DR. CONRAD WORRILL STREET NAMING CEREMONY HIGHLIGHTING HIS LIFE
Sign reminder of his Civil Rights legacy
By Chinta Strausberg
The nearly three-hour street naming in honor of Dr. Conrad Worrill took place Thursday inside of the Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, 700 East Oakwood Blvd., where a string of supporters including Rep. Bobby L. Rush( D-1st) professed their love for the activists and Civil Rights Leader who also received proverbial roses for his lifelong commitment to educate his people including teaching them about their African ancestry.
Rush said Worrill deserves “the honor and respect.” He told Worrill, “You have carved a legacy…in the hearts and minds of our young people….”
Award-winning Chicago Suntimes columnist Mary Mitchell, who was the Masters of Ceremony, said if journalists got it wrong they would expect a call from Worrill to set them straight.
The street naming ceremony drew a standing room only crowd where people spilled out into the street straining to hear the ceremony that was also attended by Sharon Hahs, president of NEIU, and her husband Billy, along with other faculty members, students, former classmates and friends who came from other states to support Worrill.
Also present was Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), Father George Clements, Dorothy Leavell, publisher of the Chicago Crusader, activists and retired Professor Robert Starks and the children of Worrill including Sobeanna his daughter, his brother, Oscar, Femi S. Skanes, his other daughter, and several relatives. Also present was Ife Linda Carruthers, the wife of the late Jacob Carruthers for whom the Center was named.
With his wife, Talibah Worrill, by his side, she said of the ceremony, “I am excited, elated and encouraged. Conrad has been working a very long time, and it is nice for him to get this recognition while he is still alive. A lot of times people wait until they are no longer here to give them their flowers, buthe is getting his flowers today.”
Mrs. Worrill, who has been married to Dr. Worrill for 20-years, said the sign “means a legacy…that will remind generations to come who walked the earth and did such amazing things.”
Echoing some of Mrs. Worrill’s sentiments were former Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd)and Dennis Muhammad, regional protocol director for Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. “So often we gather like this after death, but we came together to honor him while he lives. It was a testimony of all the things he did. It’s an honor that we are not at a funeral but a celebration while he lives,” said Tillman.
A long time friend and colleague, retired NEIU Professor Robert Starks, said that Worrill “was richly deserving of the tribute because he has been a stalwart protector of the Center for Inner City Studies, a great teacher and activists.”
According to Worrill, the Center for Inner Studies is 47-years-old. He told of during the1930’s Horace Cayton and Sinclair Drake lived on the seventh floor of the university when they did the research on the book, Black Metropolis that was a study about Negro life in a Northern city.
Olumanji, a longtime friend of Worrill who heads the Dr. Bobby E. Wright Institute for the Advancement of Critical Consciousness, said the sign is a “landmark based on the person who has done something very worthwhile for a lot of different people over a consistent period of time…. It’s an acknowledgement of the work that we do in our communities for people who call themselves organizers and community developers….”
Led by two Congo players, the unveiling of the street sign, Conrad Worrill Way, was held at corner of Oakwood Blvd. and Langley. To many, it represents a roadmap of his life and legacy that spans decades of marching, boycotting and fighting for economic and civil rights for African Americans. When Worrill pulled the string, it broke leaving the paper covering the name. Armed with an umbrella, two men knocked the paper off exposing the new street name.
Standing by the sign that bears his name, Dr. Worrill talked about what it means to him. He said, “Hopefully that my name is associated with the history of this neighborhood and the work we’ve done. It is a great honor, and I am very humbled.”
Murrel Duster, professor emeritus at the Northeastern Illinois University and emeritus vice president and the daughter of the late Ora Higgins, said, “This has been a glorious celebration of a man who should be recognized for the work he’s done. His legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of students, faculty and staff who were touched by his wisdom.”
A Chicago native, Ajamu Webster, chairperson Kansas City Chapter of the Black United Fund, who called Worrill his Godfather, first met him 32-years ago in Chicago. “Whether it’s fighting for reparation overdue an unpaid or champion the movement for African centered education…,” Webster said Worrill has inspired the lives of many generations.
“Not only has he followed the path laid out by our honorable ancestors but he’s also blazed the trail for others of us for generations to follow in his footsteps. ”Webster called him a man of vision with integrity who has “the ability to be a wise counselor and a supreme organizer.”
Attorney Mawuli Mel Davis said Worrill saved his life and has been an inspiration tohim. He chanted the motto, “We are an African people….. While he has helped so many Chicagoans…, Davis said, Worrill’s “ripple effects” span into thousands of people he touched throughout his life including his push for education and his love for African people.
David Leaman, associate dean of College of the College of Arts and Sciences at the Northeastern Illinois University, said, “I love history and Dr. Worrill is such a historian…a historical storyteller. This event brought together history, family and the struggle of equality and the ongoing struggle for democracy and this is what my university represents every day. I am so happy to be a part of it.”
Iris Dunmore, event coordinator for the Black United Fund and ETA, said the street sign “was well deserved by Dr. Worrill who has been in the struggle fo r40-years. I met him in 1968 at George Williams College…. He came and brought Fred Hampton to speak to us. That was the first time I laid eyes on Dr.Worrill….” She said the sign would help youth to learn about Worrill and his legacy. Michael Cotton, who hosted the event, echoed Dunmore’s comments.
But, Thursday afternoon, all eyes were on Worrill, who on August 15thcelebrated his 72ndbirthday. Born in Pasadena, California, Worrill was drafted in the Army in 1962 where he began his love affair with black history having witnessed racism in the military, but he learned about social justice at the knees of his father, Walter F. Worrill, who passed last April and who was an activist with the NAACP and the YMCA where Dr. Worrill once worked.
When Worrill came back from the Army, he enrolled at the George Williams College
where he majored in Applied Behavioral Sciences. It was there he immersed himself in the Black Power movement including joining the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
When Worrill graduated in 1968, he was hired as a program director for a West Side YMCA, but he soon enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction in Secondary Social Studies.
After receiving his higher degree, Worrill taught for two-years at the George Williams College then transferred to Northeastern Illinois University where he became very active in the University’s Inner City Studies program where he is currently the director.
Having a consistent passion for social justice for his people, Worrill was very instrumental in the success of the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980’s, the 1995 Million Man March, the National Black United Front and was a commissioner with the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America better known as NCOBRA. Worrill was also a street organizer for the election of Mayor HaroldWashington. He is also a syndicated weekly columnist for his “Worrill’s World”columns in black newspapers across America.
At the end of the ceremony, Henry English, chairman of the Black United Fund of Illinois who last year had a similar street sign unveiling on 71stStrteet, presented Worrill with the street sign before heading outside for the official unveiling of the Dr. Conrad Worrill Way sign.