Dr. King’s dream of the beloved community has been the key to Bill Teague’s entire life. Every time the Forest Park resident drives east on Madison Street into the city, he is reminded of the community he came from.
“I grew up on the West Side of Chicago,” he said. “When I was a kid they burned down most of the West Side along Madison Street. They promised to rebuild, but that hasn’t happened yet.”
His family and the neighbors around him were poor.
“We had a vacant lot near us that used to be a lumberyard where they allowed us to play baseball. We played on rocks and nails and the ball we used was held together with tape. Those who had gloves shared them with those who didn’t.
“All of us did not have fathers,” he noted, “but the men who were around came and helped us learn how to play ball. The got uniforms for us that were way too big. That’s how poor we were, but those men cared for us.”
He was exposed to racism. They learned that Smith Park on Chicago Avenue had a ballfield that actually was free of rocks and garbage, so he and a group of friends walked over to the park hoping to play ball there, but they got chased back to their part of town.
“That didn’t stop us,” he said. “We went back a second time the next week and got chased again. The third time we stood our ground. We had our bats.”
His neighborhood was poor but the community stuck together. Even though moms were often the head of their households, the men in the neighborhood helped the young ones. Another community anchor was Mount Sinai Baptist Church.
Although many of his neighbors did not have a high school diploma, much less a college degree, the older folks kept telling the younger ones to get their education if they wanted to move up.
In 1999 he and his wife saved enough to buy a house, moved out of the West Side and located in a community where his three daughters could get a good education. The next chapter of his search for the beloved community continued in Forest Park.
Teague and his family closed on their house on Dec. 3, 22 years ago, a day on which the temperature outside soared to 60 degrees. They had just received the keys and went to open the garage door when a white neighbor yelled, “Hey, what are you doing?”
Teague didn’t pay any attention but his wife said, “I think he is calling the police.”
Sure enough, 30 seconds later they were surrounded by Forest Park police officers with guns drawn. Welcome to the village with big city access and small town charm.
Here’s what made the incident one that Teague remembers fondly: “It could have turned ugly,” he said, “because at that time I had half Dr. King and half Malcolm in my body, and I could have reacted either way.”
But when Teague explained to the officers that his family had just closed on the house, the officers responded, “We apologize.” They were calm and even though the incident began with racist assumptions, the officers quickly acknowledged the mistake.
The 2020 census revealed that minorities are now the majority in the village but back then white folks were a clear majority.
“There weren’t too many black folks around,” Teague recalled, “but our daughters grew up in a neighborhood Dr. King dreamed of — Black, white, Chinese — everyone growing up together. We had a white family on one side of us and a multicultural family on the other side. It was beautiful, and we are proud of Forest Park and the Proviso area.”
Aware that Proviso East has been burdened with a bad reputation, Teague declared his support of the local high school where two of his daughters went, and then went on to college where they’re doing well.
“When that first summer came, I was sitting on my deck looking up at the stars and saying, ‘Lord, this is beautiful.’ No noise, no loud radio. It made me understand how blessed we were to get away from that bababoom bababoom all day long.”
In one way Teague found the community he had been seeking. But it’s all relative and he sees that although the glass may be half full, it’s also half empty.
“We got to get that back,” he declared, referring to the way he felt about the community when he moved here. “We can’t let them [people who erode beloved community] come in and change what we have. This is why it’s so important to rebuild our communities.”
Teague works to create that beloved community through the church. “We started Hope Tabernacle,” he said, “in our kitchen in Forest Park in 2002 and moved to St. Paul Lutheran Church in 2007.”
Rev. Teague’s church, a predominantly Black faith community starts their service around noon. The Thai Community Church begins worship at 4 p.m.
Not only did now Bishop Teague work to create community inside the four walls of the white stucco church on Dixon Street, he also got involved in the broader community. He presently serves as executive director of PTMAN (Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance Network) a nonprofit that seeks to create beloved community in this area.
PTMAN’s webpage describes the organization as one “striving to become a collective body of community partners. We believe in working collaboratively with the community to bring about the changes that will ensure community parity and wholesome harmony.”
Some theologians describe the Kingdom of God as already here but not yet. Perhaps the same thing can be said of Rev. Bill Teague. He feels blessed to be part of a community like Forest Park and at the same time is doing what he can to make it even more blessed still.