Inspired by C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the Staples Letters are a new series of essays in the South Side Weekly written in the form of letters from a veteran teacher, Staples, giving advice to a young teacher, Ms. T. All events in the Staples Letters are drawn directly from real-life experiences in Chicago schools, and names and identifying details have been removed in the interest of privacy. Though fictional in form, the letters are used to address a variety of issues in education, from quotidian classroom considerations to national policy.
It’s 1986 and I’m born on the South Side of Chicago. My mother Sharon’s a Chicagoan too—born in 1964…six years into her parents’ northern life. My grandma Pearlie Mae is born in 1942 in a Mississippi Delta town founded by formerly enslaved people. My great-grandmother Wyona’s the first of us to be born in the twentieth century and would be eleven when white women got the vote, forty-five when segregation fell on paper, and fifty-nine when Dr. King was shot. Her mother Trudy was born in 1887 just up the road in the town where WC Handy first heard the Blues. Her mother Lucinda was born in 1862, one year into a war that’d color the conscience and collective memory of a nation. Her mother Martha was born in 1820, part of the generation begging for that slouch toward justice and would be forty-one years old when it began.
The following is a reflection on the first anniversary of last year’s Black Friday protests over the police killing of Laquan McDonald. During the protest, marchers shut down the Magnificent Mile portion of Michigan Avenue, costing stores between twenty-five and fifty percent of their Black Friday revenue according to a Tribune estimate. The author, Loren Taylor, was born and raised on the South Side. He spent over twenty years living and traveling in Europe as a singer-songwriter before returning to Chicago in 2010. He currently volunteers with community organizations, including the Community Peace Surge and the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign.
This is a postscript to “Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice,” an essay on the one year anniversary of the Black Friday 2015 protests against the police killing of Laquan McDonald.
Revise the Psalm: Work Inspired by the Writings of Gwendolyn Brooks, edited by Quraysh Ali Lansana and Sandra Jackson-Opoku will be published by Curbside Splendor in January 2017.
She was a perfect little girl, or so she tried. Her mother always told her she had dreamed of two daughters but her firstborn was a son. Her mother could only afford two children on her husband’s factory-worker salary. SHE was born. Her second child was her hope. Her fantasized daughter became her mother’s ears and constant companion. Folks told the girl she was going to be a fine little wife. She swept the floor in compliance. In the time and town where she grew up “feminism” was an unknown word. It probably would have been thought to be a medical condition to be treated by a gynecologist, a male gynecologist.
My winter boots are soaked in gold; my toes tingle as I dip them into the puddle of light that pours from the lamp above. Miniature suns in golden boxes bob over the wooden boards of the “L” station—artificial suns whose heat sizzles in the cold. Mud and ice are caked into a trimming that borders the planks of the station, lining the edges of the benches and seeping into the crevices between the train tracks. It hasn’t snowed for a few days, but the gray afternoon clouds above are heavy, expectant reminders that the real sun hasn’t colored the light for a week or two.
My first venture into the workforce in 1972 was as a secretary for the City of Chicago, Department of Water and Sewers. I was offered this job during my senior year at Jones, as all seniors had to work a half day. When I started working for the City, my father helped me in the only way he knew how. It was normally my mother to whom we went for advice, sometimes to just talk things out. But I remember before I started my job at City Hall he told me to say “yes ma’am” and “yes sir,” when I was addressing the white people downtown. When my father advised me to show deference to the white people with whom I would come into contact with at my first job, the first thing that he was referring to was that old Southern, colored idea of inferiority that he believed I should consider when dealing with white people. In that moment, it struck me that no matter how cute or smart I thought I was, wearing my nice little dresses and stockings and shoes, plopping on a nice hat and pulling on gloves, my father thought that I still had to make sure I kept my place and didn’t disrespect the white people downtown.
The day had come. I was officially a man with the arrival of my bouncing baby boy. I planned on becoming the flawless all-American Sears dad dripping testosterone laced sweat like the Marlboro man. I had read all the books on single parenting, rearing disabled children, and Terry Brazelton’s volumes on child development. I wasn’t about to make any mistakes.