My Elementary School in Harvey Illinois

February 19, 2020

When I was a kid in Chicago, we lived in Harvey Illinois at Turlington and 152nd street.  I remember my parents rented a small home.  I went to Whittier elementary school which still exists today.


We used to take field trips and walk to a little library facilty a few blocks away on Myrtle street.  On that street there were rows of beautiful trees and colorful leaves in the fall.  The houses on that street were much nicer than the one I lived in, or the one most kids at school lived in. The teachers made us hold hands as we walked to our destination, a small library where we could read books.  The whole walk, the teachers surrounded us from all sides to protect us. We felt safe laughing and skipping. The teachers were kind and nurturing.  Back at school, I think the doors had metal detectors. 

While we were merrily going on our field trips only several blocks from the school, there was crime, racial tension, social unrest, and economic lack.  You see, the economy was falling apart as industry was on the decline.  People were abandoning their homes because they couldn’t pay their mortgage  Harvey’s population went from 7% to 66% percent African American in a short period of time.  Harvey's rates of crime, unemployment , and poverty were among the suburbs' highest. The city struggled to redevelop industrial properties and improve its reputation as a residential city.

 Race riots exploded even in the Thornton Township high school.  White people were violent, it was not just race.  Once an older white kid tied me up (a white kid) in his garage and shot BBs at my feet while yelling “dance, dance”.  African American kids from across the rail road tracks threw rocks at me and tried to start fights, warning us not to get in their area.  It was not a pretty scene in my old neighborhood. 

But as a child, even in those conditions, you can see beauty and how caring people existed as we walked on our field trip.   I was totally oblivious to the dangers of what surrounded me, but seeing beauty even in times of stress .

I used to walk to the grocery store down the block and ask elderly ladies if I could carry their bags for them to their car and they would give me a nickel or dime.  I’d spend it at the toy store.  Me and my sister got lucky and did OK.  I was able to get educated, grow an investment firm, get married, have kids, and live in an area where our biggest problem is our kids expect BMWs, Teslas, and Lululemon clothing. (that's a whole different issue!)

If you see the beauty in the world and focus on doing good and helping others you can get through bad circumstances all around you.  But if you blame people for the economy, or get caught up in fights, you can wind up in a different place. 

We can blame each other for the color of our skin, but we are all the same and as the great sages said, love your fellow as you love yourself.

Louis Llanes