There are many memories that I have that are good … and some, not so good. I was the last of 7 children. We lived against an alley on 61st and Aberdeen. Though I was quite young, I can see it in my mind right now. It was a large house that was behind another house. Strangely, it had no grass whatsoever and it was quite old and a bit run down. But in my mind, it was home and it was perfect with all of its flaws. My mother took care of a couple of wealthy Jewish children during the day and my father was a boilermaker in Whiting, Indiana. Deep down inside he was a farmer and wanted to return to the farm. He didn’t want his family growing up in the city.
It was a tough time in Chicago then. There were gangs who wanted to recruit new members and my brothers were at that prime age. Thankfully, they escaped the violence and my oldest brothers, who were much older than me, went to Hales Franciscan High School. My brother, Donald Hubert, would pursue his dream and become President of the Chicago Bar Association and a mentor for that very school.
I remember one day I went out to the store to get some soda pop. (Funny how things are named in different parts of the country; I still laugh when I hear the word “soda pop’ on the few occasions that I have come home.) There was a tree at the end of the alley that we, in our young imaginations, thought came to life during the night and ate children. If I could make it back past that tree I would be safe. But under that tree on this day was a gang of young men. Now mind you I was one skinny black girl, I didn’t have any meat on my bones but there was one thing that I could do and that was run.
One of the young men said, “Hey lil girl, gimme that pop!” Now, I suppose I always had a fierce side, growing up with 5 brothers and only one sister and we didn’t hang really. I was tomboy to the heart. I hated dolls because they didn’t look nothing like me, so I was not a girly girl. I said to this young man, “My mamma didn’t give me no money for you to get no pop.” I regretted it the moment it flew from my little mouth. And I started running. Cut to the chase, and I don’t mean the play on words. I fell with that glass bottle of soda, it shattered all over me; thankfully, I got no cuts. No time to even think. I quickly got up and kept on running and never looked back to even see it they were still coming after me. Funny, it feels like I have been running for most of my life, defending myself for all of my life. Englewood was a tough place. I haven’t been back in many years, but having to defend myself — by myself — even back then would shape me into the woman that I am today.
It was, I suppose, the ghetto, but to me it was a neighborhood that had pride. Every Christmas, everyone on my block had a star and we all cleaned our [porches and stairs]. Something that is lacking today in our so-called society is community pride. Back then there was unity, everybody looked out for everybody’s kids, and it was truly a village. Some people would look down on where I came from. But I assume that’s why “the caged bird sings.” Because to the bird it is not in a cage, it is simply home. Englewood was my home, it shaped my young years and for that, I am forever grateful.