Chicago is my sister Shirley's favorite city. She lived there for many years and now is living in the east to be near me her brother, and our older sister. We live in New Jersey. When Shirley heard that I was returning to Chicago she wanted me to say "Hello" to the South Side where she lived for many years, particularly to 50th and Lake Shore Drive, to those who were at Kennedy/King College when she was a member of the Nursing faculty there, and to the music culture, particularly Chicago's jazz culture. Shirley and I remember every now and then, Lou Rawls and how he captured in his singing, "The Hawk" that helps to describe the weather that makes Chicago, Chicago.
What do I bring to Chicago in addition to Shirley's "Hello"? I come to Chicago as a Co-Partner in a project called Truth in Progress. Marilyn Bennett, my "Younger Sister" and I have for years been exploring the intersections of racism, heterosexism and religion. And, the death of Trayvon Martin, the acquittal of George Zimmerman and so many other things, sadly, vindicate the importance that Marilyn and I have given to our heterosexism and racism discussions and writings. What do I mean?
1. Trayvon Martin, many of us believe, was killed because he was black, just as Matthew Shepard was killed because he was gay. I was one of the persons who at the State Capitol in Denver spoke at a vigil for Matthew Shepard. I said at that time that Matthew's killing was much like the killing of so many black men and boys. I said that without any clairvoyance about the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012.
2. One of the living expressions of the similarities between the killing of gay and black men is the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. James Byrd was the black man in Texas who was tied to the back of a truck and was dragged to his death. I never suggest equivalence between black suffering and gay suffering, but there is something about the hatred that blackness and/or gayness evokes in some persons that must not go unnoticed.
3. I also come to Chicago deeply concerned about the black-on-black killings that too often is that of young black men killing young black men. Chicago in the minds of some is the epicenter of such killings. Yet in the place where I live, Asbury Park, New Jersey, young black men are also killing black men. It is because of this that I understand, even though I do not agree, that some black clergy and other leaders are lukewarm about, or anti-gay rights and marriage equality, because in their communities the killings have greater priority than marriage equality. But, whenever I am in discussions with my black sisters and brothers who are clergy, I remind them of the eternal truth that Martin Luther King uttered; "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
4. We have seen in the last few years what I call "Gay Power". The rapidly growing approval rates of gay rights, is testimony to many factors. I celebrate the gains that have been made on gay rights. I have wished that we in the black community could partner with some of that power; economic, cultural and political and utilize it to complement the ongoing efforts in the black community; economic, cultural and political. But partners, black and gay, gay and black, cannot be effective if both groups do not have a common commitment to conquer both racism and heterosexism.
5. The Congressional Black Caucus, used to have as its theme: "We have no permanent enemies, no permanent friends, just permanent interests". I wish that in Chicago and other places, gays and blacks could discover the commonality of their common interests.
6. Interracial marriage and same sex marriage: Old man that I am, the arguments that I hear against same sex marriage are the same arguments that I use to hear against interracial marriage. "The more things change, the more they remain the same." I must admit that I am still puzzled when I hear some of my black sisters and brothers use Bible-based arguments against gays that are not unlike the Bible- based arguments that are used against blacks.
7. I come to Chicago as a 79-year old straight clergyman, and I bring with me the memories of the moments I spent with Chicago's Jesse Jackson. He and I were arrested in New York City at the headquarters of A & P Supermarkets with the support of Operation Breadbasket. I come to Chicago as a black man who participated in the Million Man March, led by Minister Farrakhan. This was one of the highlight moments of my life. I also come to Chicago as one who had the honor of marching next to Martin Luther King in Boston and introducing him at a Rally on Boston Common. And I bring with me the spirits of 3 gay black persons whose lives helped to transform mine: James Baldwin whose powerful and prophetic insights on race in and of American are without parallel. Bayard Rustin, who 50 years ago organized the March on Washington, a march I attended by; leaving a Methodist meeting In Chicago and riding with Chicagoans on a reserved train to the March. And Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, who never openly talked about her sexual orientation, yet, her lesbian partner, I am sure, enabled Barbara Jordan to do the things she did so well.
Hello Windy City! Give me opportunities to talk with you about what I have written in this letter. I want to learn from you, and share a bit of myself with you.
Gilbert H. Caldwell
P.s. I look forward to seeing you in Church at Broadway United Methodist Church on Sunday where I will be preaching. I would love "to see your face in the place".