The truth behind closed doors

As I grew up in Hyde Park, my dysfunctional self discovered the University Church for the Disciples of Christ at 5655 S. University around 1970. There was a coffee house inside the church, called the Blue Gargoyle.  It was intended for University of Chicago students but many a wayward youth stumbled upon it. Cheap food, no one hassling us and beautiful Gothic Church ambiance drew us there. And keeping us under control was a resident divinity student, Loel Callahan.

Loel had spent time doing community organizing under Saul Alinsky and working with the street gang, the BlackStone Rangers. He was very measured in his dealings with us wilder kids. We used drugs in the cubby holes and broom closets we found throughout the 3 story church building.  We initiated fights and friendships there.

I was 17 years old when I had to leave Hyde Park for a while. Seems a misunderstanding between a homeowner and I about his missing property led the police to my location. A literal dragnet was cast around Ahmad’s, a Persian restaurant. I escaped by minutes. It became quite clear that a trip out of town would be well-advised versus a trip to prison. So off I went to San Francisco to enjoy the hippie revolution.

Much took place between the time I left for SF and the time I came back to Chicago, but that is another 50 stories. This story is about how Loel Callahan started a youth program at the Blue Gargoyle. He came to me on the streets one day. I had recently snuck back into town and was agitated at the time, trying to figure out where I could steal enough money to get back to SF before the police discovered I was back.

Loel convinced me to stay and help him at the church. He said he wanted to start a youth program run by the youth. He promised me that we young people could develop and run our own program. Kinda of the people, by the people, and for the people. It hooked me and I was soon lost in my head with ideas about the possibilities. Shortly thereafter, I became the first kid elected president of church’s newly founded youth group, Hyde Park Peoples Organization (HYPPO). As an aside I was elected by my peers while I was sitting in the police lockup for some misdemeanor.

As part of my new responsibilities I went out and recruited everyone I could to participate. Besides kids from Kenwood High School and the University of Chicago High School, I brought my older pals most of whom were either drug addled and/or criminal but enthusiastic to be part of something. See my blog on Tiny.

We did some truly cool stuff. We became part of the secular community at the church. We initiated and ran programs for younger kids as well as dances and jazz nightclub nights for our peers. We took over management of the Blue Gargoyle food service two days a week. We provided security for other groups at the church like the Gay Liberation and Women’s lib organizations which had taken up residence there. (They had no idea in most cases what we did for them behind the scenes. Many of the University students behind the organizations were too naive or too arrogant to know how often we intervened to avert criminal acts against their property or persons.)

The kids in HYPPO who gathered together at the Blue Gargoyle were as diverse and eccentric a group as I have ever been part of. We were smart and street wise. We rubbed shoulders with brilliant students from the University. We invited prominent local jazz performers to entertain us, listened to Chaka Kahn and her sister sing in the sanctuary after school and watched a young big afro wearing Jessie Jackson drive by in his Eldorado cadillac with his entourage.

HYPPO members ranged in age from 14 to 27. They were Black, white, Hispanic  and Asian, students, car thieves, bank teller, burglars, drug dealers, former military and draft dodgers. We had females and males, from rich families and poor. Some of us were homeless at times. I rode herd over this rag tag group and discovered the power of empowerment, the path to self-esteem, and the value of team work.

I was slowly embarked on a course of action which brought me to a transformation of sorts. I decided to model myself on this Reverend Loel Callahan. But it would be 7 years before I would go to the community of LakeView and start Local Motion Inc, a non-profit organization. I designed it to teach youth how to design, develop and implement programs for their own enrichment, entertainment and growth.  It would teach street kids how to serve themselves in a positive way. And I was looking, always looking for some kid like myself who could be motivated to bring his/her friends, enthusiasm and imagination to my program.

The police never did get me for the burglaries. I grew up with only a modest arrest and conviction record. Nothing which stood in the way of becoming a lawyer and bringing that sense of empowerment to the courts on behalf of my clients.

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