A Mother’s Legacy of Caring

A Fenwick alumna’s post-Mother’s Day reflection on how being a good neighbor means loving your neighbor as yourself.

By Quiwana Reed Bell ’96

The author’s mother, Jacqueline Reed, founded the Westside Health Authority in 1990.

I was born the snowy winter of 1979 in Maywood, Illinois, to Jacqueline and Ronald Reed. My father, Ronnie, was born and raised a tough bi-racial kid from the west side of Chicago, near Pulaski and Roosevelt. My father never knew his mother.

My mother, Jackie, was born and raised in 1950 Natchez, Mississippi — a famous plantation town near the ports where slave-produced cotton and sugar cane was once exported. She is the oldest of seven children and grew up on family-owned land that also included homes for her grandparents (both paternal and maternal), aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors, who were like family. Her father, Oliver, was a handyman and janitor with a stuttering problem and a heart of gold; and her mother, Josephine, was a stern yet dignified seamstress who also worked for more than 20 years at the pecan factory. Her family of nine lived in a two-bedroom/one-bathroom house. They went to church on Sundays. They socialized and cared for each other. They didn’t have much but never felt poor. They were a community. And they were happy. 

Natchez, Mississippi, is about 850 miles south of Chicago.

My mother left Mississippi after high school, after having a child out of wedlock with a man who was unwilling to marry. She came to Chicago in the summer of 1969 to visit her Aunt Mavis, her dad’s older sister. She lived on 13th and Pulaski in a brick two-flat building on the west side of Chicago. Aunt Mavis had 10 children of her own with her entrepreneur husband Ed, who ran an auto mechanic shop. Although they owned the entire building, they lived in only one of the units which had two bedrooms, one bathroom and a back sun porch. Ten kids, two parents and now visiting cousin Jackie from Mississippi all in one unit. The block was lively. People sat on their stoops in the evenings for entertainment. The kids would play loudly up and down the streets.  Neighbors knew each other; supported each other; fought and gossiped about each other. It was a family. A community. And they were happy. 

During her summer-time visit, Jackie met Ronnie, who was a friend of her cousin Roger. They quickly fell in love and married only three months after meeting on February 14, 1970.  Jackie never returned to Mississippi to live. In Mississippi still was her infant son, Derek. He had stayed with her family while she traveled to Chicago. This was not a big deal. The family was seen as a unit. Jackie’s son Derek was not her property, but a member of a larger family unit where everyone contributes, supports and belongs.

Sharing brings happiness

This was a sentiment taught to my mother very early on in her childhood. She was born in segregated Mississippi where black people were still forced to live separately. This separation, however, was not all bad. Black communities had viable businesses — bakeries, dentist offices and insurance companies. It was a community where people looked out for one another. I would often hear stories of how if one person on the block killed a cow, then everyone on the block would have meat. Similarly, during my summers that I spent in Natchez, MS, I would often hear my grandmother say, “Go run this pot of greens that I picked and cooked over to Ms. ‘So and So’s house.” It was natural to share. It was natural to help others. It brought happiness. My mom never felt poor. She didn’t have a lot of fear and anxiety. Her family lived in peace. Even amid all the stuff going on in the world — they were shielded in “their community.”

A riverboat lights up the Mighty Mississippi near Vidalia, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi.

Black folks have always had to be communal with each other in America in order to survive: 

  • We had to help each other as we were packed like cargo at the bottom of slave ships.
  • We had to help each other as we sang songs together in the long days in the hot cotton fields in Mississippi.
  • We had to help each other as we navigated our way through lynching and rape and beatings.
  • We had to support each other in demonstrations and boycotts fighting for equal rights.
  • We had to support each other through redlining/housing and employment discrimination.

Today we still have to support each other through families being ripped apart as a result of mass incarceration, disinvestment of neighborhood schools and economic opportunity, and the resulting crime that plagues our communities.

One of Quiwana’s older brothers, Morris, graduated from Fenwick in 1992.

Jackie and Ronnie had three more children together: Ron Jr., Morris (Fenwick Class of 1992), and me. They left the West side of Chicago in 1978 and moved to Maywood. Ronnie found work as an engineer on the railroad and later as a CTA bus driver. Jackie completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois – Chicago in social work. She worked for several agencies, including Lutheran Family Services and Bethel New Life. She was even awarded Illinois Social Worker of year in 1986 by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. In 1990, on full scholarship she received her Master’s Degree from the prestigious School of Social Services Administration at the University of Chicago.

Give your gift

Working at social service agencies like Bethel New Life, Lutheran Family Services and Westside Holistic Family Center taught my mom an important lesson: People are empowered when they are allowed to identify and give their gift away to benefit the whole. Too many times in social services, well-intending providers victimize people. When the social program is over, many people are in worst shape than before.

Jackie Reed

Growing up in Mississippi, there was no welfare for my mother’s family to depend on. People had to depend on each other. In Chicago she noticed that, although people seemed to have “more,” they felt more deprived and hopeless than the people down south. She also recognized that people are happier when they are allowed to give whatever little bit they do have, back to help somebody else. This is also what builds strong, sustainable communities.

Oftentimes in low-income communities, people are fed the narrative that they live in a bad or undesirable neighborhood — even though most of these communities sit on very valuable real estate. In 1990, at the height of some of the most violent days in Chicago, my mom came up with the organizing strategy “Every Block a Village” (EBV) and sought to understand what it takes to create a village-like atmosphere on a block-by-block basis in the Austin community on the west side of Chicago. This premise comes from the African Proverb: “It takes a Village to Raise a Child.”   

“It takes a Village to Raise a Child.”   

African Proverb

Grassroots rooted in Mississippi

Westside Health Authority
COO Quiwana Reed ’96.

While outside university researchers and sociologists were busy studying violence-reduction strategies from across the country, compiling “data” and studying the issue, my mom decided not to focus on the deficiencies but rather to focus on what assets existed in the community and how to leverage those assets to bring about sustainable change. Understanding that the solutions and the resources largely already existed on these blocks, my mom sought to organize networks of resident support, block-by-block.  In the summer of 1990, she started the Westside Health Authority, under the premise that the community was the “authority” on what was and how to create a healthy community.

With a team of three volunteer organizers, she went house to house on 68 blocks and established the EBV network. Each block identified a “citizen leader” to address the concerns and solutions for the block and represented the block in council and strategy meetings with other resident leaders. This strategy took off like wild fire. Residents were so engaged and inspired by the wins they saw on their individual blocks that they started to believe that they could do even bigger things together — like building a new health clinic to serve their own neighborhood so they could stop traveling to health clinics farther away.

The Austin Wellness Center opened its doors 15 years ago.

They were successful.  In 2004, resident leaders saw the erection of the Austin Wellness Center, which was a brand new, state-of-the-art health and wellness center built on the grounds of a vacant parking lot on Chicago and Cicero Avenues. This $7.4 million center was built with 85% minority contractors and was seeded from monies raised by those same neighbors that were organized under EBV.

In 2016, the EBV model morphed into the Good Neighbor Campaign, which is different from other violence-prevention models. The Good Neighbor Campaign seeks to connect like-minded residents in civic-engagement strategies that allow them to be able to use their gifts and skill sets to make a difference in an environment they can immediately effect — namely, their own blocks. Unlike many other social-service initiatives, the mission of the Good Neighbor Campaign is not to provide programs and services to deficient community members, but to seek out and identify the gifts and talents that already exist on our blocks and to support and leverage those gifts/talents/skill-sets to allow others to support each other.

The Good Neighbor Campaign got rolling three years ago.

Since launching in October 2016, the Good Neighbor Campaign has connected with more than 600 residents from 31 blocks. Volunteers/organizers have provided support on eight troubled blocks, including:

  1. assisting residents with establishing block clubs;
  2. sponsoring an eight-team baseball league for 9- to 13-year-olds in conjunction with the 15th District Police at Columbus Park;
  3. holding more than 30 block canvassing/interventions response to violence and or potential violence and to stave off retaliation;
  4. providing reward incentives for the capture of shooters;
  5. providing weekly service, education and recreational activities for youth, seniors citizens and men in the community;
  6. providing coordination of resources for residents in need in the community;
  7. assisting residents in securing troubled vacant property;
  8. improving the narrative of the community with art projects and cultural events that evoke community pride;
  9. publishing weekly Good Neighbor News. Austin residents communicate with one another through established social media pages and a text-alert system, allowing for a coordination of support and service opportunities. 
Today, Morris Reed ’92 is chief executive officer of Westside Health Authority.

Our mom retired from Westside Health Authority in 2011, leaving my brother/CEO Morris, and myself to manage operations. Today WHA employs 38 full-time staff and nearly 150 part-time/contractors in fostering health and wellness activities in the Austin community serving more than 20,000 people annually. Although retired, she now serves as a Good Neighbor volunteer and team lead for the Good Neighbor Women’s Group.

What she has planted in me and my brother is a legacy of service built out of love. Together, we are all better. The greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself; in that is where you find lasting peace and true fulfillment.    

WHA on Facebook.

Good Neighbor Campaign Austin on Facebook.

Good Neighbor Meetings are held the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at 5437 W. Division Street, Chicago 60651. (773) 378-1878

About the Author

Qui Reed Bell is Westside Health’s COO.

Quiwana Reed Bell is chief operating officer of Westside Health Authority. Under her leadership, WHA become an organization that serves more than 25,000 residents annually through grassroots community organizing, youth development, and re-entry and employment services for the residents of Chicago and Cook County. With her vision WHA has grown to also serve as an economic development engine in the Austin community with commercial and residential real estate development projects that have provided restoration to long-time blighted areas while securing millions in contracts to local contractors over the past nine years.  In 2011, Quiwana and Morris Reed were integral in negotiating a community-benefits agreement with US Bank and secured over $2 million in support of community restoration projects in the areas of East and West Garfield Park, Austin, North Lawndale and Maywood.

“Qui” is a member of Fenwick’s first co-ed graduating class in 1996.

Alumni Spotlight on Richard Cochrane ’59

Black History Month 2019

Pioneering perspective: Fenwick’s first black graduate reflects on the segregated life of his youth. “Mine is a difficult story to tell,” he says, offering a history lesson in the process.

Interview by Mark Vruno

Introduction

School records dating back 64 years confirm that alumnus Richard Cochrane ’59 blazed a trail as Fenwick’s very first African-American student and graduate. Originally from Maywood, IL, Mr. Cochrane now lives in the sunny Southwest. In high school, he was active in student government (class treasurer and secretary) and played football and basketball (captain).

Last February, one-time Fenwick student turned educator Marlon Hall, PhD. shared his freshman-year experience of the early 1970s, when he endured verbal abuse and physical bullying – all racially inspired.  In one of several replies to Dr. Hall’s guest blog, Cochrane pointed out that his memories of Fenwick were quite different and much more positive 17 years earlier:

“Dr. Hall, I appreciate your sharing your Fenwick experiences and the strength they gave you. In context, in 1950 the world-renowned chemist Percy Julian became the first African-American to take up residence in Oak Park. His home was fire-bombed on Thanksgiving Day of that year and again in 1951. In May of 1954 the Supreme Court rendered the ‘Brown vs. Board of Education’ ruling. In September of 1955 I walked into Fenwick as a freshman, two years before the ‘Little Rock Nine,’ and I am black. There were no other black students and there would only be one more in the next four years.

“Many of my experiences were similar to yours but the negatives were overwhelmed by the support of the majority of the student body, and the faculty support cannot go without mention. There were whispers and some name-calling and even a fight or two, but the Dominican family pushed, nudged and refused to let me think of anything but finishing. I was also aware of the financial burden that I was placing on my family. In return, I received an excellent education both academically and socially….”

Cochrane’s heartfelt response prompted our Alumni Relations Team to reach out. We learned that Rich is “happily retired” and soaking up sunshine in New Mexico. Our questions and his answers:

Richard, where did you attend college? Please tell us about your professional background and STEM-related career.

RC: After graduating Fenwick in 1959, I attended St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, where I majored in chemistry. While there I played freshman basketball and varsity football for two years until my knee gave out. I got a job in the coatings and ink industry and, eventually, spent 35 years with Sun Chemical Corporation. I held positions in lab synthesis, tech service, lab management, operation management and national accounts. I retired from Sun in 2003.

What was it like being the only black student at the Fenwick?

Cochrane (bottom, center) was the only black student on this 1959 Yearbook page — and one of three in the entire school. (Sophomore Wayne Morgan ’61 and freshman Harry Smith ’62 were the others.)

RC: In 1955, I believe my freshman class enrolled about 354 students and the school enrollment was about 1,236. As I’ve said, I found the faculty very supportive and the student body mostly treating me like any other student, with a smaller group either curious or distant. Only one of the other three students from my parish in Maywood [St. James, which closed in 2006] was close to me at Fenwick.

On the first day of school, when I went to the office to pick up my class schedule, the staff called back one of the students I was with to ask if I was really going to attend school there. A notable few of the upper-classmen were kind enough to offer short words of encouragement. If I missed the Madison St. bus, I would walk west until the next bus came and would often find the Oak Park Police close behind to make sure I reached Harlem Ave. The single greatest factor was the Dominican community. I got the feeling that they would not let me fail (or even consider quitting).

Did you have a sense that you were making “history” at Fenwick?

A young Cochrane using a slde rule in 1967.

RC: I had no sense of making history but there was a constant feeling of not being totally “at home.” Remember, at that time Oak Park had a population of 62,000 [there are 10,000 fewer residents today] and had only one black family — and their home had twice been bombed.

Continue reading “Alumni Spotlight on Richard Cochrane ’59”

Forever Friars: Remembering William Martin, Class of 1954

The young Assistant State’s Attorney stood at the center of “The Trial of the Century” in the mid-1960s — as the chief prosecutor of mass-murderer Richard Speck.

By Mark Vruno

As the Fenwick Bar Association celebrates its the 20th Annual Accipter Award Luncheon on May 18th, we remember 2006 recipient William Martin, who passed away last July at the age of 80, following a long battle with cancer.

Bill Martin (’54 FHS Yearbook).

During a legal career that spanned more than 50 years, Bill Martin lawyered — later as a defense attorney — and taught the law. After serving as editor of The Wick student newspaper and graduating from Fenwick in 1954, Martin attended Loyola University Chicago and its law school, where he was voted the outstanding student. He founded and was editor of the Loyola Law Times, a Journal of Opinion.

Martin at the Speck Trial 13 years later.

Until his death last year, the native Oak Parker (St. Giles) was a private practitioner specializing in attorney ethics and criminal law. He is, however, known best for putting a monster behind bars. The murderer’s name was Richard Speck, who went on a killing spree on Chicago’s southeast side the hot night of July 14, 1966.

An Assistant State’s Attorney at the time, the then 29-year-old Billy Martin had been selected from a pool of more than 30 criminal court prosecutors, many much older and with far more felony trial experience, according to an article in the spring 2018 edition of the Journal of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Despite his relative youth, Martin had earned the respect of Cook County State’s Attorney Dan Ward and his chief assistants, including John Stamos.

Twenty-five years later, Martin told the Chicago Sun-Times, “In a way, it was the end of innocence. In this case, eight women asleep in a middle-class, crime-free, virtually suburban neighborhood were subject to random violence from a killer who basically came out of the night.” Reflecting in a 2016 interview with the Wednesday Journal, he added, “By committing the first random mass murder in 20th-century America, Richard Speck opened the floodgates to a tragic phenomenon that haunts us today.”

The eight young women murdered at the hands of Richard Speck.

Martin believed that Speck was evil incarnate. The 24-year-old ex-convict from Texas stabbed or strangled (and, in one case, raped) the female nursing students. While in hiding two days after the grisly murders, Speck tried to kill himself by cutting his wrists with a broken wine bottle. But once he was locked up in Statesville Correctional Center, Illinois’ maximum-security prison near Joliet, the human monster never showed any remorse for the bloody, heinous acts he committed.

Scene of the crimes: The townhouses at 2319 E. 100th Street, Chicago.

There was one person who survived that horrible night: 85-pound student nurse Corazon Amurao. Originally from the Philippines, Ms. Amurao hid, terrified, under a bunk bed during the five-hour killing rampage. One by one, her nursing school classmates were ruthlessly slain by the madman. At dawn, in shock, she crawled through the carnage to the townhouse balcony. For 20 minutes she screamed, “Oh my God, they are all dead!”

WTTW Interview with Bill Martin (2016).

Continue reading “Forever Friars: Remembering William Martin, Class of 1954”