Monday, March 31, 2008

Lee Bey: The Urban Observer - Ida B...Gone

A few pictures of the now demolished Ida B. Wells housing project with some social commentary by Lee Bey. Here's a glimpse...
As I took these photos, groups of young men to the north of me--young brothers not unlike me as I grew up in the Avalon Park neighborhood in the 1970s and early 1980s--were engaged in trades of the underground economy.

"That's all you can do," I thought as I watched them. "They are getting rid of you, and you don't even have sense enough to figure it out."

Or maybe they have figured it out, but are helpless to do anything about it. A lifetime of rotten schools, stifled chances, and ill-kept public housing has left many of these young men with the only trade they can practice. They found a semi-skilled job that can't be outsourced or right-sized away. They work for a company that can't up and move its operations to India, China or the Sunbelt. The rest of us should be so lucky.

Yet I confess: My gut tells me that these are not reasons, but excuses--a sweet poison that tastes so good going down, but has devastating results. Black people have always had a tough time in this country. But our ancestors fought--often at extraordinary risk to their lives--to learn, to create, to advance, to build. Not just the people who make the history books, either. There is hardly a black person I've talked to over the decades who didn't have at least one family member who actively risked what he or she had in order to move up the ladder just a little bit more.

And then I think about the act of power, courage and protest that created black urban America in the first place: millions of southern African Americans who got tired of the defacto slavery conditions in the Jim Crow South and moved north to find jobs and opportunities. Along the way, they changed for the better the social and political landscape of this country and fought for freedoms that all Americans enjoy. But I wonder what they would say if they could see so many of their grandchildren and great grandchildren investing in 20" rims, rather than real estate; and fighting and dying over Buck 50 hats rather than equality, jobs and justice.

I know, I know. All black folks don't live this way. Black people today by-and-large are better-educated and financially better off than in previous years. But drive around some of the black neighborhoods in Chicago--better still, pay attention in a few months as we experience what my cop friends tell me could be a bloodier-than-normal summer--and tell me if there aren't also more people who are lost, left behind and dying.

It's time for a movement. Not a protest. Not another march. But a movement...

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