The Moment Within The Moment: "Same Ol' Nigger Shit"

(NOTE: Should you be sufficiently, understandably offended by the title of this article and have a desire to close it out, I encourage you to continue reading. I encourage you to fight through the discomfort of the title the same way people of color fight through daily the discomfort of racism's constant assault on our humanity. Fight with the same indomitable spirit of people impoverished in Chicago who still smile, love and make something from nothing. For those new to our Vision Zero advocacy work, for full context, please check out these previous articles HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE as well as our Vision Zero Chicago Live Social Media Video Chat.)

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From the desk of:


Olatunji Oboi Reed
Co-Founder, Slow Roll Chicago
Oboi@SlowRollChicago.org
773-916-6264

Dear Slow Roll Chicago Community:

There's a moment within a moment. The latter moment is longer and broader. The former is brief, perhaps, even fleeting.

The latter moment began centuries ago, when people of African and Indigenous descent first experienced White Supremacy. This moment manifested globally through colonialism and the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. The moment manifested here in the US through the institution of chattel slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow, defacto segregation, redlining and all of the permutations of structural, systemic and institutional racism.

The former moment are those times today or in our recent past when we are reminded of the continued existence of White Supremacy as an ingrained institution around the world and in our country, continuing to adversely impact the descendants of those same African and Indigenous people who were the first to encounter White Supremacy. Today, this moment manifest globally through US trade policies, international interventionism, denial of climate change, war and the rise of President Trump. The moment manifest in cities, today, through top-down policymaking, paternalism, disinvestment and inequity. The moment manifest in neighborhoods here in the US through police violence, mass incarceration, healthcare disparities, unemployment, poverty, poor quality of life, lack of mobility, lack of affordable housing, lack of access to healthy foods, underfunded & under-performing schools, interpersonal violence, traffic violence and all of the transmutations of injustice experienced by those same people of African and Indigenous descent. 

The latter moment for me personally was my time growing up with my best friend and older brother, separated by only eleven months, Khari on the Southside of Chicago. Our parents divorced in the late 70s, when my brother and I were toddlers. While my father was always fully present in our lives, my lovely mom had primary custody of us through our middle school years. My mom struggled financially as a single parent, raising two rambunctious Black boys in the Chatham neighborhood here on the Southside of Chicago. My mom sacrificed her entire life from the time she became pregnant with Khari until we were adults and no longer under her financial responsibility. She gave us everything she had and more in order that we grow up into successful Black men. She flooded us with pure, unconditional love and gave us every ounce of herself that we may not struggle like her and that we may not become victims.

My dear father grew up rumble tumble on the rough streets of Gary, Indiana, Cleveland and the Westside of Chicago. In his late-teens, he embraced Black Nationalism and the Black Power Movement, actively fighting against White Supremacy and working to improve the condition of the Black community. My mom, recognizing her own limitations in raising Black boys in Chicago in the mid-80's, freely handed us over to my father in our middle school years. He became our custodial parent and raised us in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago. His parenting style was shaped by his personal worldview, his rugged upbringing and the assault he realized daily at the hands of White Supremacy. He loved us and we always knew this love was there. However, expressing his love for Khari and I was not a priority. His priority was squarely on ensuring his two Black sons did not become victims. His parenting style was shaped by a sense of enlarged power and relentless discipline, in a sincere effort to protect his Black boys from being victimized in the street, in school, at work and in society.

Both my parents, each with their own respective style, most importantly worked to bring about our mere survival in this society and next importantly worked to position us for the best opportunity to become the proud, strong Black men they each envisioned. My mother raised us to be lovers. My father raised us to be warriors. 

Oboi with Mom and Pops.

Oboi with Mom and Pops.

The latter moment for me personally, continued into my high school years and the accompanying, evolving, dynamic nature of the relationship between me and my brother. By high school, Khari and I's paths began to diverge, with Khari attending Whitney Young High School in the Near Westside neighborhood and me attending Lindblom Technical High School in Englewood. Me as a Freshman and Khari as Sophomore in high school is where I began to feel like I was losing my brother. Up until this point, Khari is the one person I shared everything with, nearly every experience we shared together - bed, clothes, pain, love, anger, joy - all of it, we went through it together. Now, we both have our own set of friends and we are both experiencing life very differently. Khari's head is down in the books, focusing on the importance of school. My head is up in the sky, focusing on the new, fun social experiences of high school. Then, around my Junior year of high school, Khari made a forced, yet justifiable decision to move out of my father's home, returning to live with my mother.

Where previously, Khari did what he could to protect his younger brother from my father's wrath, he is now gone and I am left to fend for myself. An already fractured relationship between my father and I became even more fractured between us during those ensuing high school years. I lashed voraciously against him and everything he represented, our relationship becoming entirely tenuous and eventually severely ruptured. At this time, I felt like I lost my brother and my father. The only people I knew I had for sure was my mom, my Slow Roll Chicago co-founder Jamal (whom I first met in fourth grade) and a lifelong brotherhood we joined together during our Sophomore year at Lindblom. I wanted to make my own way in life, different from Khari's focus, without my mother's love and eschewing my father's discipline. My brother, the person who knows me the best, always believed in me, even at my lowest points in life. My mom and my pops certainly feared death or jail were looming for me, and they were correct in believing this was a tangible possibility.

The moment within the moment is real for me and it's painful to relive through these words. That former moment is seared into my consciousness, recalled in vivid color and emotional detail like it was yesterday. This brief, fleeting moment within the longer, broader moment of growing up Black on the Southside of Chicago in the 80s and 90s, manifested for me personally one mundane night while I was a Senior in high school.

My mom raised Khari and I, since we were in Kindergarten, in the same home on the same block in the Chatham neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago. It was a safe, quiet and close-knit block. Having been raised on the block, practically my entire life, I knew nearly all of my neighbors.

Oboi and Jamal at The White House for The 2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change Award Ceremony.

Oboi and Jamal at The White House for The 2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change Award Ceremony.

None of this mattered on this one night. Myself, Jamal and several members of our brotherhood (all of whom I consider brothers to this day) were hanging out one night in front of my mother's building and gathered around one of my brother's cars. Yes, we were loud and clowning around, because we were uproarious and loved to have fun. No, we were not drinking, smoking, carrying guns or engaging in any other illegal activities. As we were talking, laughing, chanting, stepping and all the other social activities befitting a boisterous group of male teenagers, we began hearing the faint sounds of police sirens. We brushed it off, we hear police sirens all the time in our neighborhoods. It was nothing new and it was unworthy of our attention, for we had more important things to attend to that night. We continued what we were doing, as the sirens became louder and obviously closer. Suddenly, we see flashing police lights at the end of the block. We turn around and see similar police lights at the other end of the block. We immediately understand there are several police cars, with sirens blaring and lights flashing, racing in both directions on a one-way street toward us as we stand frozen around my brother's car in front of my mother's home. Within seconds, about four police cars had descended on us. Like something out of a well choreographed movie, before the the police cars even came to a full stop, their doors were opening and about 6-8 police officers were jumping out with their guns drawn on me and my brothers (separate from my mom, the only people I felt like I had in life who I could count on no matter what). 

We stood there, confused, shocked and scared, as the officers quickly approached on foot, guns drawn on all of us. Perhaps, a couple seconds tick off, then an older Black male officer yells out at the top of his voice, "Same ol' nigger shit". As me and my brothers stood there, the officers search us and quickly realize their level of aggression and tactical readiness was completely unwarranted. With little conversation and no acknowledgement of their having put all of us at risk and within a matter of minutes, like the experience was all a dream, the officers were back in their squad cars rolling away.

In front of my mom's home, on the very block I was raised on, in Chicago, a city I dearly love, to that officer who yelled out, I was nothing more than a nigger, worthy of the loaded gun he was pointing in my direction. To all the other officers, me and all of my brothers were niggers that night. And, they all believed their guns pointing at us was necessarily deserved.

Now, read this paragraph, then close your eyes and experience how easy it is for you to see this reality played out with a different ending. Imagine my hotheaded self jumping into the face of the officer who had just let us all know we were we all "niggers doing nigger shit". Imagine my brother Jamal, who has always been comfortable challenging authority, "mouthing off" at one of the officers. Or, imagine my brother Nate instinctively reaching into the car to grab his wallet.

Over the past several days, I've cried many times imagining what may have been. One of us may have been abused that night. One of us may have been arrested and convicted. One of us may have gone to jail. One of us may have been shot. And, yes, one of us was the twitch of a finger on the gun's trigger away from being killed unjustly at the hands of the Chicago Police Department. 

The advocacy work we do on Vision Zero Chicago is rooted in our commitment to dismantling structural racism in our society and ensuring my nephews and niece and all the young brothers and sisters coming up never have to experience what I experienced that night, or worse.

Oboi (left) with Slow Roll Chicago Co-Founder Jamal Julien.

Oboi (left) with Slow Roll Chicago Co-Founder Jamal Julien.

Here we are, many centuries later, experiencing the same White Supremacy and structural racism first endured by our ancestors. Here we are, nearly 30 years later, experiencing the same White Supremacy and structural racism which gave way to guns being pointed at us that night, continuing to give way to Black, Brown and Indigenous people being murdered unjustly at the hands of the police, here in Chicago and around the US.

For those among us who still doubt the existence of White Supremacy, structural racism, inequity, corruption, overpolicing and implicit bias in the Chicago Police Department and other City of Chicago departments, this is all for you:

In the city I love, I am still considered a nigger by many. I am considered a nuisance, actively attempting to disrupt the City of Chicago's beautiful, equitable and well thought out Vision Zero Chicago Action Plan, dutifully crafted by mostly well meaning White people who don't live or work in our neighborhoods and without consultation from the very people of color impacted by Vision Zero here in Chicago.

The Vision Zero Chicago Action Plan is not beautiful, it's ugly because it explicitly states on pages 44 and 48 that police traffic enforcement is part of the plan. The plan is ugly because it does not explicitly acknowledge the role of racism in our city toward causing traffic violence, continuing to only address the symptoms while putting an out-sized burden on people assaulted daily by racism in Chicago. The plan is ugly because the process of developing the plan was inequitable, where Vision Zero targeted neighborhoods were not engaged in the plan's development prior to the plan's release. The plan is ugly because it is another, consistent example of the City of Chicago's tireless commitment to harmful, top down policy-making and paternalism. The plan is ugly because it is owned by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and given the existence of racism in City of Chicago departments, including CDOT, Vision Zero should be owned by the people and organizations being impacted by the Vision Zero action plan and implementation strategy at the neighborhood level. The plan is ugly, biased, inequitable, paternalistic and potentially deadly in communities of color.

All this said, the City of Chicago, Mayor's Office and CDOT enjoy my full support on Vision Zero reducing traffic deaths to zero within 10 years, by primarily focusing on the nationally-accepted Vision Zero strategies of Engineering (redesign streets to make them safer) and Education (implement a compelling, comprehensive educational campaign to teach and inspire people to drive safer). While police should continue to enforce citywide traffic laws, I do not support the role of the Chicago Police Department (where racism, implicit bias, inequity, corruption and overpolicing are all present) in executing a police traffic enforcement strategy as part of Vision Zero Chicago in communities of color.

I am not a nigger. I am a strong, proud, powerful Black man. And, all of the brothers and sisters who stand with me are strong, proud, powerful Black, Brown and Indigenous men and women. We are organizers, advocates and activists. We love our neighborhoods and we love our people. We have faith and we believe intensely in our own capacity and all of our collective will to make the world a better place for those descendants of men and women who first encountered White Supremacy on the shores of Africa, North America and around the world. 

We will do the work to ensure the City of Chicago will get Vision Zero right, implemented in a manner where this important policy and plan will do more good than harm in communities of color here in Chicago.

We will do the work to ensure the City of Chicago remove police traffic enforcement from its Vision Zero action plan and implementation strategy. 

We will do the work to ensure the ownership of Vision Zero Chicago rests with the residents, stakeholders and community-based organizations who live and work everyday in the Vision Zero targeted neighborhoods on the Westside and Southside of Chicago, nearly all of whom are primarily low- to moderate-income communities of color.

Or, this strong, proud, powerful Black Man, from the Chatham neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago, will die trying.

The We Ride Juntos: Promoting Safe Neighborhoods ride in the Little Village and North Lawndale neighborhoods of Chicago.

The We Ride Juntos: Promoting Safe Neighborhoods ride in the Little Village and North Lawndale neighborhoods of Chicago.

Here's our Call to Action:

  • Sign on to our Change.org petition and share with your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and others in your network. 
  • Attend the City of Chicago's three Vision Zero Westside Public Meetings next week and recruit your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and others in your network to join us in expressing our concerns with Vision Zero as well as raising our voices together in solidarity to call for the City of Chicago to explicitly remove police traffic enforcement from the Vision Zero action plan and implementation strategy in communities of color here in Chicago. Check out the City of Chicago's Vision Zero website and their flyer for more information about the upcoming three public meetings. These three public meetings will all be held next week in the following three Westside neighborhoods:
    • North Lawndale: Tue, Sept 26 from 5:30-7:30pm at the Lawndale Community Academy, 3444 West Douglas Boulevard. 
    • Garfield Park: Wed, Sept 27 from 5:30-7:30pm at the Legler Branch Library, 115 South Pulaski Road.
    • Austin: Sat, Sept 30 from 1-3pm at the Austin Town Hall Park Auditorium, 5610 West Lake Street.
  • Share this article via your website, email newsletter and with your internal and external networks, along with our previous articles HERE and HERE as well as our Vision Zero Chicago Live Social Media Video Chat
  • Share this article on social media, tagging "Slow Roll Chicago" (@slowrollchicago) and "Olatunji Oboi Reed" (@theycallmeOboi). Slow Roll Chicago has a social media presence on Facebook (Page Group), TwitterInstagramTumblr and YouTube.
  • Sign up for the Slow Roll Chicago Email Newsletter to stay updated about our rides, events and advocacy work.
  • Sign up to volunteer with Slow Roll Chicago. 
  • Volunteer to join Rutgers Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor Charles Brown and our research team currently in the process of executing a comprehensive Vision Zero and transportation equity data analysis, research study.
  • Assist with identifying and securing funding for Slow Roll Chicago's comprehensive Vision Zero and transportation equity data analysis, research study, as requested by myself and Slow Roll Chicago and led by Rutgers Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor Charles Brown. Please contact me directly to discuss this particular Call to Action in more detail.
  • Join me, Slow Roll Chicago and equity advocates from around the world at the PolicyLink Equity Summit 2018 here in Chicago from April 11-13, 2018.
  • Donate to Slow Roll Chicago, financially supporting our work to create a diverse, inclusive and equitable bicycle culture in Chicago. Slow Roll Chicago is intensely focused on the role of bicycles, as a form of effective transportation, contributing to reducing violence, improving health, creating jobs and ultimately making our neighborhoods more liveable. Your financial support helps us push forward our bicycle equity and Vision Zero advocacy work, as well as our vision, mission and programmatic priorities, all within a challenging local context. 

Mount up and let's ride together for freedom.

Warmly,

Olatunji Oboi Reed

Olatunji Oboi Reed
Co-Founder, Slow Roll Chicago
773-916-6264
oboi@slowrollchicago.org 
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