Etgar 36

Chicago Day 2

– Lily Mosbacher 

After an extremely rushed hotel breakfast (we woke up late…oops), we traveled to Summit in the southern suburbs of Chicago, approximately two miles from Midway airport. As we drove through and I looked out the windows of the bus, I saw houses much smaller than I’m used to in my Georgia suburb, they were mostly made out of corrugated metal sheets or wood, and most had chairs or hanging plants on their front porch. Two houses down one of the streets, an older woman stood on her porch in a nightgown and a bonnet talking to someone in a stopped car below. To me, this showcased a tight-knit community of people who know each other well. I would later come to find out this was a town that was only half a mile wide and a mile long, with a population of 10,000. At first, I thought, WOW, that’s a lot, until I realized the city I live in, Georgia, has approximately 61,000 people. 


We then arrived at the Emmett Till Memorial Center. It kind of looked like the youth group house behind my temple. Everything was beige and outdated, but it felt well loved, like many things were happening there. There was a huge old TV, the kind with antennas and folding chairs set up in rows in front of one of those teacher desks you see in school. The room was surrounded by blue posters which depicted each phase of the trial that resulted from the lynching of Emmett Till. The air conditioning was broken, and a huge fan whirred as we walked in 15 minutes late (oh, Chicago traffic). 


We met first with Dr. Marvel Parker, the wife of Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., who was in bed next to Emmett when he was kidnapped. She told us about all of the work she and her husband do in their community, such as creating a community center to offer children and teens in the Summit neighborhood “alternatives” to drugs, alcohol, and gang-related activity. She also told us about the “Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley: Let the world see” traveling exhibit and her aspirations for future permanent exhibitions. Then we met with the reverend who, instead of focusing on the actual lynching and murder of his cousin, chose to discuss the expectations and misconceptions forced upon African Americans in the South in the 1950s. It wasn’t until the end that he told a brief account of how he felt on that pitch-black Sunday night in Mississippi when he heard voices on his doorstep. How he felt death was imminent, so he sat there and prayed to god that if his life were spared, he would “get it together.” And how as soon as these white men took Emmett, he knew it wasn’t about finding him alive but rather searching for his body. At the end of the meeting, he shook my hand and said, “When you feel that fire in your belly, make the change you want to see.” 


Next, we stopped at Giardino’s for pizza. I have my own opinions on this meal which I will not share out of fear for my physical and mental safety.

After that, we walked to Grant Park, where we met about prison reform with the Illinois Prison Project, a law firm and nonprofit organization. First, Jessica Daniels, the education program manager, introduced the initiative, and then we split into groups to discuss what we thought a world without prison would look like. My group, among many things, discussed the breaking of family cyclical crime and incarceration as well as new abilities to generate wealth. We then heard from two formerly incarcerated men, Vincent and Anaviel. Both had extremely powerful stories to tell. Anaviel, who is now in society as an extremely well-functioning and successful man, was deemed “unsalvageable” at his trial and sentenced to life in prison. This, among many other horrible stories we learned about during the meeting, led me to become very strong in my belief that the prison system in the US must undergo extreme reform. 


Then we drove for four hours with a brief (2 hour) stop at Cracker Barrel. The atmosphere is great the food is fine, in case you were wondering. And after the long schlep, we reached our hotel around midnight. From me and all the Etgarians, goodnight