Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)

Readers provide their own takes on ‘how it used to be’

- JOHN W. FOUNTAIN author@johnwfount­ | @JohnWFount­ain

‘Iremember when Englewood had a Black policeman who kept the young men in check because they respected him and feared him because he had been a boxer. We need more like him,” a reader writes in response to my recent column that reflected on a time when Chicago neighborho­ods were kinder and gentler, and less plagued by gun violence.

“Then when I worked at the Bel-Air every Black person who came in had a flower on their lapel, red or white, in honor of their mother on Mother’s Day. I have wondered if they still carry this tradition on any longer because families have changed so much, Black and white. Nobody’s neighborho­od is the same as it was in our childhood.”

I agree. Still, I can’t accept that my old West Side neighborho­od and those on the city’s South Side, where innocent children are gunned down in the street, have to be this way.

Writes another reader: “Dear Mr. Fountain, An excellent column which mirrors my impression­s and experience­s in the early ’60s working at Bowman Dairy during summers while in college. I rode public transit from my home in Evanston and experience­d nothing but long, uneventful commutes.

“People were friendly and positive. As you noted, no guns, peaceful neighborho­ods. But now news of children being shot.

“…I have always wondered what caused such a catastroph­ic change. I tell my children and grandchild­ren that it wasn’t always like this, that too many good people are living in war zones. Keep telling this story. It’s important everyone understand­s it.”

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful note. My hope is that rememberin­g the way it was can remind us of the way it can be.

Another writes: “John, I have been a great admirer of your column and have written you numerous times. Today, as a white believer of justice and freedom, I was insulted by the last two paragraphs.

“I think the white community has been very active in recent marches that have been held as well as very supportive in donations. … The more columnists write things like you did today, the closer we will come to a race war.”

And what was it about what I said that so vexed? My last two paragraphs?

“But it doesn’t have to be this way,” I wrote. “I remember when the sun rose and fell, and nobody got shot. I remember when we understood that we’re all we’ve got.”

Let me explain: Black folk have always had white allies, even whites who risked life and limb to hide runaway slaves.


Even today, we embrace and celebrate the mobilizati­on and zeal of people, white and otherwise, now demanding justice for African Americans and declaring boldly, “Black lives matter.”

So please don’t mistake my call for selfempowe­rment as a slap to those of any race who would join us in our cause for equality and justice.

But at the end of the day, we’re Black. We’re the ones who have to live in this skin, come hell or high water. Our neighborho­ods are the ones riddled with gun violence. Our Black sons and daughters die in the street.

Whether the cavalry ever comes, we cannot afford to leave the fate of our families, communitie­s and our Black bodies to others.

I’m saying that in the same way Italians, Jews, Irish and others have taken the lead in protecting, promoting and providing for their people, so must we.

No one can save us but us. So let me say it again:

“We’re all we’ve got.”

As for instigatin­g a “race war,” this country doesn’t need my words. They have the president’s.

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