Hasan’s Story: Escaping the Bosnian-Serbian War 1994

by Storyteller Sue O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 When former Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, war broke out across the region. Hasan, a Muslim, was a college student in 1992 when the siege against his city, Sarajevo, began. He joined the Army of Bosnia but would do anything to escape and live in peace and freedom. A few of his many adventures are detailed in this excerpt as well as his victory in studying Islam and rediscovering his identity when he came to the United States.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Hasans-Story-Escaping-the-Bosnian-Serbian-War-1994

Discussion Questions:

  1. What led to the break up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s?
  2. What would you do to escape a war? Could you leave your friends and family?
  3. What kept Hasan’s and his friend’s hopes alive?
  4. How has hardship helped you define who you are?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Immigration
  • Interfaith
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Sue O’Halloran. I’m going to tell you a story that’s an excerpt of a longer story. A story about the war that broke out in former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. This is a story of my neighbor, Hasan. Now I’m going to say it as if Hassan were speaking to you in the first person. I do not do a Bosnian accent, believe me, but I want to get a little flavor of Hassan’s speech and most of all the spirit of my dear neighbor. So here’s a little bit of Hasan’s story.

I remember first day of siege. I was in college back then, 21 year old. It is March 4, 1992 and I wake up and I hear my father’s voice out in the living room. “What is going on?” I have to tell you, my father is the type, never late for work, never miss a day of work. He never call in to say he’s sick. I walk out to living room, sleepy and this is how my father greet me. “The whole city is blacked out. People are running around with machine gun. You can’t go anywhere.”

I sit down. I watch TV. We watch TV together. We watch our neighbors absolutely flipping out. Jus-just the night before, my friend, Christian, he was at our house. We are school friends, right. We are hanging out. And next morning he is in Serbian army whose job is to annihilate us Muslims. We listen to TV anchorperson say now our country, Bosnia, it is part of Greater Serbia and Greater Serbia must be cleansed of Muslims and Croats enemies. What, yesterday we are citizens, coworkers, neighbors, and today we are enemies? What has happened? What has changed? We still look the same. We have same skin, it is white. We have two eyes, we have mouth, we have legs, we have arms. What is different? What has changed?

Well, the shelling, it continued all day long. By us is a hospital for babies and one moment it is a hospital of dead babies. Who could do that? The children, of course, they don’t understand; to them, ah, it is day of school off, right? By us, across the street from our apartment, is a hill. The children are sledding on the hill and we hear screams. And we run to the window and there on our street is…is seven dead children in our street. The shelling, the sniper bullets could come out of nowhere. You’re standing line. Now there are lines for everything! Line to buy water, line to get some food, line to get some wood.  And all of sudden shelling or, or, or bullets come out of nowhere and suddenly the 20 people in front of you are dead. You are next in line but you, you are standing there spared, somehow. You understand, we cannot make sense of this.

It took us a while to understand what was going on. We thought it couldn’t happen to us. Finally, I join army of Bosnia. For three long winters, army of Bosnia, we, we hold our city, Sarajevo. Is mystery to me, how we hold that city. We are exhausted. We are, we are no food. We are, we are, we are hungry. We are, we are just tired.

In other unit, a story circulate. We hear a story of an unbelievable suicide. This other unit, they’re holding strategic mountain by Sarajevo. They, like us, no food, no water for days. They’re trudging up snowy mountain, getting up high in mountain. They’re covering, they’re carrying the little packs of things they have left. When a pack horse walks to the edge of the cliff and jumps. The soldiers stood there stunned. And finally, one of them say, “Even the horses can’t take it anymore.”

This is how I feel. This is what I try to tell my parents one Sunday night. I am 24 years old and I tell them my grand scheme. I am leaving. They have one comment for me. “You are out of your mind! How will you get out of here?” they say. “The whole region is at war and our own people could shoot you for deserting the army!”  “I don’t care,” I say. “I do not care. I have got to get rid of these pictures that are in my mind. These pictures that are driving me crazy. I have to leave!”

Long story, my friend, Dino, who is also in army, he leaves with me. We sneak out of tunnel. We get out of city, which is blocked. No way in, no way out. We find way out through tunnel and when we emerge from that tunnel, there before us like big, dark, black wall in the night is Mount Trebević, where just six years before Olympic athletes are skiing, the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. Oh, so much joy on Mount Trebević! So much, much pride we have! The whole world is watching us host the Olympics and now Mount Trebević is surrounded by death.

Later, long in story, I tell you many more adventures. Almost caught, almost turned in, lying, hiding, cheating, whatever we can do to escape. And finally, we are crossing border.  Finally, months later, out of Bosnia into Croatia. We are trying to get to town of Split on the sea side. Maybe we can get out of area from there. We are going there at nightfall. And as we approached the city at nightfall, we see…lights…lights. We are without lights for over three years. We are without electricity. So, so, so long.  How I tell you? Speechless. Is like night stars fallen to the ground. Light exist. Light exist. I keep saying to myself, light exist. You see, it is like we are living in a cage in Sarajevo and you cannot believe. All existence has stopped outside that cage. You cannot think to yourself that out there somebody is going to eat normally in a restaurant or slept in beds or are going to the office or having a picnic in the park. But if light exists, see to me, that means if light exists that means life exists.

But the magic it start to fade, a bit. We get into Split and there are written on the buildings as graffiti, “Kill Muslims. Death to Muslims.” We are not at war anymore with Croatia but it’s still not a very safe place for us to be. But good luck. We find out that Dino, my friend, his cousin lived in Split.

We are able, long story again, to find our way to his apartment. We get there. It is covered with people. Wall to wall refugees, men, women, children. I do not care. I find a little piece of floor; I fall on it. I am going to sleep for days if I can. When this woman come next to me asked me where we been. I do not want to tell her whole story, months of escape, right? So I mumble a few words and then she asked me where we think we’re going. I don’t know where we’re going. Every step of the way, I didn’t know what comes next. I didn’t know where we were going but I say to her, “We go to United States.” Just to get rid of her, you know, so I could go to sleep. She said, “Oh, well that’s what I manage.” And I’m half asleep, now I’m thinking, what this woman manager store or something why is she telling me this? Why won’t she leave me alone? I want to sleep. And then she say, “I manage the office that sends Bosnian refugees to the United States.”

I am awake now. This is first person I meet in Split? The person who can get me legally to the United States?  And that’s how it worked. A Jewish organization sponsor me and Dino to come to America. You know, Jews and Muslims, we have had long history together. Like in 1400’s both of us pushed out of Spain. Well, during this war when the Serbian army set fire to libraries and other buildings, it is Muslims who run into the synagogue to save the sacred and priceless Jewish text. And now it is a Jewish organization sending me and Dino to America.

When I look back on it all now, over three years fighting a war, over three months escaping, I can’t say that good did not come out of it. I am here. My family is safe. We are in America and we are safe. And strangely enough, it is the haters who made me realize who I am. In Bosnia, I, I don’t know much about my village. I’m not that interested. But as the war and coming to the U.S. I start to get curious about my background. Why people hate me? Who are we anyway? And in U.S. I study Islam. And I find a mosque where I can study with other people, which is a good thing because Islam, I tell you, it is a religion of much discipline. It helps to help other people teaching, you practice with. And our mosque, our mosque join with Christian church and Jewish synagogue and we meet every week, six years now, to understand each other. We are becoming friends. And I can tell you it is better to live your life in community.

I…I am one of the lucky ones.

Guatemala 1993: When Hope Is Rekindled

 

Story Summary:

Susan takes her young adult sons to Guatemala to be inspired by the Catholic clergy, religious and lay people working for justice there. Her own idealism is challenged as she hears stories of the atrocities people are suffering because of Guatemala’s civil war. A moment of grace and wisdom from the Mother Superior restores her sense of hope and dedication.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Guatemala-1993-When-Hope-is-Rekindled

Discussion Questions:

  1. What role do private agencies, such as churches, play in advancing the cause of social justice?  How much of their work is about poverty, how much about justice, how much about evangelism or are these ideas/situations completely enmeshed?
  2. When the nun says the children’s “future is very bright” and “We are doing something about the causes,” to what is she referring and do you agree?
  3. What cultural differences made this Guatemalan journey seem initially “hopeless” to this American storyteller? How did her perceptions change?

Resource:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi! My name is Sue O’Halloran and this is an excerpt from a longer story called “Moments of Grace.” In 1993 I took my two sons Terry and Preston to Central America, to Guatemala. They were young adults at the time and we were going to visit the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA). It was a group to which I had donated for many years. Now when we arrived in Guatemala, they had already been involved in a civil war for 33 years. It was a war between the government (partially imposed by U.S. intervention) and so-called rebels who were fighting to get their democratic government back. So this is an excerpt from that longer story.

Day 3 – The first sighting of the village we were going to visit was a steel windmill all shot up. It looked like somebody had used it for target practice. Oh, the villagers, they were so great to us! They sang songs; they fed us tamales! They sent us home with huge baskets of colorful vegetables even though they had very little to eat themselves.

And on the way home, I asked Bob, the director of CFCA about that shot-up windmill. And he told me that the Christmas before, the government had come in looking for a Communist rebel, they said, shooting, and just to make sure they got the right man! And (at) that village we had just visited and a nearby village, 22 of the fathers had been killed!

Day 4 – Instead of a field trip, we went down the hill to work on the addition to the orphanage. We were joined by men from neighboring mountain villages, some who had walked 7 hours through the night to get there! The men had come to work on that orphanage, their one day off, knowing full well that one day their own children might live there.

Day 5 – We went to visit the teacher training center that CFCA helps to fund. And when you walk into the classrooms, there’s these photographs over the doorways and I thought, oh, graduating teachers, probably. And it turns out, it was true but these were pictures of graduating teachers who had already been killed. Teaching Mayan Indians to be self-sufficient whether that was to read or repair cars was just too threatening to some people in Guatemala who wanted to keep things exactly the way they were.

Day 6 – New Year’s Eve Day, December 31. Every morning when I came out of my dorm room, Leslie would be in the courtyard to greet me. Leslie was the 9 year old daughter of our van driver Martin. And that morning she ran into my arms and I hugged her and I asked that stupid, adult question! “Leslie, what do you want to be when you grow up?” thinking she would say something like an artist because she really loved to draw. But she looked up at me and with this great certainty in her voice, she said, “I want to be a teacher.”

I thought about all of those photographs I’d seen the day before! The picture of those martyred teachers and I burst into tears. I had no idea how really upset I was ‘til that moment. And I hugged her tight and I said, “No cuidado, Leslie! No sea un maestro!” Leslie, be careful! Don’t be a teacher! They kill teachers here!

How do you change things! I mean, we had been in Guatemala less than a week and I already… I was  starting to lose it! I knew it! I needed some guidance, some wisdom. I went to find my new friend, the Mother Superior, the elderly woman who was the head of the sisters at the convent. And I went down the hill and, sure enough, she was in the convent kitchen cooking up a big fry pan of rice and beans for the men who had come to work on the orphanage that day. And I sat down in her kitchen and I told her all that was heavy on my heart and I just pleaded with her, “Help me understand, sister!”

And she said, “Oh, Soo-see (that’s what she called me, Soo-see), the future’s very bright for these children. The ceasefires last longer; they spend more time in school. They come to us having been beaten or half-starved or seeing their parents killed right before their eyes and they can hardly talk. And then a year or two years later, they’re singing in the choir. They’re standing in, up in front of the whole liturgy and they are reading, Soo-see! Reading!”

And I said to her, “I know, sister, I work as a teacher. I’ve seen incredible changes in my own individual students but, I mean, how do you get the causes, all the reasons things are going on here! The way the government is set up, the gap between the rich and the poor, the powerful, the powerless! I mean, what do you do about that, sister?” I said. “I came here bringing my boys. I wanted to have them be inspired by people who were working for justice but now I realize that I wanted something for myself. I’m running out of hope!”

“Oh, Soo-see,” she said, “you do not give up hope! We are doing wonderful things for these people!”

I said, “But the causes, sister!”

She said, “We are doing something about the causes!”

And I said, “What!” And as soon as I heard my voice, I felt so rude. I mean, here’s this sister, the nuns who have dedicated their whole lives to these people and I was questioning them?

But she didn’t miss a beat! She just kept stirring those beans and she said, “You know, people get mistreated long enough, they start believing that they deserve what they have. But we teach the people all they can accomplish. We teach them how to learn and the whole world opens up. We are preparing people for a democracy.”

“Then what should be do about our country, sister, I mean, since our government puts so many of these people in power. I mean, is the only option that bumper sticker “America, love it or leave it!”

She said, “Oh, Soo-see, no! You stay put and you love your country. And you make your government behave!” And then she put her spatula down, she came over to me and she rested her hands on my shoulders. She looked up at me and said, “Soo-see, we just keep doing what we’re doing! We get up early, we go to bed late! The rest is in God’s hands!”

Well, that night was the New Year’s Eve party at the church rectory. And I stood in that room and looked at all the people and children. I mean, my sons were there and Bob was there and Martin was there and Leslie was there! People from the parish, the children from the orphanage! And I stood in the middle of that room and I just felt so happy! So lucky to be there! And I don’t know, is it grace or dumb luck when the heaviness lifts from your heart and you don’t even know why? Grace or whatever the reason, I don’t know! I just stood in the middle of that room and I felt open to anything. And then the nuns put on some music and Mother Superior called to me, “Soo-see, fox, fox!” She wanted to dance the foxtrot! I gotta tell ya, up in those mountains, sometimes we had electrical surges, sometimes we didn’t so sometimes we have music and sometimes we would just slow, to this gaaarbled drone. But I took sister into my arms and we were dancing cheek to cheek and then she squeezed my hand. She said, “Ah, Soo-see, there is so much love in this house! And that, I realized, is what I wanted! For my sons, for me, for all of us to feel all the love in the house.

To love our government enough to criticize it right down to its roots and yet to still enjoy all that our country and this life has to offer. So for that night, I had no grand plan on how to change things. That night we danced – the merengue, the cumbia, the salsa and the hokey-pokey! ‘Cause sometimes those moments of grace, they’re what it’s all about!

City of Hope:

The 2011 Occupy Movement Looks at the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign

 

Story Summary:

 In 2011, Sue meets a group of young people at an Occupy Chicago demonstration who are unaware of activists’ movements in the past that occupied public lands. Sue shares the story of The 1968 Poor People’s Campaign – Dr. King’s last crusade that was carried on after his death in 1968.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: City-of-Hope-The-2011-Occupy-Movement-Looks-at-the-1968-Poor-Peoples-Campaign

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do the two movements – the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign and the 2011 Occupy Movement – have in common? How are they different?
  2. Why did Dr. King want the mule train to start in Marks, Mississippi? Why did he expand his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement to include all poor people?
  3. Has the Occupy Movement had an influence in politics and media? (For instance, Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and movies such as The Big Short)
  4. Is there any cause that you would camp out for in order to express your feelings and ideas?

Resources:

  • The 99%: How the Occupy Wall Street Movement is Changing America by Clara Blumenkranz and Keith Gessen
  • Marks, Martin and the Mule Train: The Origins of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign by Hillard Lawrence Lackey

Themes:

  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Susan O’Halloran.  In the fall of 2011, I went to observe an Occupy Movement demonstration in Chicago. Now the Occupy Movement was happening in major cities all across the country.  People were protesting home foreclosures and job loss and, more generally, the structure of the economy that’s separating, making a widening gap, between the haves and the have nots. So, I was sitting at Grant Park by Lake Michigan.  And they were waiting for the sound system to show up. So, one of the organizers stood up and said, “Does anybody know a joke?”  So one after another from young people to older adults, I mean, teachers and I met firemen and union workers. They started to stand up and tell silly knock, knock jokes.  And I started to think about how the media sometimes, you know, portrays demonstrators.  There’s always a weird one in every group that portrays them as these agitators, you know. And they looked so innocent as everybody was telling their knock, knock jokes.  And then, that sound system arrived and I saw how organized they were because we had reports from different committees. There was the finance committee and the spiritual community and the diversity committee and every state representative got up and gave their report.  Well, I left this peaceful demonstration.  I was walking up Jackson Boulevard, up towards LaSalle Avenue and I was talking with some young people about 20 somethings.  So, I asked them why they were involved in the Occupy Movement. And one tall, slender, young man with brown hair said, “Oh, we have got to make a large statement, otherwise we’ll just have these liberal reforms, you know, just a slap on the hand to Wall Street. We have got to change the whole economy.”  I said,  “Well, how do you think you do that?”  And he said, “Well, we know economies change and we don’t live in feudalism anymore. We’ve got to make people aware of all the lies they’re being given. We’ve got to, you know, set ‘em straight and, I don’t know, after that we’ll just kind of make it up as we go along.  This is a whole new thing.”   I smiled. I said, “Did you know that there’s been people movements in the past that have occupied public land and they were demonstrating about the economy and such?”  And they said, “No.”  So I told him this story.

Right before Dr. King’s death in 1968 he had this vision for poor people’s campaign. He wanted to bring thousands of people to Washington to show that other face of America that people didn’t see.  People living in poverty.  Now, he was talking more and more these days about racism and how it was connected to foreign policy which meant we didn’t have a good domestic policy. He wanted to redistribute wealth.  And one of the young women, slight woman with a huge backpack on said, “That’s just like us!  He was just like us!”

I said, “Yeah but he had this other idea of a guaranteed annual income.”

“Wow!” they said.  “How did he pull that one off?”

I said, “Well, he didn’t quit but he talked a lot about how many people were never really fairly compensated for their work and how the rich were subsidized all the time, so why not support the common man?”

But then Dr. King was assassinated. 1968, April.  Now everybody was in grief and disarray but they decided to continue with this idea. So, May 13th, was the beginning of the poor people’s campaign. Thousands of people camping out for six weeks in the Washington Mall to try to bring visibility to the poverty that existed in our country.  And the young people said to me, “Wow, imagine organizing that.  Thousands of people overnight.  We’re, we’re excited if a couple of hundred people will come out with us and some will stay overnight and sleep on the sidewalks.”  Well, what happened is Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Dr. King’s successor, opened it up by being dressed in a Levi’s jacket, no shirt, carpenter’s apron and driving the first nail into the two by four.  And as he did everybody shouted, “Freedom, freedom.” And at first it was all enthusiasm and everybody was organized. They had three men teams that would build A-frames.  Put them up in 15 minutes, another house, another house. A lot of people said this first house I ever had.  And they’d decorate their house with stars and dots or they put a name like the Sugar Shack or they put some inspirational phrase like vinceremus, we shall overcome.

But there was a big split going on leadership people didn’t necessarily know about. Some thought they should use Dr. King’s confrontational, nonviolent way.  They should get themselves arrested, fill the jails, move the moral conscience of the country that there were people who couldn’t even feed their kids.  But then there was a whole other contingent.  See, after Dr. King died, I told the young people, there were riots all across the country.  And like, “No, no.  We got to make sure there’s no violence. Sometimes when there’s a arrest there could be violence. We got to come in soft. We’ve got to do softer demonstrations; we’ll build to this big solidarity rally.”  Because you see, the Congress had really moved to the right. They were all law and order after all the riots.  And the FBI was not treating the Poor People’s Campaign like fellow citizens exercising their right to speech. They were treating ‘em like an invading army and were sabotaging at every turn. And President Johnson had kind of lost some support for civil rights when Dr. King started speaking out about the Vietnam War. So, the young people said, “Who won out?  The confrontational ‘Let’s get arrested’ or are the non-confrontational?”

I said, “Well, it was the ‘let’s not make trouble’ group.” They really had to watch it.  So, what they did when they’re about 40 different small demonstrations they go to different departments of the government make their demands, their speeches, sing some songs, come back to camp.

“Was it the right way to go?” said the young man to me.

I said, “Well, see that, you never know when you’re in the middle of it do you?  Just like you all don’t know if your strategies are going to work.  But, I got to tell you, I don’t know whether they did one way or the other if anything were to work because of outside forces beyond their control.”

“Like what?” they said.

“Weather. Weather,” I said.  “It rained day after day after day that whole camp turned into a muddy quagmire. And the big food tent collapsed under the weight of all that rain.  And they never had the chance to finish the plumbing and the sanitation and the drainage system so they had to bus people out to even bathe.”

“Wow!” said that same girl.  She said, “We just had to figure out what restaurants will let us use the bathroom.”  Yeah, and talk about food. They never get the hot meal plan together so every day… think of it.  Six weeks.  Same thing, bologna and cheese, salami and cheese, ham and cheese, cheese and cheese.  And people’s spirits go down when they’re not eating well. “Tell me about it,” said the young man.  He held up a bag of chips. “This is my dinner.” Well, solidarity came without a hitch. Hundreds of buses showed up. Big name entertainment, kind of a picnic atmosphere but everybody said there wasn’t that feeling like the 1963 March on Washington.

Very few people believed it would really have much impact.  In those last weeks, only a few hundred people remained and it turned into an unruly site.  All kinds of arrests.  So the night of June 24th, the government met with Ralph Abernathy, some of the other leaders to try to plan. How were they going to bring this camp down in a peaceful way?  So, the leaders of the poor people campaign had demonstration, brought people, as many they could offsite and policemen moved in. In 90 minutes they just tore apart their camp and it was gone. “So,” they said to me. “Failure or success. What do you think?” I said, “See, it always depends how you look at it.”

Here’s a high point for me for the Poor People’s Campaign.  Marian Wright, a civil rights leader, a lawyer.  One day, about the fourth week into the campaign, she had sh… she got this impromptu group.  It was black and Chicano, representatives of First Nations, poor whites, to go with her to a Senate committee. She got them to talk in front of a Senate committee about their lives. What was this unseen America? What was it like to live among broken promises and not even be able to provide for your children or get the most basic shelter? Now it had its impact because George McGovern was in that committee.  And a couple of years later when Senator McGovern, this was before he ran for president, was the head of the Senate Select Committee on nutrition needs and human needs. They work, they do a lot of things, but they pass the food stamp law. “Wait a minute,” said one of the young men.  “You’re telling me it took a massive six-week campaign and years of legislation before they even passed food stamps.”

“Yep,” I said. “It kind of shows what the Poor People’s Campaign was up against.”

We were at my car by then and I said to them, “I know you think of something like food stamps, like a liberal reform. It didn’t change the whole economic structure by any means. When I think of all the thousands of families that have been fed and cared for by that one program, I’m really grateful for all those people in 1968 that came and exercised their right of free speech to try to make the country see, that there were people who were in poverty right in front of her eyes that we weren’t seeing.  I always feel like we’re standing on mighty big shoulders.  I mean we’re not in this alone. We didn’t just invent this now.”

Well, we said our goodbyes and the mother in me came out, I had to say, “Now you be careful sleeping on the sidewalk tonight.” I started driving back home, I thought, I don’t know how you change your whole economic system.  But I do know that honoring the past and learning from the past is one of the keys to success. Learning what did work as well is what didn’t work. I was really glad I got to share that story with the young people and I looked forward to hearing more of theirs.

Memorial: Youth Violence Then and Now

Part 1:

 

Part 2:

 

Story Summary:

 Susan O’Halloran attends a Chicago Memorial service in November of 2011 for children who have died through violence. Being at the Memorial sparks a high school memory for Susan of going to a youth conference in 1965 and meeting Cecil, an African American teenager, who became Sue’s friend. One evening, in 1967, Sue receives a phone call that changes everything.

Being at a Chicago Memorial service in November of 2011 for children who have died through gun violence sparks memories for Susan O’Halloran of people she has lost. At the end of the service, the congregation moves into the streets to plead for peace as everyone asks the continuing questions: Will the violent deaths of young lives end? When? And what is our part in ending violence?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Memorial-Youth-Violence-Then-and-Now-Part-One and Memorial-Youth-Violence-Then-and-Now-Part-Two

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the causes of violent deaths in America? People are always responsible for their own actions, but how does America’s legacy of segregation and discrimination play into violence?
  2. Are you for more restrictions on guns? More policing? How would greater educational and job opportunities affect violence?
  3. If you could be Mayor of a large U.S. city, what would you do to curb violence?
  4. Do you believe as Sue says that “these are all our children”? Why would someone in one part of a town be concerned with what happens in another part? How are we connected to one another? How does violence affect even the more “peaceful” parts of town?
  5. Sue remembers that she was directly touched by violence. What affect has a young person’s death had on you?

Resources:

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander and Cornell West
  • Youth Violence: Theory, Prevention and Intervention by Kathryn Seifert, PhD

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Susan O’Halloran. Do you ever watch the news sometimes and you’re like, enough already! But then every so often, something happens, not things that are just happening to other people anymore. I want to share a story with you about a memorial service I went to in Chicago, November 2011. And a memory was triggered by that memorial, something that had happened long, long ago.

 

The first thing I noticed was the checkmarks. They had asked us to sign in with our name and then to check “yes” if we had lost a family member or close friend to violence. When I arrived, the memorial service had already begun. I made the long trek from my Evanston, Illinois home, down Lakeshore Dr, across the Dan Ryan Expressway, to the Southside of Chicago and the gothic style church of St. Sabinas. When I walked into that vestibule I heard an orchestra playing inside and I walked up to the sign-in book and I went to add my name. I couldn’t check the box. I was fortunate, my life hadn’t been touched by that kind of tragedy. But what I saw was hundreds of checkmarks already made. Each check said, “Yes, I’ve lost a loved one to violence.” Well, an usher came up to me, an African-American woman with a wide smile, wearing a black pillbox hat, a black suit, white gloves. She handed me a program, an unlit candle, and directed me to follow her. She walked me past rows of mourners and them she offered me a seat at the end of a pew. I was there. I was at the Urban Dolorosa memorial. Urban Dolorosa means “the city of sorrow,” and our city was deep in sorrow.

 

In those previous three school years, from September 2008 to August 2011, four thousand children had been shot in Chicago. Two hundred sixty-three kids were dead because of violence. Four thousand shot and 263 dead. Congregations of all faiths and other non-profits had gathered together to form Urban Dolorosa to say we had to stop the denial, the ignorance, the indifference, the hopelessness. They were calling for a comprehensive, coordinated plan to end the blood bath.

 

Now, I walked in there expecting I would hear community leaders rage about, you know, how decades of injustice and marginalizing whole communities, was a recipe for violence. I thought they would remind us that the very victims of the carnage are the people who are getting blamed. I thought I’d hear politicians who would make speeches about how unemployment, inferior education, and pouring resources into youth and community development, this would benefit all of us. But that’s not what I had walked into at all. No, instead, this memorial was a, kind of, sacred musical cane. A mix of opera and choral music, sung in English and Spanish with strains of the blues and African-American spirituals, punctuated by a poetic libretto with an art installation and candlelight and photographs projected images of those left behind. Tear stained faces wide in disbelief or pinched tight in pain. Pictures of people holding each other up – their grief too much to bear alone. My surprise of what this memorial was, quickly melted into a feeling that, yes, this was exactly right. This was how to remember children who would never grow up to be young men and young women.

I remember a poem I read in college, it stayed with me all these years, by the poet Bill Knott; just three simple lines.

The only response
 to a child’s grave is
 to lie down before it and play dead

And then youth performers walked the aisles and took photographs from people. Photographs of their slain loved ones. And they brought those photographs to the altar and began to build this tall sculpture of smiling children’s faces – a mound of grief growing before us. And then they scattered all about as the names were read. “Rahim Washington, Eva Henry, Jose Corona…” Each name pierced the air!

And those youth performers, one of them came right by me. A 16-year-old girl with a round face, a very solemn face, so close her hand was brushing my shoulder and she lit her candle and she leaned over and lit mine and then gestured with her head for me to light the candle, the man beside me.  And all of a sudden, candlelight was swimming up and down the pews of St. Sabinas as more names were read. “Alanzo Jones, Kabauro Ottowani, Arianna Gibson…” It was as if I could hear a drumbeat underscoring every name, every life.  And then, this teenager blew out her flame, and poof, poof, poof, all of the sanctuary, flames gone, blown out. And she handed me her extinguished candle and left. It took me a moment to look into the aisle beside me and see her shoes were still there. All up and down the aisles of St. Sabinas. No more teens, just their empty shoes. My heart collapsed, gave way to the sound of a beating drum, and the memory flooded in.

Nineteen sixty-five. The first time I saw him, he was playing the drums or I should say an upside-down waste basket. I had met Cecil 46 years before. We were both 15 years old and we were at the YCS regional conference. YCS. Young Christian Students. I had met, I had joined the local group at my school that year and I decided to go to the regional conference. It was held at St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana just about an hour and a half outside of Chicago. Oh, it was a whole week at the end of summer. Seminars and speakers and panel discussions. It was such great fun. And most of all it meant friendships with kids from all over the city and neighboring states. And since things were completely segregated in the 1960s, that meant for most of us it would be our first interracial experience.

Now the night I met Cecil, we girls decided to sneak out of our dorm. We were going to sneak out of our dorm and go to the boys’ dorm after curfew. For someone like me who rarely broke the rules, this was high adventure. We dressed in dark turtlenecks and long pants. I could almost hear the theme music from the I Spy TV show. Wah wah wah wah. We actually crawled on our bellies, like, pulled ourselves with our elbows across this long empty field that separated us from the boys. And when we got to the boys’ dorm, those boys were in ecstasy… And not at all interested in us. Cecil, of slight build and wearing glasses and his friend tall, thin Joe, had instructed the other boys, who were white, and how to turn their metal wastebaskets into drums. And they’d given them the steady pulse that most of the boys could handle. And then Cecil and Joe, they played on top of their beat. Now Joe was like the master of ceremonies. He’d tipped back in his chair and drum between his legs and the call out to the boys and encourage them. “That’s right. You’re doing it. That’s right. That’s right.” Master of ceremonies.

Cecil was the serious one. He would cock his head to one side always an ear down to the drum. Monitoring if the intent and effect were one in the same. His rhythm seemed to come from the base of his spine, crawl up his back, push his arms from behind so fast that his hands would blur. These boys looked so blissed out, their faces seemed to say, “Yes. What you’re playing goes with what I’m playing, goes with what he’s playing. Yes, yes, yes. We’re in this together. Yes.”

Well, after that regional conference, at the end of the week. We had small group discussions throughout the week. Oh, Cecil was in my group so I saw him every day. And we talked about group leadership and school spirit and racial stereotyping. And sometimes after that seminar Cecil and I just weren’t done; we had to keep talking, piggybacking off of each other’s ideas. We walked the cinder running track back behind the classrooms.

Cecil’d say things like, “They should have a UN for kids!” And I go, “Yeah!” I’d agree. “Yeah! I wish we could meet kids from China and Africa and France!” Having just met kids from the other side of the city, the other side of the color line, we were ready to take on the world. And then by the end of that week was Friday night dance. Now in my neighborhood the thought of dancing with a boy who was black, it would have been unheard of. An impossibility, but by the end of the week, hey, Cecil was my pal. Of course, I would dance with Cecil.

And when Cecil came towards me. He was shorter than me. He looked tall and elegant. And he took my hand like it was a jewel. And he walked me out to an empty space on the dance floor and we began to slow dance. Now in my neighborhood, slow dancing meant the boys and girls would fall on each other and kind of move sideways, swaying like zombies. But with Cecil slow dancing meant walking coolly, purposefully, covering that dance floor three, four times with space between your bodies to twist and dip.  Cecil would duck under my arm, he would twirl me in light circles. He would graze his hand across my waist as he circled me. I looked great just standing there.

Well, after that regional conference, I joined citywide YCS. And so did Cecil. We had meetings. We had more dances. We had picnics at the lakefront. We had press conferences to announce our newest initiatives but, most of all, what we did was plan study days, kind of like the regional conference. We bring kids together from all over the city and we would study, look at some kind of social justice issue. And once Cecil and I co-chaired a study day examining the black power movement. Ah, the day was exciting and contentious and scary and thrilling. We got people thinking and some people really upset and angry. And I just remember afterwards sharing a Coke with Cecil and the two of us sitting there saying, “We did it! We did it!” Though, I don’t think either of us quite knew what we had done.

I remember that last leadership meeting in 1967, we were juniors in high school. It was the last meeting that Cecil attended. One of our adult mentors suggested an icebreaker for the beginning of the meeting. He said, “Why don’t you go ‘round and everybody say how they want to be remembered. You tell us what you would want written on your gravestone.”

Well, Katie went first and she said, “I want my gravestone to say she was alive.” And I went next and I joked I want my gravestone to say she IS alive. And everybody started laughing. And then Cecil said. Cecil said. Cecil said, “What?” See, he’s after me and I thought this mixture of pride and self-consciousness because I made everybody laugh so I don’t remember what Cecil said. I mean he was the good listener not me. What did Cecil want on his gravestone. It became so important to remember.

The first thing we heard was that he’d been shot. I stayed on the phone with YCS friends long into the night. It was as if we held a phone vigil. Maybe we could pull him through. Cecil and Joe had been to a dance in their neighborhood that night and they were walking home and this other kid, older a little bit. They didn’t know him. Walked up to them and said, “Where are you from?” And Cecil, just as any good, Catholic, Chicago kid would, he answered, his parish, Sacred Heart. “BOOM!” Just like that. The kid took out a gun and shot him. Cecil’s chest lay open to the moonless sky. We didn’t know many details, we just heard that Joe didn’t know what to do. I mean stay with this friend or go run for help. There were no cell phones back then. And I just keep picturing Joe with Cecil, then running to get help and then like a film thrown into reverse, running back.  And then, “No, no! We should get help.” And running, just not knowing what to do.

I’d never been to the wake of a young person, a teenager, somebody my age. When we got to the funeral home, women with hats and powdery cheeks and older women smelling of perfume were milling about. And I was in grief before I even walked into that main room because I realized that Cecil had grown up much as I did. Leaned into the body of mothers and aunties and grandmas. The soft flesh of women’s arms wrapped around him, falling asleep in the heat of their bodies. And I knew with surety that the dividing line, that color line, in our city separated me not only from my black friends but from the familiness of my black friends. And then I saw, uh, Joe and as high as his face could lift and a smile was how far it fell. His skin hung loose over his jaw. “Thanks for coming,” he said. Still the master of ceremonies, we YCS kids, white, black and brown walked to the casket together.

We stared at Cecil’s body of brackish dust.  Part death, part Cecil, still. He looked like a jewel floating on the white, pleated linen below him. He looked so young, like a child. Way too young to be dead. I saw that dead people looked a lot like. White people may be a little more pasty, chalky, white. Black people may be more ashy gray. But both as far away as the deepest stone at the bottom of Lake Michigan.

The adults, they knew the manners of death. They held out holy cards to people. They, they prayed their Hail Marys and Our Fathers. But we kids were lucky, we were young, we didn’t have to say things like, “Oh, he looks good.” No, we just stood there silent…shattered. Maybe it was me, I don’t know, who broke first. I don’t know who fell on me and who I fell where my body began or where it ended. I just know the room melted away as we cradled each other in front of Cecil McClure’s casket.

It’s as if we just wanted to crawl into each other’s comfort. To hold each other as we felt the truth of it. Our friend is dead. Our friend dead. Our friend is dead. The truth beat against our hearts like a drum.

“Terence Hollands, Delvonta Porter, Devon Varner…” the reading,  the memorial reading of the names continues. Four thousand children shot, 263 children dead. The only response to a child’s grave is to lie down before it and play dead. The same youth performers came out into the sanctuary again. My same teen, my sentinel, at my side, appeared and she gestured for me to stand up. And all over the sanctuary, the teens were leading us outside for a profession, procession, a procession through our neighborhood to reclaim our streets. To put an end to violence.

A musician, one of the violinists, led that procession. Playing a song, now a refrain, we had heard often in the service, so everybody began to sing. “Pour out your heart like water for the lives of our children. Let justice roll like an ever-flowing stream.” We turned a corner and television cameras appeared. It felt like an obstruction, kind of obscene. You know, we’ve been in the quiet of the sanctuary, then the quiet of the night and then, boom, these bright white lights. Like a self-conscious kind of spectacle. But also, you know, lending a kind of layer extra layer of importance to the ritual. I mean we did want people to know. To know so that maybe we could believe that the denial was over. People were coming together because it was in our power to change things.

When their procession was over, I hugged my teen goodbye. I thanked her. And I went to walk to the parking lot to get my car but I thought, “No, I’ll go in the church and a look. I’ll just see.”  I went into the church and I found it. The sign-in book was still there. I found my name and I checked yes. Yes, I had lost a loved one to violence. Yes, I will work for peace. Have to commit to peace.  For all the children still living, growing and dreaming in every neighborhood across this nation.

Yes.

Vietnamese Refugees: An American Immigration Story

 

Story Summary:

 The true story of a Vietnamese teenager who makes it to America after a harrowing boat journey and refugee camp. At a commemorative storytelling event honoring Vietnamese Americans, Sue witnesses the transformative power of story as this young man shares his American immigrant story. The community of listeners that storytelling creates makes a new country feel like home.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Vietnamese-Refugees-An-American-Immigrant-Story

Discussion Questions:

  1.  America and Canada represent a moral ideal for some people in other parts of the world. What is that ideal?
  2. Even in miserable surroundings people seek friendship; what does this say about our human need for connection? Neal and Tom were friends, yet Neal had no idea of his friend’s torment. How do we choose what to share and what to keep private from our friends?
  3. Why had Neal had not told Tom’s story before the storytelling workshop? How did it help him to share his story?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Suzanne O’Halloran and I started to learn what home could mean to people on a whole other level when I was involved in an oral history project in 2005.  April, 2005 was the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War.  And I was hired by the Society of the Divine Word to collect stories from some of their brothers and priests… about 25 folks who had escaped from Vietnam after the war.  Well, the story gathering was gonna happen in the day and then in the evening, we were gonna have a public concert… part of our Just Stories-Storytelling Festival.  Now, the first man I interviewed, his name was Neil.  When Neil was 16 years old, his family helped him escape from Vietnam.  But, unfortunately, he wound up, he ended up, in a not so nice refugee camp that wasn’t run by the U.N.  Neil said that the guards were mean.  I mean, they could just throw you in the blockade, no due process whatsoever.  Neil, every night in a platform tent with 27 other people, like, lined up like sardines.  And they would just get a little bit of food… like a bowl of rice, maybe a little fish, couple of vegetables and that had to last for several days.  And most of all, you had to be really careful that nobody stole your food.  But Neil made a friend, a boy a couple years older than him named Tom.

Tom had escaped Vietnam when he was 14 years old.  And Tom and Neil met in a Bible study class.  And as they got to know each other, Tom slowly told his story to Neil.  Now, Tom escaped as well, in the bottom of a boat; 64 people hiding at the bottom of a boat.  And this captain put fishing tackle, you can imagine all the smelly things, on top of them to hide ‘em.  And they motored out this channel and they stopped.  And everybody was so scared.  They figured they must have paid off some guards, ‘cause they kept on going.  Now, they got out to sea and things were going pretty well.  It was just a day or two trip over to Thailand.  And then the motor died.  And there they sat for two days.  Now they hadn’t brought food.  People escaped with what they had on their backs.  Now luckily the captain was bringing some hot sauce to a friend of his in Thailand.  And they had that case of hot sauce.  So each day, a couple a times a day, they’d lined up to get just one little dollop of this hot sauce to lick and that was it.  No water, nothing!

Well, finally, they saw a ship.  They were so excited!  “We’re over here!  We’re over here!”  But when that ship came closer, they discovered it was pirates.  We think of pirates like, you know, Peter Pan or something.  It just means pirates at sea.  And those men just hopped on board and they took… if people have watches, if they had any money on them, any food, and they even took that motor in case they could fix it.  But worse than that, they stabbed all the people so there would be no witnesses and threw them overboard.  So Tom found himself in the middle of the ocean.  Now, he had the presence of mind, there he was stabbed and bleeding, to take off his pants; kind of like these pajama kind of pants so they had cloth to them.  So he blew air in either and tied a knot in either end of the legs and used it like an inner tube to hang on.  Now, he doesn’t know for sure ’cause he was in and out of consciousness but he knows he went through a night so he was probably hanging there for a day.

And then another day went by and he was having to fight off fish.  And finally he thought, “This is it.  I’m giving up.” And he let go, he started sinking down to the bottom.  And he heard this voice inside him say, “No.  It’s not your time.” So he kind of bobbed back up just as he saw this big, red, plastic gas can floating by. So Tom climbed up on that and he hung there for a whole other day.  And then another ship came by and this time, thank God, it wasn’t pirates.  It was Thai fisherman.  But Thai fisherman had been told that if they picked up any more Vietnamese refugees, they would be in some big trouble.  They would lose their license.

But what are you going to do if you see a kid hanging on a gas can in the middle of the ocean?  Thank God, they did the right thing.  They stopped and picked up Neil. (Tom) Now, he had hypothermia by then.  They tried to warm him up and he were trying to tell them there were 63 other people.  And they went around, they motored around, they couldn’t find.  It seemed Neil (Tom) was the only survivor.  So they got him as close to shore as they dare because they didn’t want to lose their license.  They put him back in the water and Tom, I’m saying Tom, swam back to land.  And all kinds of stories but he finally made his way to the same horrible refugee camp.

Now, when they got there, they’d be questioned.  “Are you a Communist? Are you a spy?”  Because, of course, he showed up with no ID on him.  And how you got sponsored if you got out to another country, depended on how you answered these questions and, of course, with this kinda refugee camp, if you had a little money to grease the wheels.  And Tom had neither so he had been there for 4 years already when Neil met him.

There’s this one day, right before Bible study and they were sitting there talking.  And, well, Tom was really down but that wasn’t unusual.  You can imagine, in this kinda refugee camp, people got very depressed.  And Tom excused himself to go to the bathroom.  Now the bathroom at this refugee camp was just a hole in the ground with little trees around it for a little bit of privacy.  Well, Bible study started.  Tom didn’t show up.  Neil got worried.  He went looking for his friend.  And he found him.  Tom had hung himself.  He just despaired of ever getting out of that refugee camp.

And Neil said to me, “Well, they burned his body and sent his ashes back to Vietnam.  He finally made it back home.  He was caught in limbo all those years; he couldn’t go home, he couldn’t go forward.  And Neil said to me, “When Tom died, it was like a part of me died.”  And then he looked right at me and said, “I’ve never told anybody that story before.  I have never spoken of Tom before!”

Now, this was my first interview, and like 25 more to go!  And I heard these incredible stories of escape and family sacrifice, and idealism and loss.  So we got an idea.  That night was supposed to be the professional storytelling concert.  So I asked some of these brothers and priests if they would be willing to share their stories.  So that night the professional tellers did their marvelous, usual wonderful job and then these brothers got up and shared their stories.  And I’m telling ya, they stole the show!  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.  They got a standing ovation.  And afterwards, Neil came up to me and said, “You know, it was very painful to share these stories today but important.  I have been here for almost 20 years but because of the way this audience, these people, listened to our stories, I feel like I’ve finally arrived in America.  I feel like I’m finally home.”  And that is the power of sharing and listening to each other’s stories.

CITY GIRLS : NORTH SIDE vs SOUTH SIDE

by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 In high school, Sue went to her first overnight away from her Chicago home and neighborhood and met people from different ethnic and racial groups. In learning that there’s more to people than she originally thought, she discovers layers of herself she was long ignoring.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  City-Girls-North-Side-vs-South-Side

Discussion Questions:

  1. How have you been misjudged? How have others mis-labeled you and had you wrong?
  2. When have you misjudged others and then found out you were wrong?
  3. What do you think is better or worse about race relations today? Are their prejudices about different sides of town where you live? How do these stereotypes begin? What can you do about them?
  4. The girls were nervous to talk about race. Does it make you uncomfortable? What are the topics/stories/events that are not talked about or bring discomfort in your family or school? How can you create a space to talk about difficult issues and ask these questions?
  5. Do you have somewhere where you feel listened to and can say what you are truly feeling inside? What can you do to make your school even safer?
  6. Who could Joy, Patty and Susan have gone to for help? What individuals or organizations would have been supportive to them? Who do you trust? Where can you go to get trustworthy and/or professional help when you have a problem?

Resources:

  • Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony Greenwald
  • Transforming Stress for Teens: The Heartmath Solution for Staying Cool Under Pressure by Rollin McCraty and Stephen W. Lance

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Susan O Halloran and this is an excerpt from a longer story called City Girls. I call this excerpt North Side vs. South Side.  I want to start with how segregated Chicago was in 1960’s when I was in high school especially the south side of Chicago where I grew up.

On the south side of Chicago it was a melting pot. We all sat in our own pots and melted. Until I was 15, I hardly met anyone who wasn’t Irish.  Truly, not only was my neighborhood mostly white, probably 99.9% white, it was like 90% Irish.  So, it was a very big deal in my freshman year in high school when I was invited to an all city interracial spiritual retreat.

Now, you know there’s gonna be some trouble getting permission, even before we get to the interracial part. I remember the day I asked for permission, my grandparents lived with us, and sometimes it was easier if you ran the story past your grandparents first.

So, we were sitting at the dinner table and in my family, in my Irish family, we were kind of taught to keep our food separate, we would dig these big moats, these craters, into our mashed potatoes so our gravy didn’t touch our carrots and peas.

So I kinda get the table and the plates all set up, you know, I just casually mentioned to my grandparents that I had been invited to the spiritual retreat, that the nun’s had picked me, I thought that would sound good, that every Catholic girl school had to send one representative to this retreat and I have been chosen.

Now, that sounded good alright, they seemed to be going along with it and then I dropped the first of the very big bomb shells. The first bomb shell was that this retreat was going to take place on the north side of Chicago. Now, some of you might know about the White Sox on the south side and the Cubs on the north south there are big divisions, my grandparents told me for years that, the north side is a dangerous place to go.

There were three things about northsiders.  First, they were all rich. Just look up at all the luxury high rises! I have heard for years about those north side people. Second, they were all smart, too smart for their own good. They have in the north side these things called “brain factories”, which is college right?  (We didn’t go to college.) They have brain factories!  On the south side we have factories, but they’re practical factories, like they made steel or plastic or like I lived right near the Nabisco cookie factory, but on the north side my grandpa would say they have brain factories. They produce people who ask too many questions. Third, worst of all, they have on that north side atheists.  The north side was full of atheists.

Now on the south side, we had parishes, Catholic parishes.  But on the north side they have Lutherans, Presbyterians, all kind of churches not to mention mosques and synagogues and temples and according to my grandparents if you are not a Catholic you are going to hell anyway, might as well all be atheists – rich, smart, atheists.  How would I ever be allowed to go to such a dangerous place?

So, my grandparents were going round and round about whether I should go leave home for a whole week (because it is my first time away from home) to this dangerous place, when my grandpa said “you know, to go to that retreat, she’s going to have to cross the line”. Now we are getting to the racial part because on the south side of Chicago it was all white on one side and all black on the other side and to get to the retreat, you had to cross the line into the black neighborhood, 15 minutes of the hour trip, to get to the Dan Ryan and then up to the north side.

Now, my grandparents were not quite sure if they wanna let me go, so that’s when I decided, it wasn’t exactly a lie, but I wasn’t going to tell the whole truth. I was about to drop the second bomb shell that there would be students of color at this retreat. So, we were eating and finally my grandmother she looked up she was the first to fold, she said “you know it is an all girl retreat.

Ha ha!  This had been my grandmother’s main concern because I have started dating and I have been asked out by Jim Warpenski, a Polish boy, and my dad has said yes. My grandmother had lost their battle of permissions; she could not believe that her Irish granddaughter was going out with a Polish boy. That was interracial dating back then. But then she started to think that maybe this all girl retreat will get me away from the Polish boy for a week and maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.

We were drying the dishes, and my grandpa he just pointed right at me and he just said “you just make sure you put your buttons down.” Now whenever you crossed that line to go shopping at Marshall Fields downtown you crossed from all white to all black. Whoever was driving the car would say “okay kids, put your buttons down” which was a code phrase for “lock your car door, we are driving in to the black neighborhood”. So when my grandpa said, “just make sure you put your button down”, I knew that I was going to be able to go.

Now to tell you the truth at this point I didn’t even know why I wanted to go.  I didn’t know what a spiritual retreat weekend was all about. All I knew is that whenever you get the grownups to say yes to something they didn’t like, this could benefit you in the future.

So there I was the next Friday the teacher drove me across the color line towards the north side to the retreat house and I went up, I got the key and I met my first roommate Patricia Kowalski, a Polish girl from the north side. Ah!  This girl was perfect, her make-up was perfect, her hair was divine, her pleats in her skirt – bam – bam – bam all in a row, I was dressed like in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, I felt like a complete klutz and she looked at me and said “are you Joy?” I said “no, my name is Susan”.  “oh…the other roommate she is like the smartest girl in the whole city, she’s in middle school but she is like triple promoted”.

And in walked our third roommate, Joy Stirling, an African American student from the other side of the south side, the other side of the color line. Well, we started to introduce ourselves. Like I said I have never been around any other people of color of my age before.  Joy looked nervous because most of the African American students they had never been around with white kids, but Patricia Kowalski she was talking up a storm like she met black kids and Irish kids from the south side all the time.  I thought it might be because of the colleges up over there, they might be used to different people.

Well, we started unpacking I looked over and I saw Patricia Kowalski had like three suitcases of stuff. I was like what is wrong is she going to the prom or something? This is an all girl retreat for two days, you know. And then I look over at Joy, and she’s unpacking books, oh my god she’s gonna study all week.  I thought this is just great!  I am stuck with a brainiac and a prom queen!  This is gonna be a great weekend!

Well, we went down to dinner and all the girls were sitting at a long table looking like the last supper, with a couple of nuns in the middle where Jesus stands, and we started talking and laughing, kids from every ethnic group in every part of the city started sharing stories, and I started to learn things about myself I hadn’t told anybody before and all the time these big casseroles of mixed up vegetables and meat and everything are going around.

Remember I was used to my Irish cooking where we kept our food separate where you know food was boiled beyond taste, but in this casserole, the food is all mixed up. You know how it is when taste something new, something you never tried before, so I tried it, it tasted good, then I discovered I liked my food all mixed up and that was the start of it, I kind of like things mixed up. I liked meeting different people.

And wow! Did I learn something as we began to share stories? At night we were supposed to be quiet, you know as soon as the nuns said be quiet, but everything became so much funnier, we laughing, stuffing pillows in our mouths, try not to laugh, we all shared our voices floating to each other and the shared stories of our lives and I learned I was completely wrong about those girls.

Patricia Kowalski, I found out that her family is in deep financial trouble, her father gambled, that girl was carrying all her things around with her because her dad would steal things from the family and pawn them. And Joy I found out her mom was really depressed and it made Joy feel like she was never enough, one of the smartest kids in the whole city, she didn’t feel good enough.

Our voices would float to each other; I started to think here I was spending one of my best days in my life. I think it is a lot of the reason why I became a storyteller, because I learned that everybody does have a story. And as you learn more about them the more you learn about yourself than you could ever know when you started sharing those stories.

I think it was an important week, and maybe we didn’t become best friends but I learned everybody has feelings and everybody has things that they like about their life and things they don’t like about their life. And even if you don’t get to hear somebody’s story, you know they got one. And therefore they are deserving of your respect.

CHANGING NEIGHBORHOODS

by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 Sue grew up hearing about “them” – the people who would come and take her and her neighbors’ homes in their all-white neighborhood. When her family watched the Friday night fights, it was made clear who was “the other” and who was “us.”

 For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Changing-Neighborhoods

Discussion Questions:

  1. What activities did your family take part in that brought you closer together?
  2. To what “us” (or us-es) were you told, verbally or non-verbally, you belonged?
  3. Who were the “them”(or thems) when you were growing up?
  4. How did you make sense of racial dislike when you were younger?
  5. Were there areas of life where your community or family acted as though they were under attack?
  6. In what areas of life did/does your community or family take pride?

Resources:

  • American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass by Douglas S. Massy and Nancy A. Denton
  • The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation by Natalie Y. Moore

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

My family, we love to be on the winning team. Oh, we loved our sports. But no sport was watched as consistently, as, as devoutly, I’d say as religiously, as the Friday night fights. Awe, this was a great tradition in my family. My grandparents, who lived with us, came to live with us when I was six years old. They brought their tradition with them that you bet on the Friday night fights. Every Friday afternoon my grandma would show up with a hat, little folded pieces of paper, you put a quarter in, you picked out that piece of paper and have a number written on it. And that number stood for a round if there was a knockout in your round, you won the pot. You got the prize. Now, the Friday night fights in my house were very interactive, and I don’t mean that the adults just sat on the couch and yelled at the TV once in a while. No, I mean, they were up on their feet and in the ring with the boxers. Swinging, punching, taking blows, I mean, grunting away, yelling at the ref of course. “Awe, he hit below the belt, the ref needs new glasses! We were robbed!” And then, ding, the round would end and the adults would fall back on the couch, in true exhaustion. My brother and I would show up with the those towels. We’d pat their head, we’d give him sips of water and we pull on their teeth. Now we didn’t really know about mouth guards but we see the trainers do something with the boxer’s teeth. And then, ding, they’d be back on their feet and swinging. And my grandpa he’d point to us kids and say, “You, you could be a champion. Boxing is the game where poor kids become kings.” I loved those games for the fun, everybody was having. But actually, the game itself kind of scared me. And nobody seemed to answer my questions. I’d say to the adults, “Well, like, how can their mom and dad play the game if they could get so hurt?” And when the adults laugh and they point to me and say, “Because they’re making a lot of money, honey.” Well, we are making some money on the game if you won the bet, you know so that made some amount of sense.

Now all the adults, they also made side bets on who they thought would win the game. And the betting went like this. Vote for the white guy, if it was white against black.  Vote for the Mexican or the Cuban Boxer who is brown against black. And it was two black boxers vote for the light skinned man. Now there was this lot of hatred where I grew up and there was… it was all for one reason it seemed to me because this is what I heard about all the time when I was growing up, that there was a fight over turf, a fight over our houses. All the time I was growing up, it was like I was surrounded by this kind of ambush talk, this war mentality. I would sit on the front porches of 84th Street and I would hear things like, “Do you think Halsted Avenue will hold. I hear they took 63rd Street. All the time I was growing up, white people who had lived east of us in what they called changing neighborhoods, flooded into our parish like refugees from war, exiled from their parish. And night after night we would sit on the front porches of 84th Street and we would hear these new arrivals weep for their old parishes. But how they missed their skating parties or their championship volleyball team, the Holy Name Society they belong to, the altar guilds.

And once in a while I would drive with the ladies downtown, to go shop at Marshall Fields Department store.  And when we would cross that line, the colored line, from the all white neighborhood to the all black neighborhood. One of the ladies, who would come from one of changing neighborhoods, she might say, “Oh I, I wanta go see the old house and drive in. And we’d turn the corner, they’d say “Here it is.” And we’d turn the corner and they would be…  burnt out building, a boarded up building, no building at all. And the ladies would sit there and they’d cry and they’d tell it how it used to be in the old neighborhood. Their mothers, their dads, how the neighbors were so good to each other. Now, nobody explained to us why this had happened. About the real estate blockbusting, about how the banks had red-lined the neighborhoods. We never heard the reason why. It was just, this is what black people had done.

And you think they would they would have known something more about this. Maybe people didn’t think it through because they would tell us how they get calls in the middle of the night. Before they move, people would get calls from strangers terrifying them. They’d say things like, “You better get out now. Get out now while you still can. While, while your kids are still safe. While you can still get a good price for your house.”  And people had pledged each other,  this what they do in the old neighborhoods, when they’d say, “Our neighborhood is going to hold. If we don’t move out they can’t move in.” But you keep getting these calls the night. People would sneak out under cover of night. They’d make their deal with the real estate agent and then they’d sneak out. And they told us how they would wake up, you know, one morning they had been talking just the night before with their neighbor over the fence about the pot roast cooked for dinner, about the new tulips they were growing, and they’d wake up the next morning and their neighbors of 40 years would be gone. I mean, they had just left and a colored family had moved in under cover of night. And the ladies would weep about this and tell us and we would drive on. But then they try to reassure us they’d say, “Oh this won’t happen to us. Our neighborhood is going to hold.  We love it too much.” As if loving your neighborhood is what could save it.

And people did love their neighborhoods. I got to tell you, people would work all day and come home and wash their sidewalks in the summer. People would wash the outside of their houses. I’m lucky sometimes, after a day of work, I can get the dirty dishes out of the sink. But they would wash the inside and the outside of those houses. And how they took care of those lawns. I grew up with the Southwest Side of Chicago version of the American Gothic. Husband and wife standing next to each other, grass clippers in hand. Just staring ahead, daring a blade of grass to grow. And they would dig these moats. I mean, these bordered ditches around those lawns so that not one blade of grass would escape and make contact with the sidewalk. People loved those small bungalow houses, those postage stamp sized lawns. That said you were somebody. That said you took care of your family, your whole family. Because not only were most of our moms working at home back then, but we had aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas all living with us. This multigenerational households, keeping an eye out for us kids.

The good news is I had hundreds of parents. Bad news is I had hundreds of parents. But we all belonged to in St. Thomas Moore Parish. We all belonged on 84th Street. But I was told some people would not belong. They would come and take our house. They would come and they would make us leave. Well, don’t worry kids.  Our neighborhood will hold. But deep inside I think we knew, we were only shadowboxing. Because deep inside, in the tone of that voice, I could hear that it was hopeless. Black people were going to do us in.  It was a fight. It was a fight to the finish. It was us against them.

 

GRANDMA’S STORY

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 After her Grandmother passes, Sue searches for her Grandmother’s story. Her exploration takes her into Irish American history and, eventually, to Ireland to find her Grandmother’s childhood home.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Grandmas-Story

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever interviewed a family member to collect family stories? Is there someone in your family you wish you had talked to more who is no longer with us?
  2. How would you feel if you had to support a family who lived somewhere else?
  3. Why did the British hate the Irish? How do groups who are Insiders justify their exclusion of the Outsider?
  4. Do you think it’s a positive or negative thing that so many groups lost their culture in becoming American?

Resource:

  • The Irish Americans: A History by Jay P. Dolan

Themes:

  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript:

My grandmother never wanted to come to America. That’s the story I heard over and over again. Her older sister, Mary, was the one who should have gone. But on that early morning of departure 1887 Mary woke up sick or so she said. She took to her bed crying, moaning.  She couldn’t possibly go. Now my grandmother was just 13 years old.  Hard enough to go to bed and know that you would never see your older sister again. You got to understand, there were no airplanes back then people didn’t fly back and forth.  Hard enough to go to bed that way, but instead she was woken up and told, “No, you’re the one to leave. You’re the one who’s never going to see her family again.”  Now back then, you see, you couldn’t waste a ticket. It has taken the family years to save up enough money for one ticket. So, my grandma had to wake up, quick, hurry around pack a few things in the carpet bag suitcase her mother had made for Mary and say goodbye to her three sisters and her younger brother Patrick, her mom, and her dad.  Because somebody had to go get work in America, send money back home because the family was starving.

My grandmother set out for Dublin, a two-week journey by foot, with another aunt who was supposed to have watched Mary.  And as they went down the road, there would have been hundreds of people joining them because millions left Ireland in the 1800s.  And all the time they walked, these, these horse-drawn caravans, these carts piled high with fresh fruits and vegetables, would have passed them by.  Because the British who were running Ireland at the time, were taking all the food for themselves.

Now, you may have heard of the Great Famine in Ireland.  But I found out when I went to visit Ireland, a lot of people call it the Great Starvation because there was food.  The Irish just weren’t allowed to grow the food, I mean, to eat the food they were growing.  The food they grew had to go to the British.  They would ship it over to England.  So, all the time my grandma’s walking; of course, there were no fast food restaurants back then, nor did anybody have any money if there were any restaurants. So, they started eating weeds and cabbage leaves and grass to try to stay alive. By time they got to the docks in Dublin, some British writers wrote that their faces were stained green.  Their mouths were stained green.  And this showed just how subhuman, animal-like the Irish really were.

Well, my grandma, she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. She sailed in what they called coffin ships, like caskets because so many people died on those voyages. Hundreds of people were packed in the bottom of the boat.  And there were so many diseases back then… diphtheria, typhus; things like that… cholera. See, the people could only be allowed up on board for maybe an hour or so because they couldn’t let people be getting in the crew’s way. So, they had to be down below and you can imagine the stench because there were no toilets back then.  They used tin cans or buckets for chamber pots. And there was no electricity and you certainly wouldn’t want to light a candle; that would be too dangerous. So you just sat in the dark and all this stench. And then people would sleep on these little narrow bunks – three or four people to a bunk. Sometimes sleeping with somebody you didn’t know. Nobody could shower and there was lice and all that.

And I tried to imagine my grandmother just 13 years old with this, this aunt and we don’t know too many details, but we found out this aunt got sick who was supposed to be taking care of my grandmother. My grandma was taking care of her. And I just think of here sitting in dark like 23 hours a day. Sick people all around us like… six, seven, eight weeks like this. Well, she got to America. Thank goodness! And she worked day and night. And all the time she would send money back home. Now, when she left, her parents said, “Now, don’t worry we’ll save up some money. We’ll send one of the other sisters to help you out.” But no sister ever, ever came. My grandma was just alone doing all of that work. And I think about what people have gone through to get to this country, or what they’re still going through to get to this country or people who were captured and brought to this country, or people who already lived here but their lands and their way of life were taken. And I think about what a huge debt of gratitude we owe them. I know that my life could not be the way it was if it wasn’t for my grandmother’s sacrifices. So sometimes I find myself whispering a little prayer. Thank you, Grandma. Thank you.

THE OBERLIN RESCUE OF 1858

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 John Price escapes from the Kentucky plantation where he had been enslaved. He plans to go to Canada but when he arrives in Oberlin, Ohio and sees Black shopkeepers and Black students going to college, he decides to stay. However, he doesn’t know that a slave catcher under the protection of the Fugitive Slave Act is coming for him.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Oberlin-Rescue

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why was the Fugitive Slave Act enacted in 1850? What did it require of citizens and what was the punishment for disobeying this law?
  2. The Supreme Court upheld the Fugitive Slave Act. Five of the nine Supreme Court justices participated in slavery. How do you think their involvement with slavery affected their vote? Do you think it would have been possible for the judges to remain “impartial”?
  3. Why did President Buchanan’s administration decide it had to make an example of the Oberlin Rescuers? In what ways did the federal government’s plan to punish Oberlin backfire? What actions did the public take to show their support of the Rescuers?
  4. Susan tells a story set in the period when slavery existed in America. She tells this story without ever using the word “slave” (except to refer to the already-named Fugitive Slave Law). What difference does it make to talk about “a person who escaped slavery” or “a person who was captured and enslaved” rather than “a slave”? How does language hide responsibility? Give other examples such as calling an area a “ghetto” instead of a “dis-invested neighborhood.”
  5. Do we have a responsibility to make things “better”? What would you like to change? What would you be willing to do to make a difference?

Resources:

  • Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism: College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom in Antebellum South by J. Brent Morris
  • History of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue by Jacob R. Shipherd

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Slavery was invented. We often don’t think of it that way but it was created step by step and law by law. At first, you know, somebody could be enslaved only a certain period of time but they changed that.  And it used to be that the children of people who were enslaved, they wouldn’t be enslaved, they were free. Well, they changed that. And it used to be they would give rewards to people if they caught somebody who escaped but that wasn’t working because so many people were escaping slavery. So they tried punishment. In 1850, they patched… passed the Fugitive Slave Law. Now, it said if you knew somebody was escaping and you didn’t assist in their arrest, you would get fined. If you helped, you’d get fined and you would be sent to jail.

But one town, Oberlin, Ohio, said, “Uh, uh, we’re not doing it.” Now it had been known as a pretty progressive town, they refused to celebrate the 4th of July. And they said, “How can we celebrate Independence Day when we have people on our land who are enslaved?” And they’re the first folks to send men, women, and blacks to college. And they were the first folks you had, um, had more… um, everybody could vote there before that was true of the rest of the nation.

So, some people said that the Civil War almost started earlier in Oberlin because of something that happened in 1857.  Here’s what happened. There were two people who are enslaved down in Kentucky. They’re just a quarter mile, two blocks away from the Ohio River that separated the South and the North. But they had been enslaved by a man named John Bacon, and their names were John and Dinah. And they wanted to be free. Now this was very risky business because, of course, you’ll be shot, killed, maimed, whatever, trying to escape. And that was kind of the lucky ones because if they caught you and brought you back, ah, your life could really be hard.

But John and Dinah didn’t care. They were two cousins who wanted to be free. And they saw their chance.  One night, when John Bacon went off to visit family, and the man who was put in charge to watch the enslaved people on that plantation, kind of had a reputation of being somebody who fell asleep on the job.  Well, word spread that he was asleep. And then, John and Dinah, they crept into the barn. Now can you imagine how hard it was to keep two horses quiet? They managed to get the horses out of that barn and then they rode in the opposite direction. Now it wasn’t that they didn’t know where they were. Now, this happened to a lot of people. You get captured in Africa, you get brought here. It’s not like somebody showed you a map of where you were. But it wasn’t because they didn’t know where they were. They were doing something very brave. They were going the opposite direction to go get their friend, Frank, who also wanted to escape. They picked him up, two on one horse, one on the other. They raced back to the Ohio River. Got across with no problem because it was winter and the river was frozen. When they got to the other side, they couldn’t find the path up that bank.

Now remember, this was back in the 1800’s. There were no electric street lights or whatever.  Pitch darkness; scrambling all night in the freezing cold. They didn’t have coats or anything. (That was one of the ways they kept people who are enslaved from running is that they take their shoes or heavy coats at night.) Scrambling, trying to find the path up and couldn’t find it. And they knew that if the sun came up that morning, oh, my goodness, they’d be so easy to spot. Three people, two horses on the bank. So they kept on all night. And finally, they find their way up.

And then John did something,to me it’s kind of amazing.

He said, “Nobody can own me, but John Bacon owned these horses.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’ve been working free all my life, and my mom had been and my grandma had been, I’d be thinking these horses belong to me. But he hit them on the rump and sent them home. And then they went on their way. They split up. Dinah went with somebody from the underground railroad and Frank and John headed up to Oberlin. Now, the plan was they’d be in Oberlin and wait for Lake Erie to thaw and move up to Canada. When they got to Oberlin, it must’ve felt like a fantasyland. There were black storekeepers. There were black people going to college! They got a job with a farmer paying a dollar a day. Well, after working for free, that seemed like a lot. So they decided to stay. And John took the name John Price.

What he didn’t know was that slavecatchers had been sent after them. A man named Anderson Jennings was a professional slavecatcher. He could get as much as a thousand dollars, a lot of money back then, if he caught somebody. So, not everybody was progressive in Oberlin. He found a family he knew that he could count on, the Boyntons, and this is a great name. He got their son, 10-year-old boy, Shakespeare Boynton, gave him twenty dollars and told him to go pick up John and Frank. So, Shakespeare took his buggy and went to the farm where John was working. “Hey, my dad’s paying two dollars a day, twice as much, come and help.”

Now, John, he was a loyal friend. He said, “No, my friend, Frank, is kind of sick. I can’t go.” Good!  But then he said, “But I know somebody who really needs the money.  I’ll show you where he’s staying.” And he got in the buggy with Shakespeare. And Shakespeare started driving the wrong way and John’s like, “No, my friend’s over here.” Drive them into the woods. And, all of a sudden, another buggy comes tromping up behind. Men jump out with rifles, grab John, tie him up, throw him in their buggy and off they go!

Now, Anderson Jennings and his men knew they weren’t going to try to get on the train at Oberlin. That town was not a friendly place for them. So went nine miles south to Wellington and they rented the third floor, like, attic, because it wasn’t coming… a night train was coming, and they had to wait. They could see from that vantage point iF anybody was coming, if there was any trouble. Well, luckily, an Oberlin student saw all this going on, saw John get captured, and went running into town.

“They’ve got John! They’ve got John Price! Hurry!”

People went out on horses, on their buggies, they went to the livery station and rented some, they went out on foot to go the nine miles to Wellington. And imagine Anderson Jennings surprise when he saw a hundred people show up in front of that Wadsworth Hotel where they were waiting. And then two hundred people in the square. Three hundred, four hundred, five hundred, six hundred, seven hundred people came down. Remember all these people were breaking the federal law, the Fugitive Slave Law. All of them could be in prison but they were shouting, “Give us John Price!  Give us John Price!”

Well, Anderson Jennings got kind of nervous. He sent one of his men to the telegraph office to send a wire, sending for soldiers because it was federal law. Sent for the federal soldiers to come help them. And the rumors spread in the crowd.

“The soldiers are coming. We better make our move.” So one group went up the front of the hotel, the other went up the back.

But now it was kind of light, and they couldn’t see where they were going. All of sudden, the group that went up the back, saw Anderson Jennings’ men there with rifles. And one of the Oberlin (Anderson Jennings’) men took his rifle, ready to shoot. And just at that moment, then the Oberlin man hit that rifle, and it hit – the bullet went right up into the ceiling. He said, “No! No violence!” Now this was an African-American man who had the lashes down his back to prove that he could have been out for revenge but instead, he said no violence. But that was enough to scare Jennings’ men. They went running off. That group went up the back steps, they met the group that had gone up the top steps. Remember, there’s no lights, electricity, back then.  It was getting dark. So it’s kind of like, I don’t know if you saw the old comedy of the Keystone Cops; doodalum, doodalum; kind of running into each other, trying to figure out where is the room John might be in. And just at that moment, Anderson Jennings pulled his head back and looked through a hole where an old stove pipe he had been, trying to see down the dark of the hall; who’s making that noise.

Just then one of the Oberlin men took his rifle and put it down that hall and bonked, bonked Jennings on the head. He fell to the ground and let go of the rope he was holding. That’s all they were using to close the door, wasn’t even locked. The door swung open. The Oberlin people came in. There was all this confusion. But they knew they had John when they heard the cheers outside of,  “Yeah, John!” of the whole crowd cheering.  And they whisked him off. We don’t know where exactly. Some say Canada. I like to think he and his cousin Dinah found each other.

Well, the federal marshals came marching into town. They arrest 37 people – legislators, farmers, a 74-year-old man – none of them had previous records except one who had been fined $1 for smoking a cigar on the Oberlin street. When they came into the classroom to arrest one of the teachers, this little first grader stood up and he said, “Why our teacher had more goodness in his little finger than your entire carcass!” And they jailed these people, 37 Oberlin people, at maximum security in Cleveland.

They said, “We’ve got to make an example! These Oberlin people have always been pushing against the laws.  We got to make an example.”

But it backfired. Four thousand people came to visit them. School children wrote letters. People wrote articles calling them the new patriots. And Jennings came up to that trial; which was completely rigged by the way, you can’t believe what they did in that trial; when Jennings, Anderson Jennings the slavecatcher, came up to that trial, the Oberlin people kidnapped him. And they made him sign something that said he would never come trying to catch enslaved people who had previously been a slave before. And after that, the government‘s case just completely fell apart and they had to release them. And when they did, bands met them, people played Yankee Doodle Dandy, cannons were shot up, they got on the train in Cleveland, and they went to Oberlin. And when they got there, this little town of under 2,000 people, there were 5,000 people there to greet them. And they had a huge rally, and at that rally, everybody stood up and took a pledge that nobody would ever be caught in their town again. And nobody ever was.

That’s the kind of people we come from. That’s our legacy. We come from a group of people who have always stood up for each other. People who said they would risk anything for freedom. People who have refused to be divided and said, “No!  We are one American family!”

THE OTHER 9/11 STORY

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, demonstrations against Muslims arose in different parts of Chicago. One group of Chicagoans on the southwest side of the city decided to support their Muslim neighbors. This support grew into a massive rally and teach-in at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Sue witnessed people willing to learn from and about each other and how much taking a stand could mean.

For print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Other-911

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why don’t we hear the stories of what is working?
  2. The teachers taught the students about other times in history when people were stereotyped and scapegoated. Give an example of what they might have taught.
  3. Were the adults correct in keeping the students away from the (peaceful) demonstration of support? Was their alternative way to involve the students effective?
  4. Why is it important to show support to groups of people who are under attack?

Resource:

  • September 11, 2001: A Record of Tragedy, Herosim and Hope by Editors of New York Magazine

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Interfaith
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Two days after the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, Sister Margaret Zalot, principal of Maria High School, found herself in trouble.  She was driving down east on 95th Street when she unwittingly drove right into an anti-Muslim demonstration.  Crowds were milling about, cars would zip across the intersection at 95th and Harlem.  Then across again and again and shouting, “White power!”  They held signs that said, “Choose what side you’re on.”   “This is the beginning and the end.”  They were just ignoring the police.  They were trying to keep all that traffic going but pretty soon everybody just kind of ran their cars into the middle, just took the intersection over.  There were guys in the back of pickup trucks, huge American flags with long poles, looked like jousters ready to ram somebody.  And she found herself caught in the middle of all this.

Took over an hour and a half to get through that gridlock.  Now just the night before, this angry mob had marched on the mosque at 92nd Street.  Only because the police got there moments ahead and threw up barricades did it keep the windows getting broken or maybe worse.  I’m sure it was fresh in the police people’s minds because just a few years earlier the Federal Building in Oklahoma City had been bombed.  And two days later the mosque in Springfield, Illinois was burned to the ground.  So they saved that mosque but the demonstrations went on and on.  And Sister Margaret Zalot finally got home safely but she remembered that saying, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”  She’s like, “I’ve gotta do something.  What can we do? Oh, what we can do?”

So she went out and she found some other people with the same concern, the same sense of urgency.  She went to swop… S.W.O.P, Southwestern Organizing Project.  This represented 27 community groups on the southwest side of Chicago. And they were also asking what can we do?  It didn’t make sense to meet violence with violence?  What can we do?  They came up with a brilliant plan.  They said, “Lucky the police got to that mosque with the barricade just in time to save it.  We’ll make a human barricade.”  What they decided to do was next day… was Friday, like a Sabbath for Muslims, Friday afternoon prayer, Jumuʿah prayer.  They said, We’ll make a human barricade around the mosques and we’ll protect the people inside.”  And that’s what they did.

Now some people didn’t even know there were mosques in their neighborhood on 63rd Street.  You know, you can just not pay attention to something that doesn’t concern you?  And these are little storefront kind of places of worship.  But the next day, even though it was a workday, Friday workday, 150 people showed up.  And they stood arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder and they had signs from their religion like, “Pax Christi,” Peace and Christ, or “Shalom,” the Jewish tradition word for peace.  And people were so glad that they were there.  In fact, a newspaper accounting talked about the president of one of the mosques saying how much he appreciated the people being there.  How Islam does not teach that kind of violence.  That they were all grieving over the tragedy of 9/11. And certainly, the president of that mosque, Khatam Pharez, was grieving because his cousin was on the 82nd floor of the World Trade Center when that first plane hit that first tower.

And the paper also talked about this young man on his way to Friday prayer when he saw all these people demonstrating in front of the mosque. Well, he knew about the threats to his mosque, there were death threats , and should he go?  Was that the smart thing to do?  Should he go just back home?  And all of sudden one of the men turned around.  It was an older man with snowy hair, and on the sign he was carrying, it said, “As-Salāmu Alaykum,” the Arbic blessing; peace be unto you.  The young man knew those people in front of his mosque weren’t there to hurt him but to protect him.

Well, unfortunately, the violence continued that next week after 9/11.  So, the people decided that they were going to have a circle of peace again.  And Sister Margaret Zalot, principal of Maria High School, had gone back to her school that whole week.  And they suspended many classes and worked with the kids.  They told them stories about, through history when people have been turned against each other, when people have been used to hate one another to somebody else’s benefit.  So, maybe if kids heard these stories, they’d think. So they couldn’t be used against anybody or any other group.  And then they told them stories when people had stood together and the kids really learned.  Because when they heard Sister Margaret, they got it! Some of the teachers were going back the second time to make circles of peace.  You can imagine what they said.  “We want to go, too!  Come on, you’re teaching us about justice and standing together and universal diversity.  We’re gonna go too!”

But these really were dangerous times after September 11th.  The teachers couldn’t take the students somewhere there might be violence.  So, they came up with an alternative because they didn’t want to discourage the girls.  They said, “Why don’t you write letters to your Muslim neighbors?  Tell them how you feel.”  So, that next Friday, double, triple the crowd showed up at those mosques to make their human barricade, their circle of peace.  And when those folks came out from prayer that Friday, they were handed letters from the Maria High School girls.  And the letters said things like, “You are our neighbors, we love you.  We stand by you and for you.”  And people read those letters out loud and, I tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye off the street.  People were huggin’ and crying.

Well, through the months of that winter 2001 and 2002, Southwest Organizing Project joined with community groups from all over Chicago and decided to have a Muslim/non-Muslin dialogue.  But, you know how winter can be any who live in the north.  Oh my goodness!  You get a nice day and everybody just wants to be outside.  It was one of those kind of days, a Sunday afternoon.  They wondered would anybody show up to talk perfect strangers on a beautiful day in Chicago?  They had rented Navy Pier Ballroom.  What if there was nobody coming at all and it was empty?  Four thousand people showed up to share, to dialogue and even the high school girls modeled how to talk and dialogue with each other.  They asked each other questions and, I remember, the Maria High School student asking a girl from the Islamic school, “You know, I have to admit, I saw those hijabs, those headscarves you wear, and I thought it was kind of weird but then we girls got talking.  You know, you can have a bad hair day, that hijab would come in handy.”  And the Islamic girl said back to her, right in front of everybody, “You know, you have bad hair days, we have bad hijab days.  Sometimes you just can’t get those scarves to sit on right.”

So they would model or they would have some other people come up from Southwest Organizing Project would model talking to each other.  And then we in our small groups, they’d give us a discussion question.  Well, you can imagine the noise in that room with four thousand people!  You had huddle in close to hear each other.  I had a Muslim man, I had a teenage boy from the northwest side, I had two cab drivers who just heard about it and came driving on in and we huddled real close.  As we shared our lives and our hopes and our dreams, it’s like the energy just emanated out of Navy Pier up and down the lakefront, all across Chicago.  Because after that all, the white power and other demonstrations just stopped.

What does it take for ugly history not to repeat itself?  It takes people who are willing to go and stand in front of places they’ve never been, to protect a religion they’ve never practiced, to listen in their classrooms or in their community groups to different people’s stories so that we can cut through all that ignorance and fear, so that we can speak and we can celebrate the truth.  We are one.

DAVY CROCKETT

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 As a five-year-old Sue met a boy her age who was different from her. Sue’s mother subtly lets Sue know that she is not to be friends with the boy.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Davy-Crockett

Discussion Questions:

  1. When was the first time you met someone of another “race”?  What effect did it have on you?
  2. What unspoken lessons around race have been transmitted to you?
  3. What does Sue mean when she says that it was “even more damaging” that she received a message from her mother that they and the place where they lived was “better”?
  4. How was Sue damaged by being taught that she, her family and her community were superior?

Resources:

  • Critical White Studies by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanci
  • Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony Greenwald

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood

Full Transcript:

The first child I ever met, who was my age, who was black wore a Davy Crockett cap. So did I. We met at the Downtown Chicago State Street bus stop. Our mothers had gotten us there just in time for the first release of Davy Crockett raccoon skin cap from Marshall Fields Department store. I was five years old and I assumed the boy was the same age. We showed each other our caps. The very same caps that Davy wore every Sunday night in the Disneyland TV series. We showed each other our Jim Bowie rubber knives. We chased each other on that bus stop bench. We even sang Davy’s song, “Kilt him a bear when he was only three. Davy Crockett. King of the wild frontier.”

His bus came first. Before either mother could see what was happening, I followed him on. He reached down the steps to me. I reached up to him and just as our fingers touched. We flew away from each other. I felt my mother’s fingers deep into my arm as she yanked me back into her body and she said, “We don’t go his way.”  Well, I searched for my friend in a reflection of the glass. And I said to my mom, “Well, maybe we’ll be in the same kindergarten class.”

“No you won’t,” she chopped the words into my ear. And then she added, “He lives,” and she turned to make sure nobody else was hearing. She said, “Oh, honey he lives in a different neighborhood.” Still, her voice in that whisper, I didn’t understand. But the lesson transmitted all the same. He was not the same as us. For the first time I saw it the way my mother saw it. But even more subtle, more damaging, never spoken but transmitted through muscle, right into my very bones. We lived in different places and where we lived was better.

DR. KING CAME TO TOWN

by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

For a print friendly version, click here:  Dr-King-Came-to-Town

Full Transcript:

It was Friday, August 12th, 1966 and Dr. Martin Luther King was marching through my Southwest Side Chicago neighborhood, having an Open Housing March. Now he was marching down 79th Street, that was four blocks from my home on 84th Street. But still, all the lights were out in my house, the windows, the doors were locked, all the draperies were closed. And it was hot. August Dog Days hot in that tiny little living room. And I tried to peek around the curtain, take a look. But my grandmother was like, “Su-san, don’t look! Don’t look!” I said, “Ma, the marchers are four blocks away. It is not going to hurt.”

She was like, “Su-san, the priest said so. The priest said, ‘Don’t go out till the marchers are gone.’ ”

I, kind of, rolled my eyes and seeing that this was having no effect, the priest, she tried the politicians. “You know, Mr. Burke said too. Mr. Burke said, “No going out.’ ” Now, Mr. Burke was our precinct captain and he had gone house to house as he had been told to do by the Democratic Party, telling all of us to stay inside during that Open Housing March. And my grandparents had said, of course, they’ll keep us kids inside and they went back up to their sitting room. And I noticed Mr. Burke came in and whispered something to my dad.

And my dad started to walk out with them and I was like, “What’s happening?” And he, my dad, came back in and said how Mr. Bourke’s rounding up some of the men. There’s some new construction over on 79th Street. There’s some bricks they’re going to put a tarp over or remove the brick so nobody throws them at the marchers tomorrow. “That’s all we need,” my dad said. “People throwing bricks at the marchers tomorrow.  But don’t say anything to your grandma. Don’t scare your grandparents.” Well, he didn’t say anything about scaring me. And I was scared.

That summer, earlier in 1966, there had been race riots all over the country. I mean people had been killed in these riots. Those days I go to sleep with racial conflicts from the 10 O’clock News meshing with my dreams and I wake up expecting to see that the sidewalks have buckled. I mean, really part of me expected the whole city to blow. But with my grandparents, I was total calmness. I said, “Ma, it is hot in here. I’m just going to step out, sit on the front porch, get some fresh air. It’s not healthy in here. I’ll be right back.”

“No,” she said. And my grandparents were sitting at the dining room table, which was only a few steps away from our little living room. And she started moaning, “Oh, what do the coloreds want? What do they want?” My grandfather knew the answer.

He said, “First they want our jobs. Now they want our houses.”

Well, I had had enough. I started to walk to the door. She called again, “No, the priests, the politicians, they say don’t go out!”

I go, “Ma, I’m just going to sit on the porch.”

She goes, “What do they want? What do they want?”

My grandpa said, “They want everything.” I had had enough. I walked out the front door.

And as I did, I felt this kind of strange mixture of shame and triumph. Shame because right then I just hated my grandparents. I was so embarrassed by their prejudice. But I also felt this triumph because I’d done it. I mean, Dr. King’s people were marching down our streets and I’d… marched out my front door. At 16, it was the best I could do.

When I sat down on the porch, I was so surprised to see that the block was empty. There was this eerie silence. I mean, usually on a hot summer day, these front porches would be packed with people because we had no air conditioning back then. People would just be sitting there like drooping flags, begging for a breeze. It’s like a neutron bomb had gone off. Only the buildings remained.

And I sat there… and I could remember the last few Sundays there had been Open Housing Marches at Marquette Park. I remember seeing the TV cameras showing this teenager with a, with a, a band on his arm that said, “Death before dishonor.” And this boy picked up a heavy metal sewer cap. Picked it up and tossed it at the marchers like it was a frisbee. And then his friend picked up a rock and he pitched it into the crowd.  And it, it swerved through the air and then it sliced right across the forehead of a nun…a nun! And then the cameras showed us some of the streets alongside Market Park where the demonstration was happening. And there were some demonstrators, the marchers, cars were set on fire. And then these lagoons that were in Market Park, it showed pictures of groups of white men pressing their bodies up against the marchers, car… just… just pressing into the steel hulks of their cars. Grunting and pushing them right into the lagoons, the tails of the car waving as they sank.

And then it cut over the pictures of the marchers themselves. They were walking shoulder to shoulder to crisscross style. Martin Luther King was in the middle of them. And there were all these people around them.  Like this white people screaming, like making this thin crevice of hate they just had to march through. All the time, shouting, “Coloreds go home! Go back to where you came from! Go to your own kind! Go home!”

But on my street, it was silence like at Mass, at the consecration, where everything got still and quiet. That’s what it felt like but it didn’t feel very holy. It’s like I couldn’t even sit still. So I looked at the bay window to see if my grandma was looking out at me and she wasn’t. The curtains were still drawn. So I got up and walked to Ashburn Park, just three doors down from my house, a lot smaller than Market Park. There was this black and white striped guardrail to keep people from driving into the park. And I just sat there for a moment. It’s like I couldn’t even sit at my house. I didn’t know what to do with my nervous energy. And as I sat there, I suddenly felt this this wave of something like this, this hum of something in the air. And I looked up and there’s this massive swamp… green helicopters. It was the army. The army was in my neighborhood. And then they flew over by 79th Street. And I kept straining to see if I could hear something from 79th Street but I couldn’t. And I wondered were my neighbors like the, the demonstrators at Market Park, the white people there? Were they shouting obscenities, throwing rocks? Had people found those bricks that Mr. Burke and my dad tried to hide?  Was there violence going on? I couldn’t tell. Or were they just behind their locked doors like the priest and the politicians had said, just wishing it would all go away?  I don’t know where anybody was.

And then, down the middle of my street, came this gray metallic truck. And on top of the truck was a flag and I closed my eyes to make it go away. But when I opened my eyes, there it was again. Red flag, white circle in the middle, black swastika in the middle. A Nazi flag. And next to the flag was a loud speaker that was blaring out this voice saying, “White power rally! White power rally! White power rally! Next Sunday! Noon! Market Park! Next Sunday! Noon.”

I mean, was this very clipped, fact-giving voice as if all of the persuading had already been done. And as that truck came towards me, it stopped right in front of me. And this man in black leather pants and jacket and what looked like slicked back black leather hair, came running at me. And I could see on one lapel, he had this, We Want Wallace button, on the other side it said Up With the KKK. And he handed me this leaflet. And I looked down and there were these people in white robes. The Ku Klux Klan. And when I looked up again the man was gone. And then off their truck went again, fact-giving voice just assuming people would want the information.

As I sat there it was like again, my, my block, was still and empty. It was as if the air were thin. It was as if the KKK and the army and the marchers had all come into neighborhoods and stole all the air molecules. I couldn’t breathe.

And I thought about my church. I mean, my church said to love everybody. I thought about the Dr. King poster I had up on my bedroom wall. I thought about my friends of color that I had just met that year in this youth group that met in downtown Chicago. I thought about how much I would love them to live by me. And I said to myself so I would know myself, “I want black people to live wherever they want to. I want everybody to be free.” But deep inside, I felt of two minds because I’d never seen one example of where black people moving in didn’t mean white people moving out. If open housing worked, I mean, black people could live in my neighborhood but I knew that all the people in my neighborhood would be gone. It wouldn’t be my neighborhood anymore.

And I sat there and I, I looked at that Nazi truck now. It was on the other side of the park and I saw it weaving up and down my neighborhood. And I thought, as I sat on that black and white guardrail, that I felt absolutely torn in two. It was like the city’s dividing line, that white neighborhood, the black line, color line, we crossed every month or so in Chicago;  now it felt like it was in my body, cutting my body in two. That’s what I felt. Torn in two.

BEACH DROWNING AND RACE RIOT

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

Story Summary:

 In researching housing history in segregated Chicago, Sue learns about the 1919 Chicago race riot. Why had she never heard of this before?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Beaching-Drowning

Discussion Questions:

  1. Would you hide a family fleeing the violence during a riot?
  2. What led up to the riots? How were people turned against each other? Who benefitted from the separation of black and white?
  3. What choices confronted the city leaders after the 1919 race riot?  What choices did they make?  What were the consequences?
  4. What does it mean that segregation was “forced”?

Resource:

  • Race Riot: Chicago in Red Summer of 1919 by William M. Tuttle

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

In the summer, between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, I took a special summer course with a focus on housing. I had an internship where I was assigned to a community organizer named Lee whose specialty was Chicago housing. Now, I guess today we would describe my mentor, Lee, as an aging hippie. He was in his 40s and his long hair in a ponytail went all the way down his back, only the top of this head was shiny clear skin. It’s as if the ponytail was pulling the hair right off the top of his head. I’d never seen a man with so much hair, going bald.

Now from Lee, I learned one of the most startling facts I’ve ever heard up to that point in my life. That the city of Chicago had not always been segregated. Lee mentioned this fact, oh, just casually, one day as if it were common knowledge. We were on our way to go get a pop. Now this shows you I’m from Chicago. Not soda pop or soda but a pop. We are going to Max’s Barbershop. Because at the front of Max’s shop, he had a vending machine where he sold soft drinks. And Lee opened the door for me and the little bell, to give a little ding-a-ling, announcing our arrival. Lee mentioned again, just kind of casually, you know about Chicago before it was segregated. I liked flipped out. I said, “Chicago was integrated once?  When?”

Well, we got our pops. We settled onto the torn leather couch at the front of Max’s shop and Lee lowered his voice so as not to start a racial diatribe in the barbershop. And he told me at the turn of the century that blacks were less segregated in Chicago than Italians and other European groups. He said, oh, maybe by 1910 or so there were a dozen or so all black blocks in the whole city. You know, because families would want to move in near each other. Near somebody they know. But it wasn’t like those blocks were adjacent to each other.  There wasn’t what we would call black and white part of town. “Well, what changed things?” I asked.

He said, “More and more African-Americans coming up from the south. They were trying to escape the injustice of the migrant farmer system or crops would fail so there was no work. And it was perfect for the factory owners, the business owners, ’cause they could set one group against the other and the competition would keep those prices low.” And I realized I knew something about this because my grandfather told me over and over again while I was growing up, all the times he’d lost jobs to black men. My grandpa had worked construction, worked at the stockyards. And I told Lee about this. And he said that, oh yeah, it was true that my grandpa could have lost jobs.  But the real reason was because all kinds of black workers were shipped up north, I mean, by the train load. Unsuspecting. Because the business owners could use them to bust up the unions. The white workers, they’re working conditions were deplorable too. They were trying to form unions.  And sometimes we’d bring those trains right into the stockyards. They didn’t know, the black workers didn’t know, they were busting unions. But he told me the biggest thing that started the segregation in Chicago was the Chicago race riot of 1919.

One summer day in 1919 a young boy was floating on a raft in Lake Michigan. His name was Eugene Williams.  Now, Eugene liked school well enough, he did well enough. But, awe, how he loved his summers! And he loved to hang out at the beach even though he wasn’t a very good swimmer. Now, some of you know Lake Michigan. It can get pretty wavy, almost like an ocean sometimes. It was one of those kind of rough sea days and it was wavy. And Eugene, some of his friends had made this makeshift raft. And the waves pushed Eugene across this imaginary line that some people thought of as the white part of the beach. And some white men and boys saw Eugene. They got mad. They started throwing stones and rocks, boulders, planks of wood, anything. And they knocked Eugene off and, as I said, he wasn’t the best swimmers, it was a wavy day. And Eugene drown.

Now some black people spotted some of the white men and boys who had thrown the stones and planks at Eugene. They ran up to a white police officer, the only kind of officer there was back then. And said, “There, those guys! Those are the guys that killed Eugene! They murdered Eugene!” But the police officer refused to make an arrest and a fist fight broke out.

That fight spread up and down the beach. It spilled out onto the streets on the South Side of Chicago and then to the middle Chicago to the North Side of Chicago. It’s like all that, that tension that was simmering there because of the competition over housing and jobs, it just exploded. It took four days and the National Guard to finally stop the violence. At the end, hundreds were injured. Scores of men and boys, mostly black were killed. Many right in their own homes, at the hands of their very own neighbors.

I sat on that torn leather couch looking out the door. I had heard absolutely nothing about the Chicago 1919 race riots. And all through my high school years, there had been race riots in Chicago. Just the year before, in my senior year, when Dr. King had been killed, there was unrest all over the city. Why hadn’t I heard these stories before?

I was so stunned by what Lee told me that I actually talked to my Grandmother McHugh that night about race. It was a subject I usually avoided with her at all cost. It was my turn to make dinner that night at our girls apartment for this special summer program. So, I called my grandmother get her spaghetti and meatballs recipe. That’s that famous Irish spaghetti and meatballs. And she was giving me her instructions, I guess it couldn’t get out of my head would Lee had said, and I just blurted out to my grandmother, “Ma did you ever hear of the Chicago race riots of 1919?”

“Oh yeah,” she said. Then there was this long pause and then she added, “I remember a family that hid by us.”

“What do you mean, hid by us?”

“Oh, they were a Negro family,” she said. “They had children. I think they lived a couple blocks away. And well, the city had come through and rounded up all the colored people and taken them to one area like a safety zone, you know. But they must’ve missed this family. And they were hiding in the gangway, next door to us. They were just too scared to move.”

I said, “Ma, how, how long this go on?”

“I don’t know, maybe three, four days. But, but my mom had me feed them. She would make sandwiches and she’d wrap it up in newspapers. She’d have me go out by the garbage cans like I was going to throw the newspaper away, but I tossed the sandwiches to them.”

“So you fed them? How long?

“Well, like three, four days,” she said again. “They were too scared to move through the neighborhood.”

“So now, why didn’t you ever tell me any of this before?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “It happened a long time ago. Besides what good does it do to talk about it?”

Well, Lee and I were talking about it and I wanted to know everything. I said, “And what, what happened after the 1919 race riots?”

And he said, “It was like after that the race riots. You just couldn’t run a city like that with wholesale violence, people punching each other and killing each other in the streets. So the leaders their… their focus became on keeping the peace.”

Now, this is where Lee said the city could have gone one way or the other. Keeping the peace could have meant standing up to everybody and saying, “Hey, we are going to learn to live together.” But instead the politicians, the business owners, they came up with a strategy to separate whites and blacks in more civilized ways. Lee told me, he said, “For instance, in the city council, they invented what we call restrictive covenants. It said that certain areas of the city, and this is a quote, ‘could only be occupied by people of white or Caucasian race.’” And then Lee said, “In certain areas they were trying to make all white, they’d go knock on the doors, they’d invite the black people to leave. They’d offer money or they’d make threats.  And then they go to the store owners in that area and they threatened them that they’d better not sell anything to black families. I’m talking even a loaf of bread,” Lee said. “Or even stamps at the postage office, at the post office.”

Now Lee was some kind of working class scholar. Every quote, everything I heard that summer, he would make me look up, you know. Do research, get primary quotes, get my statistics straight, even if the quote came from him. So I looked and I looked and I found all kinds of tidbits. Like a 1920 Hyde Park neighborhood association newspaper and it put a big ad in there. And said, “Every black man who moves into Hyde Park knows he is damaging his white man’s property. Therefore he’s declaring war on the white man. If store owners and businesses should refuse to give a job to any black man that stays and resides in Hyde Park, well, that would show very good results.”

I’d always been told that blacks live with blacks and whites with whites, browns with browns, because everybody preferred their own kind. But that day I learned that segregation had been forced. I sat on that leather couch, sipping my orange Nehi pop, staring through the door and out at the barbershop pole. It’s red and white stripes twirling around each other but never, ever touching.

MORE ALIKE THAN NOT

Featuring Storytellers Arif Choudhury, Gerald Fierst and Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 Through exploring misconceptions and common threads such as immigration and disagreements within their own religions, these three tellers bring alive their distinct histories and our common humanity to illuminate the experience of being an American in a time of religious tension, change and possibility.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  More-Alike-Than-Not

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What were you taught about other faith traditions? Were you given accurate information or misinformation?
  2. What groups do you identify with? Do you ever feel as though you don’t fit in in your own group?
  3. Why do people condemn, fear or stereotype people from different religions?
  4. Is there a religion you’d like to learn more about? What similarities between the major world religions might surprise you?

Resource:

  • Religious Tolerance and World Religions by Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Identity
  • Interfaith
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript: 

More alike than not.  When the three of us started working together, Gerry, Arif and me, Susan, one thing we discovered, over and over again – we are so different. For instance, man, woman, black hair, red hair, less hair, brown skin, white skin, raised Muslim, raised Catholic, raised Jewish, white collar.

My father was a doctor. My father was a doctor too. Now my family, blue collar workers, mostly manual laborers, but we did have one teacher. Big family, small family, medium family. Ah huh, younger. Okay, older. But Gerry and I, we like to exercise every day and we eat healthy. Huh, and I consider potato chips a vegetable. So, you can see, we’re really different.

In fact, sometimes the three of us would look each other and we’d say we’re so different. How could we ever be friends? But then we kept working on our show. We started discovering how similar we were, for instance, how all-American our upbringings really were.

All of our families celebrated the Fourth of July. How more American than that can you be? Yeah. We celebrated Fourth of July and we had a barbecue – tandoori chicken! Ha, ha!

Food seemed to be the common element for all of our holidays. For instance, on Thanksgiving, my grandmother would always make her prized, lime green Jell-O mold with those little miniature marshmallows suspended mid-mold.

Yes. And my family for Thanksgiving, amongst all the other foods, we also had Jell-O mold but we used the recipe from Julia Child with Grand Marnier.

Now see my working class, beer and peanuts family, we would not know what Grand Marnier, I can’t even say it, Grand Marnier liqueur was. Ha, ha, ha! And in my Muslim family, we didn’t even drink alcohol so I don’t even know what a liqueur really is.

And all of our families were baseball fanatics. My teams were the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. And Arif and I, we’re Chicago kids so we are waitin’ for the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series. Go Cubs! Oh, and that’s a real definition of faith!

Yeah, but then we kept talking about our faith traditions. We came to one major similarity –  that we all pray to one God. And it’s the same God, the God who spoke to Abraham.

And in all of our religions, at one time or another, the women covered their hair as a sign of respect and dedication, devotion. And in Judaism, the men also wear a skullcap when they pray and when they’re indoors.

Yeah. Muslim men often cover their hair for prayer as well. And in all our faiths, we learned another language to practice our faith tradition. I had to learn Arabic to read the holy book, the Koran, and I learned Latin and I learned Hebrew. And we all have religious leaders. For Muslims, it’s called the imam.

Now Catholicism, there’s the priest, the bishops, the cardinal and then the pope. The Jews have a rabbi. Similarity though, in our religions most of the top leaders are men. Ha, ha, ha. And then sometimes we discover somp’in’ that really surprises. For instance, Catholics, we believe in the virgin birth of Jesus and so do Muslims. And, see, we didn’t know that.

But all of our religions have times for prayer and for fasting. I remember when I was a little kid, on Yom Kippur, we’d spend the whole day praying and fasting. Uh, All I wanted to do was to go home and eat.

Ha, ha, ha. For me as a Muslim, as a kid fasting, then sleep deprivation, every day for the 29 or 30 days of the holy month of Ramadan, I’d wake up before sunup to eat an entire medium cheese pizza and half of two liters of Diet Coke. So, I go that day from sunup to sundown with no food or drink.

And say the thing about how you sometimes you get stuck out traveling, you still have to pray when you’re on the road. Right. Practicing Muslims pray five times a day no matter where you are. So, a few years back my uncle and I were driving on a rural highway in Illinois heading up toward Chicago. The sun was coming down, was time for Maghrib prayer. So, my uncle pulled the car into the gas station. We took our shoes and socks off, threw our coats on the grass nearby as prayer rugs and we bowed facing east to the holy city of Mecca. Just a few feet away from the gas pumps and the highway.

Now prayer for us meant all 12,000 of us parishioners of St. Thomas Moore Parish going to one of the many Sunday masses. I used to go with my grandma and she’d always bring her crystal rosary. And sometimes the sun would stream into the stained-glass windows, hit that rosary and spray rainbows up and down the pews. I thought my grandmother’s rosary was made of magic diamonds.

As we were learning about all our faith traditions and the different facets and elements of our faith practices, we were showing all these flip charts and all the categories and the yellow sticky notes were posted with different pieces of each of our faiths. And the more that we looked at all those little slips of paper and the more we told the stories behind all those little yellow slips, the more we realized that really, we were more alike than different even though our families came from very different parts of the world.

My family came from New York City. I grew up in Brooklyn, in a little neighborhood called Borough Park. Borough Park could have been called Sholahova, which was the name of the little shtetl town or Jewish town that my family had come from. The avenue of Borough Park was lined with all the old Jewish merchants – the pickle man, the poultryman, the kosher butcher, the shoemaker, the baker – everybody was Jewish. I didn’t even know that the whole world wasn’t Jewish until I went to public school.

I lived in a house with my great-grandmother, my grandfather, my great aunt Tillie, my great-uncle Sam, my aunt Alice, my uncle Sidney, my cousin Jenny, my mother, my father, my sister and me. Next door were my cousins, down the street were more cousins. The doors were always open. Everybody came in and out all day.

My first crib was a dresser drawer. That way whoever was in the house could take me up and down the stairs and whoever was staying there would watch me. Every month, the whole family came to our house for the family meeting and we discussed whatever problems anybody had. Did they need a job? Did they need a loan to start a business? Do they need to get married? Whatever problem you had, the family would help. And that ethic went out into the big world. When we were very little, my great-grandmother, she would give us a dollar bill and she would say, “Go get milk and butter but I don’t want you to go to the big store. I want you to go to the little man. If we don’t help the little man, who will.”

Nowadays, well, the family still gathers. We celebrate holidays and life passages. And if we ever need help, we turn to each other and we know that there will always be help out there because if we don’t help each other, who will.

Now I grew up in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. My neighborhood was only 90 percent Irish when my grandparents came from Ireland to Chicago. They moved to an inner-city neighborhood of Chicago in the early 1900s that was just about 100 percent Irish. And coming from another land, they must have felt some comfort in being in a city that had politicians with names like Kennelly and Kelly and Daley. Now many years later in the 1950s, I was born and when I was 10 months old, my parents took us out of that mostly 100 percent Irish type neighborhood and moved us to a new development on the outskirts of the city.

They felt like pioneers. There were no streets, no sidewalks. We didn’t get mail delivered. And suddenly, they had new neighbors, some of whom had names such as English names or German names or Italian names. Now to my grandparents, this was a very dangerous situation because mixed neighborhoods could lead to… mixed marriages. And, sure enough, in high school didn’t I go and date a boy named Jim Worpinski. A Polish boy. This was interracial dating back then. Now we may have been many different kinds of white ethnic groups but the thing that held us together is that neighborhood was 99 percent Catholic. If someone asked you were… where you were from, you would say your parish on the southwest side of Chicago. I would say, “St. Thomas Moore.” I didn’t know that the official city name for my neighborhood was Wrightwood ‘til I was about 20 years old. Someone asked me where I’s from, I said Tommy Moore because we’re on a nickname basis with our St. And it did feel like ours. It was our St. Our neighborhood, our city.

When I heard Gerry talking about Borough Park, I realized that he and I have something in common. I also grew up in a Jewish neighborhood except I wasn’t Jewish. And when I hear Gerry and Sue talk about growing up in their ethnic and religious enclaves, I realize how different my story really is because I grew up in a suburb of Chicago as the only Muslim boy… as the only Bangladeshi boy.

My parents came to America from a country called Bangladesh, a small country just between India and Myanmar. My father first came to America because he wanted to study medicine. And then he hoped to go back to Bangladesh when it would be safe for him to have economic and educational opportunities there. But his father, my grandfather, told him to stay in America because there might be civil war brewing. At the time, Bangladesh was called East Pakistan and it might be war between East Pakistan and Pakistan for Bengali freedom. So, my father stayed in America, made money, sent it back home to the family where my mother’s family lived through the war. One of her cousins were… disappeared. The Pakistani army came and took him away. They never saw him again.

But later my father returned to marry my mother and they came and settled in Chicago where my dad, my dad got a job as a neurologist at Veterans Hospitals and we lived in this one high-rise, apartment building, because three other Bangladeshi families lived in that building too. So that was kind of our ethnic enclave. My mom and dad wanted to live there because they could share their language and their customs and their shared history and their shared loss from the war with those other families. But then one day, my dad decided to move away and buy a house in Northbrook. Now when I was living in that high-rise apartment, every morning our fathers would go off to work and our Bangladeshi mothers would gather those kids together and they would spend the day and they would trade each other’s specialty, Bengali recipes like chicken korma or roshgulla, a nice dessert. But they also taught each other new American recipes that they were learning from box tops and the sides of ingredients boxes like spaghetti with meatballs or macaroni with cheese or tuna fish sandwiches. And the other kids and I would watch Sesame Street or Electric Company.

But then we moved to Northbrook and then we were isolated from those families. Those families became my surrogate aunties and cousins and… to us. And now I didn’t see them very often, only on Saturdays at parties. And I lived in this… big house with my younger sister and my mom. And my sister and I played out… indoors quite a bit. I didn’t play outside with the other white kids. They all seemed older and they seemed to know each other. They had all gone to preschool together. I didn’t go to preschool with them so I didn’t play with them and I was afraid of being different. There was always constant reminders in our house about how different we were. There was patriotic Bengali music on the record player and each house had a… each room in the house had these woodcuts of balishi vistas, rural fishermen fishing and farmers farming. When I, later, got older and had white friends and I went to their houses, they didn’t have any of that stuff so I didn’t want to be different. But I was and I came to accept it. My parents had always thought that we would eventually go back to Bangladesh once my father was settled and had more opportunity there but that never materialized. And it was a young country with a lot of political turmoil. And then I was born and my sister was born. And my, my younger brother was born and my parents decided that kids are American. Let’s stay in America.

So, we wanted to share some of our stories with you today from our longer piece as long as everybody keeps in mind that nobody can speak for his or her group. I can’t speak for all Catholics, which certainly means I can’t speak for all Christians and I can’t speak for all Jews. And I can’t speak for all Muslims. These stories are just part of who we are.