Wells on the Rise

by Annie R. Smith 

“We howl about discrimination exercised by other races. Unmindful, that we are guilty of the same thing. The spirit that keeps the Negro out of the colleges and places him by himself is the same (spirit)that makes a colored man run excursions with a separate car for our white friends. Provides separate seats for them when they visit our concerts, exhibitions, etc. Prompts the colored barber, hotel keeper and the like to refuse accommodations to their own color.”

That quote was given by Ida B. Wells when she was 24 years old in the late 1880s. It was true then and, to some degree, that truth still holds. That quote was also recited at the first Ida B. Wells Day on June 14, 1997, in the Madden Park Field House, 3800 S. Rhodes Ave.

Old and new faces marched through the community chanting, “What day is it? WELLS DAY.” They sang old marching tunes of the ‘60s, new tunes with a rap beat and asked people to come out and join us.

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4), state Rep. Lou Jones (D-Chicago), CHA Economic Development Director Ron Carter, Central Advisory Council President Artensa Randolph, Wells CADRE director Bernard Clark and Wells LAC President Sandra Young as well as CHA Police Department officers and staff members from Sustainable Communities were just a few who helped us celebrate Wells Day.

NIGHTMARE AT 37TH AND LANGLEY

Looking at my watch for the third time within a matter of seconds made my journey seem to be everlasting. It’s 1 a.m. Sunday.

Walking up to the water fountain at 37th Street in Ellis Park was a well-lit area. But what scared me was that the lights across the street in the Wells development were out. Every single one of them. Not even a light came from the moon nor anyone’s apartment. How could this be true? No moonlight. How was I to see where I was going. Ahhh! I found a light. Just as I was approaching the lit area, I noticed that the light was the same light above the water fountain. I had traveled in a circle. I hadn’t gone anywhere.

I looked at my watch and found it to be the same time as it was the last time I looked at my watch. 1 a.m. I figured I shouldn’t go toward the light.

I wanted to go home, 706 E. Pershing Road. How am I supposed to get out of this darkness? I’ll feel my way out. I’ve been through this part of Wells thousands of times. I know I can do it. As I proceeded into the darkness, I heard heavy breathing. More of a panting than a breathing. I began to quicken my steps going in and out of back yards. As I walked through the gloom and darkness, I heard three sets of footsteps. Two sets of those footsteps were not mine. What I thought to be a passing stranger was now following me. I stopped and ducked into a vacant hallway. The footsteps passed by where I was hiding and all I saw was a shadow with what looked like a long black tale. What could that be? I became frightened and I wanted to hide but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hide without my assailant coming back to find me draped in fear.

I waited ‘til the shadow passed and I began my homeward journey. As I thought about who could be following me, I noticed a light. Slowly I tip-toed toward the welcome sight. I can’t believe that I’m in the same area I started out in. Listening for my predators, I noticed faint footsteps in the distance.

This time, I decided to use a little strategy. I watched and waited in hiding to see my stalker. I positioned myself as to give who or whatever the opportunity to be seen.

“What the hell is that?” I asked myself.

Coal shiny black fur, standing five feet from the top of the head to the ground, eyes that glowed bright red, and a tail at least four feet long. A giant black panther was stalking me. Not two people but one big kitty. I stood in the shadow area hoping the black panther couldn’t see me or smell the fear that leaked from every pore in my body. The cat passed the area where I was standing. He whisked by me with such speed that I was slightly pulled out of my inconspicuous hiding spot. I was in disbelief as the fat cat hurried by. I knew he was coming back and HE would truly find me shaking with fear. I decided to make a run for it. Which way would I go? Certainly not toward the light but I know whatever path I take, I’ll wind up in this same area.

I began to make a break for my freedom. Just as I felt like I was getting somewhere, there came the light. I thought, “Maybe I should go across the street to the well-lit area.” So I cautiously left my shadowy area and approached the curb. Just as I walked up to the curb, the panting and footsteps were now on me. I turned around and came face-to-face with a black panther whose head was the size of a male lion with a full-grown mane. The huge cat stood on his hind legs and made a leap for me. I froze. I couldn’t move. But I screamed and just as I let out my wail, I was awakened by fright. Sweaty and breathing hard. That dream came to me time and time again.

THE BEGINNING OF A NEW DAY

But today, as we marched past that location where the nightmare took place, I wasn’t afraid. In fact, I chanted with a resounding voice as I passed the area, as if to say I’ve confronted my fears. For the first time, I finally found out that where the light was, I was supposed to be. And today, with pride I walked the path that was ever so often pitch black in my dreams. For the nightmare was now over. Today I had with me a group of people who were not afraid and were ready for battle. Today, not even a big cat could defeat the Wells community in their fight to reclaim their community.

WHO FANNED THE FLAME

People who had at one time lived in the community came back just to help us celebrate Wells Day. Bonnie Clark, an evangelist and singer, came out with her daughter and both sang songs of inspiration. (She is not a resident of Wells.)

Artensa Randolph had a previous engagement at Operation PUSH but she felt that our ceremony was more important, so she marched with us. Even though she stayed in the van, she was there to give the Wells community support.

We walked to Ida B. Wells’ home, 3624 S. King Drive, and stood on the very steps where Ida B. lived. We thanked Lou Palmer, whose house is on the same block as the Wells Mansion, for having some of the residents of Wells on his radio talk show on June 9. The show got many responses from the listening audience.

Singers, dancers, recitals, vision statements, motivational speakers and concerned citizens participated whether they lived in Wells or not. That made all our efforts worthwhile.

The Strategic Planning Committee put Wells Day together. They are a group of residents who have made it up in their minds that they are going to reclaim the community. Taking it back one day at a time and taking back what once belonged to them.

A youthful protestor urges Wells residents to unify during a recent march in that community.

Yes, Wells does belong to the residents. Not the drug dealers, organized crime lords, winos, Public Aid Department or CHA but to us, the residents that care. Our community can only be a representation of its residents. And we in the Wells community feel it’s time to make a change.

We are the first housing development in Chicago to recognize and honor the person that our complex was named after. We know we have a fight on our hands and we are ready for battle.

Just like Ida B. Wells, who called the middle class to task upon occasion for refusing to help those who are less fortunate. We have that same call but it’s not just with the middle class. It’s with all walks of life. Yes, we need help from the residents of Wells, CHA, PUSH, Mayor Daley, Gov. Edgar, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the like are all welcome to fight with us.

Regardless of the size and color of the fight, we are geared for battle. We will not fail. We know that in the Wells community, justice and tranquillity will once again prevail.

We know that GOD is on our side and through Him, all things are possible, even delivering the Wells community out of the dismal state of iniquity and bringing about morality, goodness and strength. We have the power. We must keep the faith and keep working toward a better tomorrow. For in the end, those who fought a good fight and stood tall will be victorious and the community will reap many benefits from their bravery.

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