Senator Kimberly Lightford speaks during a gathering of elected officials, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker (far right), in Maywood on June 7. | Photo by Shanel Romain

Forest Park’s Mayor Rory Hoskins joined an array of elected officials from across the state in Maywood on Sunday to make a series of demands as Gov. J. B. Pritzker stood mere feet away. All of those gathered stood underneath the shadow of Maywood native son Fred Hampton, whose bronze bust was the focal point of the June 7 gathering in front of the Fred Hampton Aquatic Center, 300 Fred Hampton Way.

“I’m tired of taking crumbs,” said state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th), who lives in Maywood. “Governor, we need a slice!”

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), a Westchester resident who was born and raised in Maywood, said that slice includes “real police accountability” and for $1 billion to be invested “in every black community.”

Sunday’s gathering was organized by Welch, Lightford and First District Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, with a few dozen other black elected officials in attendance, including Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, who also lives in Maywood, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton was also in attendance.

The Maywood gathering was one of at least four different gatherings of black elected officials in black communities across the Chicago area. The demonstrations come a few weeks after the death of George Floyd on May 25. Floyd’s death at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers have prompted a national wave of peaceful protests and a separate wave of opportunistic looting and vandalism (largely unrelated to the organized protests).

“The Black Lives Matter movement is centering once again the thing that we know to be true,” said Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins, who stood alongside her African American counterparts, including: Broadview Mayor Katrina Thompson, Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey and Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins (all black and/or black woman firsts).

“Racism has destroyed or compromised the vitality of so many of our young people and the criminal justice system is just one of many mechanisms that have been used to undermine the black community,” Perkins said.

Lightford, the  first African American female Senate Majority Leader in state history, was brought to tears talking about how her political career started as a 27-year-old Maywood trustee whose fight to rehab the Fred Hampton Pool got her labeled “the angry black woman, because I was fighting for what was right for my community,” she said. “And I have been that angry black woman for 21 years and I’m not going to stop!”

Lt. Gov. Stratton channeled the suffering of George Floyd while she outlined the centuries-old battle for equality among blacks. 

“Every single system in this country has been built with racism at its core,” Stratton said, adding that blacks don’t want any more “knees on our neck” and “we deserve to breathe.”

Gov. Pritzker called for a 10-second moment of silence during his remarks.

“We’re here on Fred Hampton way because he was a hero to so many, but think about all of the unsung killed at the hands of murderous police officers,” he said. “I want to take a moment of silence for those whose names aren’t being spoken here today.”

Pritzker said that there is “no justice without police accountability,” criminal justice reform and “without reversing the disinvestment and instead making significant investments in our black communities.”

Johnson told those gathered “don’t end your protests, don’t end your rage,” before saying that Pritzker and Stratton has made a commitment to black elected officials from across the state to have listening sessions “so that we can develop policies that will transform lives.”

Raymond Smith, an 82-year-old Maywood man, was among at least 100 onlookers out during Sunday’s demonstration. Smith said that he’s been living in Maywood for more a half-century and is a former Black Panther who knew Hampton personally.

He said that he was cautiously optimistic about the promises made in the park, primarily because he’s noticed that many whites are beginning to take action.

“It looks like we’ve got some help, so we’ll see,” Smith said.