Harold Ickes News

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Round up at Harold Ickes Homes

Picture this: men and women in black from the gas mask helmets on their head to the heavy boots on their feet, carry artillery rifles and walk two by two through the Harold Ickes Homes. Some train their eyes on upper floors in the buildings, ready to fire. A special helicopter clatters above the scene to ensure no brave runners escape.

This was what the “round up” that took place at Ickes in October 2006 was like. If you never have been in a round up, you have missed a close-up chance to witness real warfare tactics.

These youths of the CHA Harold Ickes public housing development, pose with their National Teachers Academy teacher after their eight-grade graduation Ribbon Pinning Day in May 2007. Photo by Jacqueline Thompson

Over the past three years, families forced from Robert Taylor Homes and Stateway Gardens have moved to Ickes, but so have the poorest, the sickest, the homeless and the most downtrodden victims of illegal drug use and trafficking. As the two, now extinct developments mentioned above were torn down, illegal drug traffic grew at Ickes.

Children attending the National Teachers Academy (NTA) saw users and sellers cutting through the forecourt between Ickes and the El stop on Cermak Road. The children “learned” who the trespassers were, and why they came through their play area. The children openly talked about it: “There they go, you know…”

Apparently this activity was known to the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, and it is most likely why they were in the forecourt of the school on the morning of the raid.

I spoke to some adults about the raid. They all wished to remain anonymous. One said “Some of the apartment doors at 2222 [S. State Street] had been busted into just before the children could leave for school.” Another told me, “They were searching 7- and 8-year-old kids, snatching children at random from groups and questioning them.”

Even the adult kitchen staff was accosted by the armed SWAT team. One said, “I don’t expect to get a gun put to my face when I get to work.” Another told me, “There was no warning that I would have to be questioned by the heavily armed Cook County SWAT team members.”

Then some of the children themselves spoke out: “They searched me this morning; they had the rifle on my leg. It scared me.” Other children were distracted by all the activity. They kept using the washroom, they just couldn’t stop. At 12:45 in the afternoon they were looking out of windows to see if the police were still outside, wondering what to could expect when they were released from school. Some were in a daze.

One student, Vadial Kimber, who came to school from outside of Ickes, told his mother Mrs. Christine Kimber, “The officer put the gun in my face, he looked hard and then-I guess he saw that I was a kid-then he moved aside and let me pass along.” She asked him was he scared and he said, “Yes, I was scared and shocked.”

Two days after the raid, I was able to talk to Mrs. White, a teacher’s assistant at NTA who was still fuming at the outrage of the tactics.

Residents’ Journal: Mrs. White, you seem to be upset by the visit from the SWAT team.
Mrs. White: I am, I’m still infuriated. They had no right to upset these little children the way they did. I was really worried about some of them. They just couldn’t settle down.
RJ: What were some of the other teachers experiencing?
MW: The same things, frequent washroom trips, not much concentration in the lower grades.
RJ: Did you have problems coming in?
MW: When I drove down 23rd Street, my son asked me “What’s going on down here?” I couldn’t really answer him just then. I don’t even think they did the Dearborn [Homes] like this. They didn’t show up at 4:30 in the morning. I thought I saw snipers on the roof and paddy wagons pulled up to the back of 2250 [S. State] blocking the entrance. I’ll never forget this.

I hope they don’t have to repeat the job they did today. However, my hope for the future could not erase the sheer look of anger and frustration in Mrs. White’s eyes.

“I can understand why they did what they had to do, but they involved the little children?” she asked.

There was no official notice to the community of the success or failure of the “round up.” But they must have succeeded in some way because the illegal drug traffic did thin out and the stairwells are once again vacant, and passable. How long? Who knows?

The End of the Sunday Night Steppers Set
At least ten years ago, “Ol’ School” Roy Sanders began playing CDs in the back of the Ickes buildings at 2240-2250 S. State Street during summer holidays, including a few families from both buildings who would be outside barbequing for the celebration.

From this simple beginning, the popular “Summer Sunday Steppers Set” grew to the delight of the Ickes adult population who could relive the “ol’ school” music and see old friends. A concrete area once used as a sprinkler system for children became the first designated dance spot.

With more space for dancing, the popularity of the set grew by leaps and bounds. It became a regular Sunday outing for families, who brought lawn chairs, small barbeque pits, beverage coolers and children. Then the space ran out, which was not a bad thing, because adjacent to the concrete sprinkler area was our fabulous basketball arena, complete with bleacher seating and plenty of dance space.

The next step was to “take the show on the road,” just a few feet across the back fire lane. When this happened, more thoughtful planning took place. Advertisement by word of mouth allowed Ickes residents to build excitement. The dance’s new popularity had grown into a weekly reunion celebration for individuals and whole families, some of whom had moved away. It was an ideal setting to meet and greet other families of friends and relatives.

Signature nights and special events enhanced the gatherings. Apparel Night, White Night and ’70s Night (I wore a red wig and silver platform shoes for ’70s Night) drew hundreds of participants. One night, nearly 500 came and signed letters for the troops in Iraq, and all participants wore military fatigues. Another evening, two horses danced the electric slide-you had to be there to see it. Dance contests, video shoots and Hip Hop brought the events into the 21st century.

And then it happened. The Summer Sunday Steppers Set was shut down with a show of force by the Chicago Police Department. It came as a total shock.

The evening CPD shut it down, the weather was perfect. The plan to have the second White Night was being fulfilled as volunteers adorned the arena fence in white to enhance the video that was to be shot that evening, in August 2006.

“That’s when a few policeman approached me and told me we would have to eliminate the white paper from the fence,” Roy Sanders told me.

RJ: What happened after that?
RS: Nothing right away, the people were arriving all dressed in white, happy, upbeat, ready to party.
RJ: And then what happened?
RS: Next thing I knew, police cars began to roll up into Ickes in great numbers, I didn’t know what to expect or why it was happening.
RJ: I did see you and the other DJs talking with the police lieutenants and sergeants. However, I couldn’t hear the conversation. What did they tell you?
RS: That we would not be able to have our regular Summer Sunday Night Steppers Set that night or any other night until further notice. And when I questioned why, they just said that they had orders from their superiors to shut down the set because we had no DJ permits or permission to hold the Sunday set.
RJ: Did you have any prior knowledge that something of this nature would take place?
RS: No. However, about a week before, I was notified in a letter given to me by a Chicago police officer to come to a meeting at 2400 S. State, with the Ickes manager Ms. York, Ms. Sandra Harris, Mr. Gil Walker and others. They told me of their concerns about the sets, and they felt like although it was a “nice” program, it was growing too large and that it created a risk factor because so many people were involved, and what if something happened.
RJ: What were you able to tell them?
RS: I agreed with them that the success of the set was growing but since no money was generated by them, we could not buy insurance. I did, however, suggest that we may put the question of insurance to the participants so they could donate a small fee each time so we could support an insurance plan.
RJ: What decision did they make about continuing?
RS: They did not tell me to stop having the set yet. They did say I could go with the next one, which was the one where we were shut down.
RJ: Did the LAC have input into the existence of the set?
RS: Yes, Mrs. Gloria Williams was in hospital at the time of the meeting I had with CHA housing representatives. However, there was a report filed by her office that gave us permission to hold the set, which they had.
RJ: I was at the scene that evening. People were walking around in a daze of disbelief, anger and frustration. The police manpower was overwhelming. There were 26 squad cars, seven unmarked cars-each with three occupants-and two paddy wagons lined up in what is known as “a show of force” to shut down an event that started small 12 years ago, and became a big annual summer festival created in Ickes as a peaceful cultural statement.
RS: The day after it happened, I was summoned to another meeting by members of the same group that I met with before the shut down. They just wanted me to know that they did not have anything to do with what happened involving CPDs show of force the night before.
RJ: Do you have plans to start up the Summer Sunday Night Steppers Set again, if you can get all the things you need, permits, licenses and insurance?
RS: I have no problem with that. I cant fight [the powers that be], but Ill still always try to do things to help out in the community.Heres hoping the community can support itself with decent programs for families in the future.

National Teachers Academy News
The fifth graduation of the National Teachers Academy (NTA) at 55 West Cermak Road took place on June 11, 2007. Most of this years graduates have been studying at NTA for the past four years, and have become a group focused on the realization that they are college bound.

I spoke with two NTA teachers, Valerie Battiest and Donna Thigpen, who have been teaching at NTA since its inception and are close to realizing the full impact of the extraordinary educational opportunities students have had at NTA to date.

It has been an exciting year for both teachers and students. The students have become caretakers of each other. They offer to help each other when it becomes evident help is needed and welcomed. As individuals, they request one-on-one tutoring from their teachers without shame. They take ownership for their learning.

They show conscientiousness and responsibility toward their homework as a group. The boys have developed a response to classroom participation by eagerly showing what they know.

Despite four different principals, staff and employee turnover and curriculum changes for the initially experimental school, both Battiest and Thigpen, with the help of other eighth grade teachers, L. James, and Michael Lamb, have almost reached the original goal of the new school: to train each graduating student to develop a new and lasting awareness of the importance of their own growth and interest in their own personal educational foundation. “They behave like they have been pampered,” one teacher said.

The teachers’ facial expressions revealed the joy of teaching as they talked about how some of the students may be the first in their families to graduate from eighth grade.

What a great example to set for one’s family! Congratulations Class of 2007, teachers, other contributing staff and Mrs. Fisher, the student support coordinator who has personally attended to the social and emotional wellbeing of the majority of this group during NTA’s opening.

NTA Health Clinic Grows
During the summer of 2006, the health clinic for students and their siblings at National Teachers Academy grew from a school healthcare center into a community health care center with state-of-the-art facilities and three examining rooms. The clinic hired Ernestine Stevens, a Family Practice Nurse Practitioner, to see people across the whole life cycle, including adults. Visits started in February 2007. Currently, her first priority is seniors 55 and older. They can call the clinic at 312-326-4472, to make an appointment to be seen right inside the school.

Future plans to service mothers and babies are being developed as of this writing. More information will become available as it is given.

Mary Kay Foley remains the pediatric nurse practitioner for all the community’s children at the NTA clinic.

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