment’s peephole, and, as quickly as his rage had imploded; it halted. The voice’s owner had never been among his naysayers but for this very first time he heard it clearly. After recognizing the voice owner, his addicted frame collapsed upon the cement, as his emptiness filled him. For the next two hours, inside the hallway, he furiously rubbed his convicted face, as he whispered again and again:
“I ain’t shit and never will be shit; I ain’t shit and never will be shit.” I ain’t shit and never will be shit.”
Later, in his deepened shallow voice, Jesse asked himself. “What the fuck have I done?” He wondered had the addiction cost him his family’s hopes. He snapped back! “I can’t stop, I’ve tried and not one person knows what I’ve been through. How can they judge me? What the fuck do they know; they have not walked in my shoes.” Jesse invalid arguments from the past however were baseless again, but now because of that voice, he wondered was it true. He mouth mumbled again, “I’ve never been shit” thus his final decree fell noiselessly onto the cement. Jesse settled himself atop his size 12 feet; tucked his shirt neatly inside his dirty jeans and headed toward the building’s roof. His mangled body for hours lay unnoticed before the sunlight allowed the project spectators to recognized it. The disfigured mesh of body and bones did not faze them; they’ve seen suicide by roof jumping before. “Cats can’t take it, and they jump the fuck off, it’s called ‘project sky rocket.’ The news reporter nervously listened to the hoodie wearing teen’s account, as yellow police tape restrained both; Jesse was a statistic now.
The funeral was uneventful, as most, concerning project residents. The family had to take donations, it’s a norm, no big deal. A few friends stood with his siblings wondering why Jesse became a ‘project sky rocket’. Hell, his sister let him stay with her, but they still wondered. Sure she got on him about his addiction, “Jesse they going to put me out if they catch drugs in here, don’t bring that shit in here,” But you know what, after each binge, she opened the door. Jesse often listened outside her door as she would railed preparing for work, “His good for nothing Black ass”. Nevertheless, she loved his ‘Black skinny ass’, like most siblings in those situations do. Yea, she let him come back each time and this is why his suicide hurt her most. Because, she promised to care for her oldest brother and she failed. As foul-smelling and cracked out, she took him in, blitzed off some new drug shit, she took him in, fucked up on liquor; she took him in. The morning of Jesse’ suicide however was different, the voice were different. The voice convinced him he failed at life and disappointed everyone. He heard that voice and it made him tired and apathetic. No more fight in him, he was tired, so he jumped.
After several months, project’s natives produced a theory as they always do. That early morning, a few residents saw Jesse outside his sister’s door before 4am as she undressed him on the other side. Jesse and his sister kept their business in the street, like all residents of these prisons. Nevertheless, most residents, like his sister, wondered aloud; why did he jump? Well, as theory has it, that morning as Jesse crept up the project’s hallway, he was fine. But, as he gathered himself to enter his sister’s apartment, that one voice came from inside and into his head; thus, he freaked out. Frightened and confused, he bugged out, as they say. As such, he was whispering as he walked to the roof a few hours later. His fellow addicts however warned him: Your mother has been dead ten years.