Over the past several weeks, there has been a lot of coverage of the protests in Chicago. Close your eyes for a second and imagine the crowd. I bet you don’t picture me, a middle-age white guy who works for a construction union.
But last Friday I attended the anniversary rally for Freedom Square, a space across the street from the infamous Homan Square interrogation site used by the Chicago Police Department to detain and torture innocent people (background here – theguardian.com/us-news/homan-square).
The rally started with a press conference that included speakers from several area organizations, including the Let Us Breathe Collective, Black Abolitionist Network, Black Youth Project 100, and Chi-Nations Youth Council. Several news cameras were there and the speakers told honest and specific stories about how their lives had been impacted by constant over-policing and overt racism.
The press conference ended, and the crowd did not know exactly what to expect. Chanting? Marching? Confronting the more than 200 police officers in riot gear across the street?! Nope. Instead, it was time to imagine.
Two young female MCs explained that we were there to envision a future where resources would be directed away from policing and instead fund restorative justice, education, employment, mental health, housing, arts, nutrition, and addiction treatment — the goals of the initial Freedom Square encampment four years earlier.
The picture started to come into focus as an amazing performer sang an Al Green song. It became clearer as poets rhymed verses about life and love, and speakers processed both the problematic past and what’s possible. And then came the dancing. The footwork crew created amazing energy and moved the crowd, but it was the modern dance representing black liberation that brought the picture into clear view.
I wiped away tears of joy. Joy. Something rarely felt these days. Something that is never mentioned in the coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests. Something that is not currently associated with the city of Chicago. I personally had not felt such joy or liberation in a very long time.
Do you need some joy? Find a Black Lives Matter event and go. I may be the old white guy lagging behind and sweating profusely at the next Black Lives Matter rally, but I will be there. And until then, I am committed to work toward the future I saw so clearly — with real freedom, real liberation, and real joy.