Reckless Eyeballin'

Longtime civil rights activist and agitator Ron Edwards talks about the city he loves and hates

By the time of the racial disturbances around the country in 1964, we were already starting to grow our hair out, following what was being done by the original Black Panthers, with the free breakfasts and the health centers. Not long after that I showed myself to be a good organizer when I took over what was then identified as the CVO, the Central Village Organization. It was a beautiful experience for me because that's where I really confirmed in my mind that I could organize people and identify issues. So I think those were three times--the situation with my guidance counselor, when we formed PEP, and then with the CVO.

Because of my experiences, I understand how the system works. And one of my biggest concerns is that our young men and women are not being educated. Consequently they are like deer in the headlights of an oncoming car. That breeds frustration and anger, when a person knows or discovers that they really can't compete. Then you start reaching a level where your judgment of your success is how well you handle a 9mm or protect your turf or how well you can run a scam.

My friend Nellie Stone Johnson always used to say, "No education, no housing, no hope." Promises have been made and broken to us in education and in the area of the so-called affordable housing debate. I think the Hollman situation [resulting in the razing of several hundred housing units on the city's north side] is a glaring example. I think about all those African Americans who had 70 and 80 years in this community, who were pushed out in 1990, 1991. And this was done by an African-American woman [who initiated the lawsuit], under the administration of an African-American mayor. There is that whole game they talk: "We need industry, and with that industry will be jobs and economic opportunity." But construction contracts aren't there for us and the small businesses that were to be generated for us--none of that is happening. So you have got people who are not only disillusioned but have become distant from the process.

So it is becoming extremely important to develop a cadre that will be the future. At age 63 I look around and I am frightened, because there is nobody coming along. I don't see anything approaching the movement that gave me the encouragement and the passion coming out of the 1960s, where I had elders, some of them mentioned in the book, who gave me a sense of purpose and indicated a course I needed to pursue.

I don't apologize for the passion for my people, but I don't see anything coming up. I see a lot of young people who think they can tuck themselves away either in suburban America or in some protected enclaves of the city and everything will go away. That's bullshit, man. It has become chic to say, "Let's not get into race." But I come from the old school and I know that far too many things are still predicated on race.

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