One Man Giving Back to the Community

by Quintana Woodridge 

Many people have been known as the ‘greatest’ for the work they have done in their communities and on the TV screen. One who will always be remembered is “Rocky.” He is one of television’s most known fighters. No matter how bad “Rocky” was beaten, the crowd would cheer him on and he’d win the boxing match in the end.

Members of Doing Our Part meet in the lobby of the Ida B. Wells Extension Homes.
Photo by Quintana Woodridge

Some people say the same for Bernard “Bo-Da” Clark. Clark is a former resident of Ida B.Wells Extension Homes and a former employee of the Chicago Housing Authority’s CADRE (Combating Alcohol and Drugs Through Rehabilitation and Education) program. When CADRE ended in 2000, so did the programs he mentored for young people out of the CADRE office.

Bernard Clark, fellowship member of Doing Our Part.
Photo by Quintana Woodridge

Clark got a new job at the Centers for New Horizons so he could continue encouraging young people to use their talents to stand up for a better community and to build a bridge of communication between youths and adults. But just when things seemed to be going well, Clark’s operations took a blow; the office where he worked closed and consequently, the programs ended. However, that didn’t stop Clark. He continued to work in the community with a program called Inspiring Youth. Although Clark hoped that this would become a long-lasting program, it soon ended as well, leaving the young people and the adults involved furious at the loss of yet another community program.

I interviewed Clark to find out what keeps him coming back to the community where he has lived for over 30 years and also to find out how he got the nickname “Bo-Da?”

Residents’ Journal: How many Chicago Housing Authority programs did you participate in as a youth?

Bernard Clark: I don’t remember CHA having programs as a youth. I started organizing some of the guys to clean up the community and started coaching sports to the young guys when I was 16 years old.

RJ: When did you start working for CHA?

BC: I started working with CHA in 1993 with CADRE and other CHA programs like Summer Food, Midnight Basketball, Mama Said, Wells Community Initiative, Youth Power and Just Say Know.

RJ: What are Just Say Know and Youth Power?

BC: Just Say No (Know) is a national program that teaches young people to say no to drugs. I changed the “No” to “Know,” because Knowledge was more important. If young people knew the reason for not doing drugs, they wouldn’t want to use them. Youth Power is a youth-implemented program that the young people in the community headed. The youths started Grandparents Day, Red Ribbon, Hands Around Wells, and Kwanza Celebration.

RJ: What is it that keeps you coming back to help young people in the community?

BC: I always believed it was a blessing of God. The young people in the community are important. They are the present and the future. I just wanted to give them hope. They inspired me too as they worked together to make positive things happen.

RJ: Do you feel the programs that closed down would have helped make the new Oakwood Shores (formally Ida B. Wells/Madden Park) a better community?

BC: It would have helped if the CADRE, Mama Said, Midnight Basketball, CHA Choir, and Youth Power programs could have transitioned with the change of the buildings. You can’t just build new buildings and not continue to build the character in the people.

RJ: If you could start your own program, what would it be like?

BC: My dream is to have a program that would combine youths interacting with adults and seniors to gain an understanding on what the community should be. My wife Latonia Clark – also a former Ida B. Wells resident – and I are working on starting a program by the name of Off the Edge with our own money and we are working on getting funding. The purpose of the program is to bring old and new residents, youths and adults, together to make Oakwood Shores a great community.

RJ: Are you affiliated with any programs at this time?

BC: I am part of a fellowship by the name of Doing Our Part (DOP). DOP consists of me and another brother by the name of Jack Carter praying with the men young and old. We talk to them about stepping up to make a change in their lives and community, so they can be the men God intended them to be.

RJ: Who do you credit for your accomplishment?

BC: To God goes the glory for all that he has allowed me to accomplish.

RJ: How did you get the name “Bo-Da?”

BC: When I was younger, I played basketball. I would elbow people when I rebounded the ball and had a left hand shot like Dave from the New York Nicks.

I also spoke with Kierra Winter, Mardell Scott, Kierra and Anthony Whitehead, Kelly Griggs and Kelly Woodridge – a few of the young people who were inspired by “Bo-Da.” “He was like a father for the youths in the Just Say Know program. I’m glad to have been part of the programs like Grandparents Day and Red Ribbon March,” said Kierra Winters.

Mardell Scott said, “He was a great sports coach and encouraged me to stay in school. I participate in the prayer circle every Friday with the program that Mr. Clark is affiliated with.”

“It made me mad when Inspiring Youth program ended. I miss hanging with my friends from the program. I also learned basic art, basic photography, creative writing skills and how to D.J.,” Kierra Whitehead said. She added that “With the proper funding, these programs would have been around for more young men and women who could have been helped by Mr. Clark or others with the skills to help the community.”

Anthony Whitehead said, “Learning to be a D.J was my favorite part. I wish the program would never have ended.”

“Bo-Da to me stands for Bernard Clark being a strong Black leader and organizer, an intelligent educator to young people, a protective father figure to all he comes into contact with, and most of all a fighter for all residents to have a voice,” commented Kelly Woodridge.

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