Derrick McClinton - Transcript

Transcription of Derrick McClinton Oral History
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Date: January 22, 2013
Place: Edgewater Historical Society
Transcriber: Martin Stewart
Total time: 37:35 minutes

Copyright © 2013 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: I want to thank Derrick McClinton for coming to the Edgewater Historical Society at 5358 N. Ashland on a very cold January 21, is it? 2013 in an interview for our living treasures program. Welcome here Derek we are looking forward to hearing your story. I’m going to be asking a few questions, but basically it’s what you want to tell us. So, if you want to go into some directions that I’m not asking about please feel free to do that.

DN: Were you born in Edgewater? Or did you move here?

DM: Well, I moved to Edgewater. I was born on the south side of Chicago. 44th and Dearborn. It was a very nice neighborhood. Totally not in the projects. Then we moved to the Chapman neighborhood, which was also a very nice neighborhood. And that’s basically where I was raised. And I moved to Edgewater in 1982.

DN: And what prompted you to move the Edgewater?

DM: Essentially, I was working on the south side with the Chicago Police Department and I had the opportunity to buy a condominium on Granville and Sheridan and I liked it and decided to move there. And it didn’t take too long to get to my South Side district at that time, only about 25 min. but the coldest day in Chicago history happened about that time. That was about 1983. It was about that time. And I decided not to cross the city any longer and I tried to really enjoy the neighborhood so I decided to transfer to the Rogers Park District. And the rest is history. And I’ve been here ever since.

DN: Now, when you move to your condo. Were you married at the time?

DM: I was married. Yes.

DN: Did you have any children?

DM: Yes, I had children. But they weren’t living with me at that time. That came a little bit later. So they had the opportunity to experience Edgewater too.

DN: So you’re living in Edgewater. You’re a police officer at that time in the Rogers Park area. What prompted you to get involved in Edgewater past the duties of your job?

DM: Well, that came just a little bit later. I was working patrol and I was selected to work foot patrol on beat 2484 which encompassed Thorndale to Granville and Broadway to the lakefront. That was about 1990. And working as a foot patrol officer you basically got a birds eye view of your community a ground view of your community. You’re active all the time.

And I started seeing a need or a way to serve the community. And it just so happened that one Thanksgiving I just… being I’m blessed myself, my family is blessed. I came from a close family. And we were always blessed on Thanksgiving with a lot everything like a lot of people… and it just occurred to me that it would be nice to do something for other people who don’t have it on a regular basis. So, my family starting throwing a little communal Thanksgiving diner. Which was at the old Alternatives headquarters or office right there by the Granville “L”. And then… we did that actually for a few years.

And then eventually other people of like mind wanted to help out. And I’m so glad they did.

So it became more formalized type thing. And in 2003 we founded a very small self-funded grassroots organization, called The Edgewater Rogers Park Black Family Network. And we did that because we had… we saw that among other people in the community… African-American community / black community needed a little extra attention. And so we decided to do something that would benefit not only that aspect of the community, but basically everybody. So we started officially doing a Thanksgiving dinner every single year. And the beauty of it was that our dinner really reflected the entire community because every time we gave a dinner and you looked around you basically saw the entire spectrum of the Edgewater community. Some never missed a Thanks giving dinner.

DN: Is the Thanksgiving dinner is still going on or did you stop?

DM: Well, we didn’t do it in 2012. Lot of things happened in 2012. The place that we held it for many years was the North Lakeside Cultural Center in Berger Park. It’s like we had a little small office there. And we hosted our Thanksgiving dinner for many many years. But things have changed over at Berger Park, The city basically took over that building as well as the other building. And I’m sure they’ll do wonderful things with it. But the program there had to cease at that time. So in 2012 I was a little bit disappointed for not doing it that year but we’ll do it again.

DN: Let’s look back on the first Thanksgiving dinner. Can you give us a little bit more flavor about it? How many people were there? Who helped you prepare: Who got involved?

DM: Well, the very first one was basically my family… wife at the time, the children, and we had a couple of caterers that we knew. (unintelligible) They were really great. And we used them for the first couple… then as we got bigger, we tried to involve more more people. We probably started with 40 or 50 people, the first time. And it’s gotten bigger than that. We usually serve about 60 to 70 people. Yeah, about 60 to 70 people. And we started utilizing a Southside soul food restaurant, BJ’s market. And they know we are coming, so they always have prepared for us. It’s ready. It’s hot and we would go from 12 to 3. And after the first few we would have them. We had them at the Northside Cultural Center. And, BJ’s Market was the provider, the caterer, and we’d bring in hot and it was regular soul food Thanksgiving Dinner and people kept coming for years and years.

DN: Sounds delicious. Now as far as people who came for the first one, did you invite them? How did you get the word out?

DM: Actually very easy. I was already on the street. And I’d print… we had flyers and at the time we didn’t call it the Edgewater Black Family Network. It’s just friends and neighbors, period. I saw some people who obviously needed a nice dinner, and then it was for everybody… it wasn’t for people who had need, who were down and out, although they certainly were qualified. It was also people who just wanted to hang out with other people. We had some Loyola students who’d come by who couldn’t get home. There were quite a few singers who’d come and other people. And then some people don’t have family, per se. So we really had quite a broad spectrum of people even from the beginning who would come… and if you stopped eating and you looked around you’d see a broad spectrum of Edgewater.

DN: Did you have an idea of how many people would show up?

DM: Well the first time around, not really, not really… I had I think a very vague idea. I knew we would probably have upwards of 20-30 people you know, because when you’re interacting with people on a regular basis, you know, they know who you are and they know that you’re critical and if they don’t have something special going, then it’s likely that they’ll come, and quite of few of them did come, and they’ve come here ever since.

DN: And I suppose you would probably encourage them by saying, "Oh Joe, are you coming?"

DM: Oh absolutely, I would say that all the time, sure, and some of these same people, even a few I’d have to chastise… save a couple of their lives (unintelligible) you know… And we’ve been blessed because after the first couple or a few, we started to get a lot of participation at that point. Like I said, we were basically self-funded but we got more sponsorships as the years went on, some of our aldermen, Bill Moy and Harry Osterman, people like Dominick’s, Broadway Bank, Bornhoffen’s Meats, you know, Castle, Ethiopian Diamond Restaurant, and we had a lot of families, neighbors in my own building, neighbors down the street etc.

DN: So this is something that started off small and was growing. So the first dinner… l’m very curious logistically about how this works. You get you would invite people, send out flyers, arrange with BJ’s on the south side.

DM: Not the very first. The very first time or two we had caterers, caterers who just knew. After that we started using BJ’s Market and used them consistently ever since which is quite a few years… So we used BJ’s Market about 15 times.

DN: So you would have the room at Berger Park, or actually Granville…

DM: It was in Berger Park. It was called North Lakeshore Cultural Center.

DN: But the first one wasn’t there?

DM: No, it was at the alternative office, which was right at the Granville “L”.

DN: So that you would have this office and you would have to set up tables and chairs. So how did you do that how did you do that? Did you have people help to you?

DM: My family did that?

DN:Your whole family… Wow that’s quite some family. Bless them. Now in terms of Thanksgiving dinner I’m sure the people who came really enjoyed the food. But what enjoyment or benefit did you or your family have?

DM: It just gives you a good feeling to share and to know you are doing something good. You know,when you put a smile on other people’s faces, it really illuminates what Thanksgiving means. that’s really what it does – you feel that much better for doing it. There’s a bit of work involved, you feel… it’s really a gift to yourself in a way… to tell you the truth because you make people feel good you feel good making people feel good and still having a good time while you’re doing it. Because I have the TV set up in the room and we watch the football games and we’d play gospel or jazz in the background and the food was great food, great, great soul food and so was just an enjoyable experience. And we did it home-style not soup kitchen style. Not to say against soup kitchens. They have a very viable function.

But when you go to your home, you eat your full and then you have something to take with you. That’s what we did. They always have enough.They could have a good time, have good food there, stay as long as they liked, nobody had to rush, nobody had to like come in and get something and leave, although some people did do that…you could come. We were open 12 to 3. And people would come in sometimes stay the whole duration and the football game would be on in one room and they’d eat, and a little gospel or jazz was playing. It was like a family thing. It really wasn’t like something that people felt like they had to run out on us. They came and stayed. Some people came all the time. So it really wasn’t like it was a chore or task.You know, I enjoyed them and they enjoyed us. Sometimes people come and… (unintelligible) I just enjoyed it all.

DN: It’s amazing what benefits come back to you when you open your heart.

DM: Without a doubt, Dorothy, without a doubt, and quite often like officers on the beat would come over like Nick who took my spot and he would bring over a pie he’d come over for a little bit, and other guys who were working the beat and they would come over and the Loyola Campus Police Department a lot of their officers also would come by, I used to work also for them.

DN: So it sounds like over the years it became like an extended family for Thanksgiving.

DM: Yes, very much so, it was just a wonderful thing.

DN: Now from this Thanksgiving experience you had, you built this little organization, you started. So could you describe that?

DM: That’s true. Well, it was called The Edgewater/Rogers Park Network. We did it because we also saw a unique need for the African-American/black community and I have to say /black community because we are really like pan Africans in a way. Because a couple of the members were not just from here but they were from the immigrant community… the Ethiopian community and the Tanzanian community. One thing we wanted to do was to have something that… to&helli; when you come from a community like this and have experienced many wonderful things that emanate from the community… we wanted some wonderful things to emanate from us that other people could share… instead of us sharing all the time we wanted to create them. Often we saw some particular value in servicing some things that we would recognize… like a lot of young people have made some bad choices and we wanted to come up with some ways to do some things to serve and maybe inspire them. As a matter of fact our mission is to inspire our black community with regard to the entire community. But in Edgewater, everyone’s going to participate in what we need to do, which is always been from day one. And our motto was… familiar values… and our motto is love is the key because I’ve always understood and I guess everybody associated with us, is that whatever you do, if you don’t do it with love it’s not going to succeed. I don’t care what it is. So love is the key and we still feel love is the key. So that is where the genesis of that came from. So it was and is a small grassroots organization basically self-funded, except when we do some special efforts with co-sponsorship.

Now my own personal desire is to see that it continues. Now 2012 was a slow year for reasons I mentioned earlier because the building where we as I mentioned earlier the place where we house our programs is no longer available to us. I’m sure it will be in the future again or we’ll go someone else. The plan is to re-boot, restart. Maybe we’ll reorganize little bit and continue some of the wonderful things we’ve done over the years.

DN: Have you been able to get younger people to take on more leadership roles?

DM: That is our goal. I’m glad you mentioned that. That’s a goal. We talked about because I’m not getting any younger. My goal is to get younger people involved, another generation or two actually. Because the generation under me are 40 something, you know. really I’d like to see the twenty somethings and 40 somethings to get involved so we’re speaking about something that we’re already thinking quite a bit and this year I’d like to take it to the next level.

DN: If you get any ideas, maybe you will share that with us because both Gerhard and I are involved with our local community organization and withEdgewater Historical Society and we see this generation gap where young people just… they all have busy lives but they don’t feel the need to step up.

DM: And it’s somewhat societal and cultural in the sense that everything now is technological… whereas we spent a lot of our time, our formative years… reaching out you know personally… that’s a factor… but I think the onus is on us and I say ourselves as a small group and a couple of others maybe to take a page from the youth oriented and find it. That’s something we’re already talking about it doing but I think the challenge is to just do it.

DN: And it is a challenge too. Could we talk a little bit more about spinoff programs besides the dinner because you had showed us some pictures before of working with children and so on.

DM: Well, I’d be glad to. We know that the need for our organization…well there’s a wide need. We looked at it as a way of going after serving the different aspectsof the community: families, seniors, adults, teens and children. Families we’ve done a few things over the years. We rented buses and took them to the universal circus. You know, we had a couple community events not just the dinners. We’ve had several senior citizen brunches attended by our seniors.We had several of those. We had free informational seminars hosted at Loyola University. In fact Loyola was very good about letting us use some of their facilities. Of course I worked for them too and that was very helpful. That was very nice. We hosted panels where people would ask questions about everything from the criminal justice system to health issues, and we help that at Sullivan Center, Galvin Auditorium, David Hall and other places at Loyola University. So we gave a lot of informational seminars. One challenge was dealing with the teen community because teens have unique problems, but they still need to be addressed. We did have and something for teens called Movies and More, where we had one of the larger halls at Loyola, featured a nice movie. At that time it was called Coach Party, and it was something that was inspirational for them and we served food and had panel members from Senn High School and Sullivan High School so they enjoyed the movie, have pizza, and talk about the movie. That was something we could do that was inspiring and not problematic. And for children we had something that was called birthday club I kept trace of their birthdays and we did give them a birthday card with maybe five dollars in it. So we did different things over the years.

DN: Just in listening to you and the things you are talking about… It seems to me you started off with creating extended family Thanksgiving and then took that idea to… well if I have this family I have all these members of the team, seniors and so on… what could we do to address their needs and…

DM: That’s basically what we did. One thing that was… representative of what we were doing, was we also published a newsletter. Again there wasn’t a whole lot happening in 2012, but we would like to change that in 2013. And the newsletter was called Your Voice and we always featured… one of the main features on the front page was called the Community Spotlight. We would choose a person who had something inspiring to say or to represent to the community. And they’d have a nice little picture on the front and we’d do a nice little interview. And that was our newsletter.

DN: Why did you choose that title, Your Voice? I’ve always been curious.

DM: Well, I believe our community needs a voice. I think it’s important that all of our residents are represented and have a voice. And so that was the thinking behind that.

DN: Going back to your experience as an officer on the beat, because it seems to me that your talking about it that that’s where you first saw the need to doing more beyond your job. Many people don’t you know. They just do their job. They don’t see the need that’s out there. Can you talk about something about how you felt about that… where you got the idea that you should do something past yourself… where you saw the need and what motivated you there?

DM: Well, interacting every day especially in foot patrol capacity it more or less emphasized something in me that was innate. And what I will say about the police department is that they… most of their men and women try to do a wonderful job and they want to do a wonderful job. Now I think everybody also is unique. And in my particular case, having that constant contact you really do get to see people as people. That really wasn’t a foreign concept to me initially. You are what you are. Anyways you work with them on a regular basis and you have any kind of sensitivity, you cannot help but recognize other people’s needs and aspirations and see them as human beings. And for a lot of people, especially the younger people, you kind of become a surrogate daddy – a Daddy of the street, in a way. The same ones I’ve had to chastise, which includes arrest… some would say were bad. And I’ve also saved their lives. I’ve also fussed at them, jacked them up a bit, you know. But it’s not from an authoritative point of view. It’s also a human thing.

DN: I can relate to that.

GS: What did you observe in the community as problems that they had that needed to be solved.

DM: Well, you get to see who was without for one thing. You know, and if you see who’s without, they’re not really having a good Thanksgiving. You get to see, talk to people… like students… who’s going home, who was not going home. For some people they were not going to have a Thanksgiving. It’s not like Christmas vacation where you go off for 2, 3, 4, 5 weeks. For some people Thanksgiving is an expense to try to get somewhere and then they’ve got to get back so they don’t go. They stay here. And they may not have somewhere to go, so we’re not always just like a need situation right here. You’re busted you know. And some people, they just, maybe it’s the world now, you know maybe they’re just not social or they just don’t have that many friends and so by doing this they have some place warm and inviting… they have somewhere that’s entertaining and the food is delicious… so

GS: The network is an interesting concept. Because that also implies support. Beyond say Thanksgiving, and you’ve mentioned some other aspects. Can you elaborate on that?

DM: Sometimes when you name something you’re naming it because of an aspiration, you see. All my goals differ because of accomplishments. One of my goals is to see it go to an other level with the Black Network… to encompass more of that expansion that we’ve been talking about. Really we’ve never gotten beyond a small grassroots organization, especially since my time is more flexible, because I’m retired from the Chicago Police Department. l stay kind of active, somewhat active, because I still do different things I still work with the university, only I"m not working for them consistently. I’m doing for them special events like graduation. sporting efforts and things like that. For years I… (unintelligible) out there every day. And occasionally I do corporate security. And I’m a grandfather of five.

DN: Congratulations. That will keep you busy.

DM; Oh yes. Whenever when one has a birthday he gets a big present and the others get a little present. So I’m a proud father of three children and two stepchildren so and I have my brothers and my sister and mother and my wonderful father, who raised us, mother and father raised us.. but my father passed last year. And the name is also an aspiration I’d like to see it rebooted restarted this year and take it to another level.

DN: What I was going to comment on… I am a retired teacher from Goudy School… a primary teacher… very diverse.

DM: My young daughter is a teacher. You could talk for a long time about education.

DN: One thing I’ve noticed is when you said, "Love is the Key." It really is. when I teaching, especially because I was a primary teacher. I was completely structured in many ways with basic rules but other than that I did my own thing. Other than that the kids knew there was a guideline and many times I would have – something that you can’t do nowadays – they were on my lap. And that maternal role that was important because I thought those children weren’t getting it at home and I had a little boy would come in the classroom and needed attention until I said to him, "Get in your chair." He wanted the structure and he also wanted to show that he was cared for. When you’re talking about the Thanksgiving dinner you are showing people that you care about their basic human needs and…

DM: Yes. I get that. I even get it now. If I’m in the neighborhood it’s nothing for people to see me across the street and wave or come over to wherever I am. Sometimes they’ll call me Officer roundly or sometimes they’ll say Officer Mac or Officer Derek and this happens to me all the time. I see them all the time and some of these people are grown. I see them in the grocery store or at the movie. This happens on a regular basis. What you said brought something to mind, there was a young man once, he was my namesake, but his older brothers were involved in the criminal justice system and I saw how he was going in that direction too and I stopped him one day and I noticed how he interacted with the young people and I said to him, “You know you’re a leader. You can do good things with that. You’re really a leader.” He said, “Oh, yeah?” (laughs) You know, I don’t know if anyone told him anything positive. But uh you never know at what point you’re going to impact a child. You can just stop and wave to him. You know, they see this guy in uniform waving to them. They might remember this when they’re eighty years old because someone took time to stop and wave.

DN: I think you’re right. I think you’re right. Yep.

GS: Has your leadership worn off on others in the community?

DM:: Well, I don’t know if it is worn off. I… people wear off on me all the time. So it’s kind of a mutual thing. When you’re active with people you benefit quite a bit from other people asleast as much as they benefit from you. I’m impressed with my own children. It’s very impressive to me. My grandchildren are impressive to me. And when I see young people in the neighborhood doing the right thing that impresses me.

DN: I have two other questions I’d like to ask. They really not part of the Edgewater Historical Society Living Treasures project. What is your proudest accomplishment – personal accomplishment?

DM: Well, I think my children are my proudest accomplishment… My children and my grandchildren. They’re my proudest accomplishment.

DN: The other question I’d like to ask is, what advice would you pass on to the next generation? Thinking back what you’ve done in your life.

DM: Connect with the next generation. Connect with the next generation. The need is greater now than ever to connect with the next generation. I think to some extent my generation has dropped the ball.

DN: In what sense?

DM: We didn’t connect as well as we should have. Beyond our immediate family. You know what I’m saying, beyond our immediate family.

DN: So in a social manner. Community. To build the community Whether to build community with a small c… whether it’s people on your block or all people…

DM: Just do it. You know. So that’s the challenge. We have to connect better with the following generations beyond your immediate family.

DN: So, Derek, is there anything that we have and asked you that you would like to preserve for posterity here that you will get a copy of this too.

GS: Before we get to that… The black community… with specific needs. You chose, you know, to work in the black community. Can you elaborate on that for us because I think you made a tremendous contribution.

DM: That’s interesting because everybody has unique needs and not just the black community. Community in general when you’re trying to make it, sometimes it doesn’t foster a lot of time to necessarily align yourself with everybody else, you see. And this is not our fault. It’s nobody’s fault not the community’s fault. It’s not the black community’s fault, it’s the reality. The onus is still amongst whatever community to do what they can to make a difference. See and… So I was blessed… I am a working person just like everybody else, but I had enough well with all and enough consciousness to try to do something with others. With others. Remember it’s not just me. It was other people with like minds. Because in this neighborhood you don’t see a lot of participation of the African American/Black, even other community. And a lot of times for the same reason, because they’re just trying to make it, you see. And so it’s not a fault thing. You see a need. If you just blessed enough to have a little where with all and coupled with some consciousness that you want to do something, and people like minds to make a difference.

DN: I read an article in the American Educator a couple years ago. Why black college students seem to drop out more than other people… the white ones. And the author of this article had a very interesting viewpoint. His viewpoint was it was because there were not structural aspects in the college that black students could ask for help. That other students had fraternities, sororities – they were used to getting tutors, or so on but for the black students and that wasn’t part of where they were coming from. They were just as smart, just as ambitious but they didn’t have the supportive network that…

DM: Unless you’re talking about the historically black colleges, what you say is absolutely true. You know, it’s absolutely true. So it does take… a little bit of something extra. Something extra, whether it’s the university community or the community at large.

DN: So is there anything else that you would like to say?

DM: Well, all I could say briefly is I look forward to the bright future of Edgewater. Its… its… You can’t take it for granted a community like Edgewater. If you stood up and walked,… or just walked around. You don’t see blight, you don’t see broken windows, graffiti all over the place… You don’t see people walking around like zombies. People – seniors – can go to Dominick’s or Jewel unperturbed. There’s a lot of beauty in the neighborhood. There’s is a certain vibrancy in the neighborhood. It’s still very vital community. Your’re blessed with the lakefront and then the university and the university community. We have all these reasons to be grateful to be part of the community like Edgewater – sometimes I say Edgewater/Rogers Park. That’s a blessing for me. It’s still a blessing for me and a blessing for my family. And it’s nice to see the diversity we have here. I mean where can you go and see the whole world right here. And you can get it first hand. You can stop and talk to somebody from Bosnia or somebody from Zimbabwe and get an education. So it’s a beautiful, vibrant community. I’ve never seen a community that… of course I grew up on the South Side and worked south and got all the (unintelligible)… a community that has so many organizations. Community organizations. These are people, these are grassroots people too, who care about the community. And that’s the reason why when former Harry Osterman asked me to participate with the public safety committee I said I would do it and he didn’t have any problem getting people to participate in that because people in general are concerned. You know they like to be involved in the community. So we’re blessed and I look forward to a bright future. because… Everything can always get better. (chuckles)

DN: We just have to get some of those young folks…

DM: We have to get some of the young folks more involved and maybe step up ourselves. And connect with the younger generation.

DN: Well I think I’ll conclude the interview here.