Respect is what New Era Chicago (NEC), a new grassroots organization, is asking residents in the Black community to show one another. Started in 2016, the group’s pro-Black message of love and respect is beginning to resonate as evidenced by the recent viral video of the group’s response to an alleged encounter between a Black woman and a disrespectful employee at the foreign-owned GoLo gas station located at Roosevelt Road and Independence Blvd., in North Lawndale.
During the encounter, the North Lawndale resident was referred to as a “b***h.” However, an NEC member was present who witnessed the incident, and encouraged the customer to do something about it. According to the group, this particular gas station has been the subject of numerous complaints from other residents in the area, and NEC decided to address the concerns of the North Lawndale community by holding a Hood to Hood campaign.
Says Ronnie Man, one of the group’s organizers, “New Era Chicago is an unapologetically pro-Black organization that seeks to reunite and to empower the community.
“Our goal was three-fold: 1. To empower the community and let them know that we love them and that they have a voice. 2. Hold the businesses accountable and to let them know that treating our women and children like this is unacceptable. And third, to let the drug dealers know that what they are doing to the community is no longer acceptable.”
Sharing the concerns of community residents, the group was able to get the gas station’s owner and manager to agree to make some changes. Subsequently, the rude employee was fired and the drug dealers appeared to have moved away – at least for now. The encounter which was captured on video, so far, have reached over three million people, according to Facebook analytics.
Asked about those in the media that would try to discredit the impact of their work by questioning the group’s tactics and calling them “protesters,” Deidre Wess, another organizer and former principal for Chicago Public Schools is quick to point out that the group does not protest. “Generally protests are against the system,” she says “a, system of oppression of rules or laws. And there’s a place for that.”
The mission of NEC “Is to unify our people. We demonstrate that by knocking on doors saying ‘Black power, Black love, Black unity’ because this is something that has been stripped from our community,” she says. In doing so, Wess believes they are demonstrating what they believe in and therefore should be considered “demonstrators” due to the group acting according to their belief.
“Demonstrations are powerful, and that’s what our people need to see in order to start the process of healing and unifying.”
Wess continues to explain that their first Hood to Hood campaign, started April 17, 2016, in the Austin community sparked quite a bit of interest. “We received so much support and love. People were giving us hugs, donations and people came out and picked up the trash with us.”
Message of Self-Love
Mike Smith, an analyst for the Board of Trade, says groups like NEC and their message of self-love is beginning to resonate in the hood because the people feel abandoned by the traditional leadership, the churches and politicians. “The sooner we relearn the lessons of unity, like our ancestors, the sooner we’ll see the changes we have been asking for all along.”
“The difference,” he says, “is we will be doing things for ourselves and no longer depending on a morally and spiritually bankrupt system. It should be obvious to a blind man that the U.S. no longer cares about Black people. It’s time for us to come together, breaking down all the barriers and confusion that would seek to keep us apart.”
But not everyone is pleased with the group’s message of Blacks loving themselves, cleaning up and confronting challenges in their own neighborhoods, says Ronnie Man.
“In the comments section,” referring to the Youtube video, he says “the group have received lots of hatred and threats.” Europeans have found a way to insert themselves into the picture even though this has nothing to do with them, he continued. “We come to let Black people know that other Black people love them, to empower them.”
Smith agrees that with their message of self-love and empowerment, “how could anyone say anything negative about the group’s efforts to address the ongoing crisis in our communities in Chicago?”