Chicago Urban League Gala

Last Saturday we capped off a wonderful week on the road with a visit to Chicago to perform at the Chicago Urban League’s Annual Gala. It was a huge room decorated with the most beautiful golds and deep reds and softly shifting mood lighting—and just filled with people dressed to the nines, all there to celebrate and support the work of the Urban League. The event was hosted by Angela Bassett, whom I’d met only once before, while we were both sitting on the aluminum bench outside of LAX waiting for rides years ago. We saw each other again on Saturday and exchanged friendly hellos and again that memory—What a sweetheart, it was great to see her again.

I told the Urban League’s CEO and President Angela Zopp before the show something that I was moved to share several times with the audience from the stage: “Urban League—I know you. And I owe you.” And that’s the truth. I grew up in Milwaukee, a short paddle up the coast of Lake Michigan from Chicago, and the Milwaukee Urban League played a great part in my childhood. I used to play in Lapham Park, which was right there on ninth street by Vine, surrounded by a group of public buildings, including the library, which had a great basketball court, and the junior high school where all of my older brothers and sisters attended. On the other corner was Ninth Street Elementary School. Just behind the library 50 yards away is Roosevelt Junior High School. Right in the middle of all those public buildings, so important to the community, was the Milwaukee Urban League—Yeah. I know you, and I owe you. I passed that building every time I went to my church, which was several times a week.

A great big parenthesis: If this gets said, it’s not often enough. There was a time when each city’s community of African Americans/Black People shared a neighborhood that was smallish and centralized. The laborer in the steel mill lived around the corner from the attorney, and down the street from a surgeon, and the husband and wife renting the flat upstairs were both teachers: One at the university, and one at the high school. What a powerful impact on the neighborhood. Amazingly, the growth of suburbia, urban development, and CIVIL RIGHTS may have had an unexpected side effect in the dismantling of an amazing institution called the Hood. And in that respect, any ‘Hood,’ Irish, Italian, German, et cetera et cetera, is a truly wonderful place that may be lost and gone forever as we assimilate into the general culture, so that now the general culture, the broader ‘Hood,’ must take us under its wings and provide us those broader familial teachings and learnings, encouragements and examples that we desperately need. I’ll stop here.

I very much enjoyed seeing the crowd in Chicago. Singing songs like We Got By and We’re In This Love Together, songs they’d heard me sing a Bajillion times, but THIS TIME, I was standing there in front of them, and they were singing right along. That’s magic. I got to be a part of their community for that night. Thank you, Urban League, for inviting me to be a part of your special evening. I’m flattered and honored.

Love, Al

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