On the Rise: Jamila Woods Sings the Heart of Chicago

Chicago is in the midst of a musical explosion and Jamila Woods is definitely one to watch as a new generation rises in the wake of Kanye West and Common. Perhaps Chance the Rapper led the charge, along with friends Vic Mensa and producers such as King Louie, but poet/singers such as Woods are pushing it to the next level.

I talked to Woods about her new release and what it means to deliver her messages of black power merged with memories of the innocence of youth gone by. The story, Jamila Woods: Soul of a Protestor, appeared in Pitchfork. Continue reading “On the Rise: Jamila Woods Sings the Heart of Chicago”

A Life Well-Lived: Remembering Ronald Sherman Samuels

My Pops passed away last Monday. While it wasn’t unexpected (as he’d had a stroke in late summer) it still hurts – especially since he was on the up and up before taking a turn for the worse. But what’s done is done, and in my Christian experience, I know that all he did was change clothes. As the pastor says, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” That sounds good to me. 😉

My Pops was the best.

Along with my siblings, I planned my father’s funeral. We had to buy a casket, select a burial spot, pick out a vault, order flowers, call our entire family, notify all the various bar associations, take care of our mother (and grandmother) and still somehow console ourselves. I wrote the funeral program and the obituary. My brother designed some of it. My sister sang at the funeral. My other sister wrote a poem. My husband read Invictus. All my uncles sang a medly of songs.

One hundred members of Kappa Alpha Psi came to my dad’s funeral and serenaded him. County Commissioner Bobbie Steele was there, as was Alderman Will Burns and all of the other politicians that my dad’s life touched. The church was so packed that people had to smush into the choir stands to be seated. The funeral procession from the West Side to the South Side was some 80 cars long – escorted by state troopers. Friends and family came from far and near to be with us and to stay with us. In fact, many are still here – opting to spend Christmas with our family in solidarity.

My own friends showed up and showed out. My sister’s friends showed up and showed out. My brother’s friends showed up and showed out. My father’s friends showed up and showed out. And my mother’s friends showed up en force and showed out. I’ve learned a lot about the traditions of the Black family and the Black church in these last few weeks. The “ladies who lunch” (i.e. my mother’s good friends, the other barrister’s wives) came armed with reams of toilet paper, paper towels, rotisserie chickens, boxes of tissue, flowers, stamps, mac and cheese, greens, pistachios, fresh salads, cookies, cakes, cobblers and laughter.

They mopped and cleaned and cooked and hugged and kissed. And then when they got tired, they were replaced by uncles and aunts and neighbors and godparents and church members from seven different congregations. Even my brother’s ex-wife showed up and stayed for four days.

Everyone brought their children. And inexplicably, every child under the age of seven that came into the big house ran straight into my arms and hugged me in the way that only a child can. What a sweet present, that toddlers told me that my Daddy was ok.

We asked God for comfort and he sent us friends.

It’s only been a week since my Dad died, and it hurts something fierce. But, time heals all wounds, and I honored my father while he lived. I will continue to honor him in this new transition.

I wrote his obituary. Here it is.

Attorney Ronald Sherman Samuels was born on June 17, 1941 in Chicago.  His parents, Peter Isaac and Lena Samuels, raised him to be a Christian, a man of strong moral fortitude and a force in the city’s political and legal communities. Ronald was one of seven children and came up in the Morgan Park neighborhood, where everyone simply called him Ronnie. He received Christ at an early age at Beth Eden Baptist Church, where his father was a deacon and today, much of the Samuels family still attends.

 

Ronnie, one of “the three babies” of the family, attended Esmond Elementary School and Morgan Park High School. His first job was as a paperboy, and he delivered to the nearby neighborhood of Beverly Hills. He determined that one day he would live there, in the area that at the time denied Black people the opportunity to purchase the pretty houses on the hill.

 

Ronald went on to graduate from Chicago Teachers College (now Chicago State.) He pledged Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated and was initiated on February 18, 1961. His line was known as “The Magnificent Seven” and he was called the “Beast of Iota.”    In 1969, Ronald graduated from the John Marshall Law School, finally fulfilling his destiny to become an attorney. He was known for his quick mind, dominating presence and biting humor, and those skills served him auspiciously as he entered private practice – becoming a partner with Washington, Kennon, Hunter & Samuels – and dedicated his life to helping the legally disenfranchised.

 

Ron wed the love of his life, his beauty queen and Chicago Public Schools teacher and librarian Melva Jean Bryant, on August 15, 1970. They had met at a party, where Ron impressed Melva, now a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, with his Kappa moves. Ronald also loved the Lord, and after wedding Melva – also of Morgan Park – he joined her family church: Mt. Hebron Missionary Baptist. There, on the West Side, he later became a deacon with his Christian service including being a church trustee and a Sunday School teacher. To boot, he loved driving his big burgundy Cadillac brougham – with Samuels on the license plate – to church on Sunday.

 

The fight for Civil Rights was a major concern for Attorney Samuels and as such, he provided legal counsel for Operation PUSH, the NAACP, the Morgan Park Local School Council, the Progressive and National Baptist Conventions, Church of God in Christ and the United Methodist Church in addition to being the chief trial attorney for Dr. Martin Luther King’s Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities. He was a key member of the election committees for Mayor Harold Washington, Cook County Commissioner Bobbie Steele and Appellate Court Justice William Cousins.  His work for the Leadership Council led to the landmark case – Holmgren vs. The West Side Times – that remedied certain housing discrimination issues in Chicago associated with “redlining” – a practice that denied mortgages to minorities.

 

Counselor Samuels played the leading roll in the Seaton v. Sky Realty case, which recognized racial discrimination as a tort. He became the first African-American supervisor in the Cook County States’ Attorney’s Office, where he also was chief of the Consumer Fraud Division under Bernard Carey. In 1982, along with the CCBA, he organized hearings on the conduct of the Chicago Police Department in what later became infamously known as the Jon Burge Case. He also represented the music group The Spinners.

 

From 1993 to 1995, Brother Samuels served as Polemarch of the Chicago Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi. Kappa League, for teens, was a cause close to his heart – as was the annual Kappa cook out. He served as president of the CCBA and was vice president of the National Bar Association for two terms, and a board member for seven years. (One of his beloved events was the annual Cook County Bar Auxiliary Christmas Party.) He was also a member of the American Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association and the American Trial Lawyers Association.

 

Ronald played as hard as he worked and he loved Melva’s family. He was a founding member of their family group, “The W-Right Connection.”  He helped to spearhead many reunions, parties and fundraisers.  He was a key part of many family trips, including excursions to Memphis, Acapulco and his forever favorite place, Las Vegas.  The family could always count on him to demand excellence and require that absolutely everything be “in writing.”

 

Ronald received many awards and served on many committees during his life of service. His awards alone are too many to name in this short space. His was a tough, enduring, intellectual love that accepted nothing but the best and pushed all in his circle to try harder and to be better and to always do what’s right. His love was also honest – straight, no chaser. He suffered no fools, but he loved to laugh – as evidenced by his booming baritone that frequently rang through the big house in Beverly during his legendary Bid Whist tourneys, Super Bowl parties and family meetings.

 

Ronald lived as a soldier for God. And this poem, used as the benediction at Beth Eden, eventually became his creed: “I must live with myself and so I want to be fit for myself to know… I don’t want to come to the setting sun hating myself for the things I’ve done.”

 

Ronald leaves a family of hundreds to celebrate his memory.

— Lovingly written by Adrienne P. Samuels Gibbs, the baby girl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Listening Party, Chicago-style, with Tyrese

Tyrese stopped through Chi Town last week on his multi-city listening tour. He played five songs off his new album for a packed, yet select, crowd at the Hard Rock Hotel. I heard part of the album before I interviewed Tyrese (earlier this summer) for his turn as the July cover boy for Ebony mag. The brother hasn’t lost his swag or his singing voice. The album features plain ol R&B and one or two club bangers. Tyrese said he wants there to be a distinctive difference between his love-making music and his dance music, hence the two easily discernible sounds on the album.

Free Heinekens made the rounds. I appreciated the beer, even though I don’t drink it. I also appreciate the Bulls player who shall go unnamed who let me and my fractured toe self (wearing a boot, to boot) crash his VIP table for the night.

As always, a picture (more tk once my cell phone charges back up.) And big ups to my friend Kev Ross, the EMI rep who pulled this swank event together.

From the mouths of babes: Community versus neighborhood

Lessons lie around every corner.

Just ask Mike, the Lindblom High School student who had the lucky dog privilege of working with artist Mark Bradford during Bradford’s residency in Chicago. Mike, a big guy with an easy smile, sat in a semi circle before a group of arguably Chicago’s most important arts patrons and very simply answered questions about his journey into art with the help of Bradford.

What is art? How does it affect him? What is community? How can art affect the community?

These and other questions were answered by Mike and his classmates as they sat on stage at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) wearing gym shoes, baggy pants, mini skirts and rain boots.  Most profound was Mike and his analysis of community versus neighborhood.

Your community, he argued, is the place you choose. The place where you belong. On the other hand, your neighborhood is the place where you just so happen to reside.Community and neighborhood are not synonyms.

Mike’s thoughts got a lot of people in that packed auditorium thinking – myself included – about community versus neighborhood. It also got me thinking about what I am doing to help turn my community into a real ‘hood. The thought process is a good exercise.

This was all within the context of a conversation about the impact of art and what can happen to kids once they are exposed to the tools that lead to great art. Mike, for example, decided to take pictures of the soles of shoes. His exhibit shows clean shoes, dirty shoes and shoes all between. The point, he says, is that you can learn somewhat of a person’s social class by the bottom of their shoes.

Some of the kids walk through gravel and train tracks and mud to get to school. Others get dropped off by their parents. Some shoes are worn through. Others are barely worn. Some are years old. Others are brand new.

The soles of shoes. From the mouths of babes.

Irish Day: Oh the memories…

My parents were the first black people to move into the South Side Chicago neighborhood of Beverly Hills. It’s a higher income, Irish Catholic area flanked by houses on hills, ancient oak trees and mansions that sit on major acreage for a city property. At the time, there was virtually no diversity “west of the train tracks.”

We lived on top of the hill, in a colonial style red brick home with a carriage house in the back that had been converted into a garage. We had several bedrooms, a fireplace and enough room – finally – for my piano. A grand piano. My neighbors had a ballroom on their first floor. A Frank Lloyd Wright house stood two lots down. A lovely children’s park was across the street and the best school in Chicago was a mere five block walk from my front door.

I was a baby when they moved in, but my sisters and brother tell me the stories of how the racism was extraordinary. And then, in 1985,  I remember going to church (on the West Side) on St. Patricks Day and returning home to find that our stellar neighbors had painted all over our storybook house with the following words: “Niggers go back to Africa.” They painted the windows too and they destroyed the white wooden columns in front of the house.

My parents house was  – and is – along the route of the Chicago Home Tour. This fact prompted Mayor Daley to ask my dad to remove the nasty words from the first, second and third floors of our hill-perched house. My dad, an attorney who was working with Harold Washington and Operation PUSH, said “hell no.” I’m paraphrasing, but essentially he said that if your cousins did it, your cousins should clean it.

To add insult to injury, Pops refused to cut the grass too. So when the home tour approached, the house looked ridiculous.  And I was still asking “Daddy, where’s Africa? Is that near Madear’s house? I thought we were from Chicago and you were from Michigan and Mommy was from Little Rock.”

I knew our neighbors didn’t like us. I knew the Irish boys would chase us home from school but I didn’t understand why. I simply ducked when they threw rocks and dodged when they pulled out their pellet guns. One time when I was practicing my piano, someone even shot into the window by my piano seat. I was home alone, waiting for my mom to get off work. It was pretty early, around 3 p.m. or so. And I got under my piano and stayed there until Mom got home. I was too terrified to move.

But I digress. Back to that home tour.

We went to church the Sunday before the tour and upon our return found city crews sandblasting our crib and repainting our columns. They even had cut the grass. Dad threatened to sue the city for tresspassing on personal property, but we all had to admit that they did a good job cleaning up the mess of their fellow countrymen.

Beverly got a bit better after that. I got to know our new neighbors, the Lanahans. They had a bunch of kids, and I’m pretty sure there were eight boys and a few girls. Patrick and Daniel decided that they would walk us home from school – even though they went to the Catholic school and we went to the public school. Their mom would sit on the porch and make sure we got in. And our other new neighbors, who I now know were Chicago mob bosses, also looked out – though at the time I didn’t understand why.

Still even with our new protectors, it was hard blending into Chicago’s Irish mecca. Even harder on St. Patrick’s Day, where the world’s largest parade would parade down my block, leading to more acts of drunken terrorism. Interestingly, now, the city has pulled the plug on Beverly’s parade. It had gotten to be too much- even for the Irish.  The only parade to be found now is downtown Chicago, with plenty of police.

And though the Lanahan boys (who grew up to be supa, dupa fine) tease me about going to the new parade, they know I never will. I’m not mad, but I’m all set.

City Stories: The wrong cab…

I got in a cab yesterday. At least, I thought it was a cab. To be honest, I was out there looking for a cab for about five minutes, the temperature was -3 and I was wearing a skirt.

A few cabs passed me by at first. They had passengers. Then, one backed up from down the street in from of a nearby college. He let down his back window and said “need a cab young lady?”

I was chilly so I jumped in the first cab that I saw. So far so good. 820 S. Michigan, I said. I’m going back to work. Well, two blocks into the cab ride I notice that the driver is listening to Between the Sheets by Marvin Gaye. Then I notice that the meter is not a meter at all, but a brightly lit radio face plate. Then I notice that there are no cab numbers inside the cab. No “welcome to Chicago” stickers, no medallion number and no little TV that tells you want to do and where to eat in Chicago. Plus, there’s no bullet proof glass between me and the driver.

This is unusual as most of the cabbies here are immigrants and usually, no matter the country of origin, NPR is usually what’s playing on the radio. And, my NYC friends, Chicago does not have jitneys.

I also didn’t have either one of my cell phones. Oy vey.

I jump out the “cab” at the next stop light. I toss him some dollars and run skip away. As he pulls off, I see a handicapped license plate and I don’t see that trademark “TX” on the plates that marks a registered cab.

Shaken, I start to think that I almost became one of those chicks who is the subject of Without A Trace. You know how we’re always wondering how smart, upwardly mobile, newlywed, pretty, happily engaged or on-the-cusp women sometimes disappear? And their friends say “Oh , she wouldn’t have left her husband or her babies or her mom.” And their coworkers say, “Such and such loved her job and she was so good at it.”

Well, I thinking that “such and such” could’ve been me. As I think back to the cab ride, I should’ve known something was up before I got in.

The R&B music was the first tip off. The lack of interior cab artifacts was the second.

My twitter friends said that someone must’ve been praying for me last night, since I was able to walk away from the cab. I won’t dispute that. I walked away, I’m not the subject of a Cold Case TV show and I will never get in a cab again without making sure it “reads right” on the inside.

Journalism: Lauryn Hill

She came. She sang. She killed it.

Lauryn Hill showed out in Chicago last night, er, early this morning. She brought her instrument – those pipes that are so full of promise. She sang Doo Wop, Killing Me Softly and everything else. The band was on point. The base player was really on point. The backup singers were lovely. The crowd was thick. And, she came on at 11:52 p.m. Showtime was listed as 11 p.m., so 11:52 was really good timing. She went on for nearly two hours.

The only downside is that the House of Blues is standing only – no seats. But as long as your wore your sneakers, you were straight. I still feel sorry for the ladies in stilettos. As for me and my house? We wore Adidas.

Journalism: Odd requests…

I’m on a listserv with several hundred journalists. One of the writers there posted an email, looking for help finding the press offices of several elected officials. She needed this information because she had just accepted a freelance assignment about an upcoming election. She said, in her email, that she has never covered politics before and didn’t want to tell the assigning editor that she had no contacts, so could the 1,000 people on this listserv please help her report and write her story.

Huh?!?!?!

She also signed this post with her name.

Bless her heart. It’s great to ask for help, but not a good idea to broadcast to a cast of a thousand competitors that you know not how to even do basic research for an assignment. Not to mention the fact that it’s pretty easy to Google electoral candidates…

Journalism: Heckling Sun-Times owner James Tyree at a business awards dinner?

James Tyree is a very rich man who just purchased the Chicago Sun-Times.

He was also the profiled speaker last night at the Peter Lisagor (Journalism) Awards in Chicago. The event was held in the old-school swanky Union League Club on West Jackson and was hosted by the Chicago Headline Club, which is the Chi-town chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists. I’m a newly installed member of the Board of Directors for the Headline Club, so I was excited to be at my first Lisagor awards dinner.

Just before we got our chicken and asparagus, Tyree started talking. The topic? Why he bought the Sun-Times, thanking the “thousands” who helped pull the extensive deal together and saying that we all need to be innovative in finding a new business model of survival in journalism.

It was interesting, actually. then some dude in the back of the ballroom starts booing. (!)

Whoa. So Tyree got South Side on him (!) and says (I’m paraphrasing here): do you want to ask me something directly? Because i don’t mind stopping my speech to answer your question.

The booer said nada.

Speech went on.

But the heckler kept heckling every four minutes or so.

It was very rude, disruptive and frankly, he should’ve been removed from the room. And frankly, I know some folk don’t like Tyree, but hell, if he hadn’t bought the Sun Times newspaper group, the majority of folks in that room wouldn’t have been in that room to receive their many, many awards.

I was at a table full of folk who work for the Daily Southtown, which is a local South Side and suburban newspaper. It’s also owned by the Sun-Times Media Group. The group I was sitting with? They were mortified at the booing. But Tyree handled it with style. Up until last night I didn’t know much about this man’s character. But now? I’m a fan. Anyone who doesn’t get ruffled by a heckler, doesn’t lash out, doesn’t cop an attitude, but calmly asks you “what is your problem? let me help you solve it” gets an A-plus in my book.

City Stories: Walking the Chicago Auto Show barefoot

Fisker. BMW. Audi. Toyota.

Thanks to a good friend, I was able to attend the charity night event of the Auto Show and see all of these beautiful cars up close and personal. We got dolled up in our finest heels and dresses, put on suitable makeup and walked the floor. It’s always fun to hitch a ride in a car worth a half a million dollars while you’re sipping on a glass of white wine and nibbling on chocolate dessert provided by a swanky Chicago restaurant.

Of course, walking the Auto Show in heels is a bit difficult. By the end of the night, many a woman in her couture dress was also barefoot, with Jimmy Choos dangling in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.

I most enjoyed the Fisker. I want to buy one of these when I grow up. I can’t remember the exact price tag, but it was something to the tune of $250,000. But hey, that’s cheaper than the Maybach!

Here are a few pix.