31 Chicago

Photo by Katerina Pavlyuchkova on Unsplash

Almost a year had passed since my arrival in Chicago, and our labor had finally begun to bear fruit. Will’s and Mary’s street corner group had grown to fifty strong; they organized neighborhood cleanups, sponsored career days for area youth, won agreements from the alderman to improve sanitation services. Farther north, Mrs.Crenshaw and Mrs.Stevens had pressed the Park District into overhauling rundown parks and play lots; work there had already begun. Streets had been repaired, sewers rooted, a crime-watch program instituted. And now the new job intake center, where once only an empty storefront had been. As the organization’s stock had grown, so had my own. I began receiving invitations to sit on panels and conduct workshops; local politicians knew my name, even if they still couldn't pronounce it. As far as our leadership was concerned, I could do little wrong. “You should have seen him when he first got here.” I’d overhear Shirley tell a new leader one day. “He was just a boy. I swear you look at him now, you’d think he was a different person.” She spoke like a proud parent: I’d become a sort of surrogate prodigal son. The appreciation of those you worked with, concrete improvements in the neighborhood, things you could hang a price tag on. It should have been enough. And yet what Will had said was true. I wasn’t satisfied. -P.227, October 7, 2021

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