new graffiti

This morning I read a story about a child named Brandon who interpreted the signs, “Let’s Go Brandon” as messages of encouragement to him. I was immediately flooded with a similar triumphant memory. Folks often talk about the resiliency of children and I think one way it happens is by creating safety by any means necessary, even if it’s all in our heads.

When I was little, we walked most places…school, church, grocery store, thrift store and if it was a special day: Church’s Chicken. When I got older, my friends and I would walk past all of those and sit inside Burger King eating french fries, consciously ignoring the cars that were crawling through the drive thru just outside our booth’s window.

Theoretically, one could walk down Kedzie all the way to 159th and cross at the light, but I don’t think we ever did that. Kedzie is a 4 lane avenue and like an 80s video game, we would choose our crossing point and get to the bumpy median, then soon all the way to the other side. Once there, it was a walk on the grass median to get to the short cut sidewalk through a vacant lot that led to Canterbury Shopping Center (all still visible on satellite maps).

This sidewalk was often flanked by guys sitting on the steel guard rails at the entrance and exit. It was always a delicate and finessed moment: look at the ground, but glance up now and then. Be quiet but keep moving. Hold on to your money but keep it easy to drop. Know you are on their turf but remember this is your neighborhood. I don’t recall them ever doing more than questioning what I was doing there and commenting on my appearance now and then. I never ended up there at the wrong time and one day I was sure there would never be a wrong time…

there was new graffiti.

I had walked down 163rd, turned onto Kedzie, crossed over somewhere within a couple blocks and approached the sidewalk. Looking beyond the sidewalk lot, one could easily see the side of the tire shop, decorated with random letters and numbers, stars and pitchforks. On this day there was fresh graffiti and I could read. BLACK DISCIPLES.

I knew about these! These were the good guys! These are Jesus’ cohorts! My community was mostly black and I immediately visualized those faces taking over the pale faced robed characters from the Foundation Series Sunday School books.

What I didn’t know until years later is that the Black Disciples are a well organized street gang in south side Chicago and likely the reason we had to remove the star logo from Converse shoes per school dress code.

I don’t think I mentioned this to anyone until I was older, but from the day my terry cloth skirt graced my knobby tanned knees, I walked with the belief that my community was safer and watched over by 12 black friends of a peacemaker who had made themselves known overnight.