Yet another thoughtful and heartfelt post from Jack Crane:
I did not know Leon Bass’ story – thanks for the introduction Jeff. I have been privileged to experience some of his generation’s heroes on the South Side, courageous souls who have overcome all the odds with dogged hard work, intelligence and supreme dignity. Last Friday evening I heard truly world class opera singers from the South Shore Opera Company at the South Shore Cultural Center. Most of the singers were born and raised in Chicago, and educated around the world. They sung to a packed audience of young and old fans of opera. Of course, I had a bit of a chuckle at the irony of a mostly Black audience and performers celebrating Gershwin’s “Porgy & Bess” opera at a venue that banned Blacks and Jews from membership a generation ago.
I must admit too, that I clung hard to the rich and beautiful culture and spirit permeating the South Side that evening, as far, far too much of what I experience on the South Side is the near complete collapse of viable neighborhoods, and the wholesale abandonment of thousands of Black children. Which brings me to the madness of Father Mike Pfleger. I am glad Bob McClory has committed himself to a deeper look into Mike’s work than youtube sound bites. When the likes of Mike Pfleger are no longer welcome in the Catholic Church, you can put a permanent lock on its door. Furthermore, I am afraid the seeds have been sown for many years, whereby thousands of Black kids who have little capacity for work generating a living wage, will be very susceptible to turning towards far crazier and violent charismatic leaders, waiting for their prey.
Nevertheless, my head will hit the pillow tonight recalling magical soprano notes, sung in a former racist venue, and that is plenty of hope to help me haul up the morning.
This month has had a veritable treasure trove of memorable experiences.
From braving cold, wind, sand and a driving rain while biking 100 kilometers to celebrating the completion of a book with Agnes Consadori to interviewing Robert Coles to celebrating 45 years of life, October 2010 has been an extraordinarily rich month. The sweetness I’ve felt has been made even more so because the first eight months of the year had more than their share of hardship.
One of my absolute favorite of these experiences came on Tuesday, when Dunreith and I flew to Cleveland for the Facing History and Ourselves fundraising dinner.
Dear friend and personal hero Leon Bass was the keynote speaker. Calvin Morris, our executive director at Community Renewal Society and one of Dr. Bass’ fifth grade students in 1951, introduced him by singing an Oscar Brown song, “Brother, where are you?”
The seed for a singing introduction came during a two-hour lunch, when I had the great good fortune to eat with Dr. Bass, Dr. Moss and the Rev. Paul Sadler, one of Dr. Morris’ former students and a former substitute teacher at Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia while Dr. Bass was the principal. I felt privileged to listen as the three Philadelphians swapped tales of childhood memories and thanked each other for the impact they had had on each other’s lives.
Dr. Bass’ life has been a remarkable one.
The son of a Pullman porter, he was one of five boys and a daughter who served after graduation in the segregated army, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, witnessed the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, and returned home to get his college education and serve his community for 34 years as a teacher and administrator.
During that time, he became influenced by the message and example of Martin Luther King, becoming an adherent of non violence as a method to achieve social change and weeping while attending the fabled 1963 March on Washington.
For close to 35 years, Dr. Bass has shared his life’s journey with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of students and adults around the country, asking them if “the price is too high” to stand up for what they believe is right and urging parents to show students the tough, firm love they deserve and that helps them grow.
Many people cite listening to him as one of the most meaningful of their entire educational careers.
The good news is that, as of January, even if he does not come to students’ schools, they will still be able to absorb his story.
That’s because he has written a book.
After years of prodding, Dr. Bass has completed his manuscript and found a publisher. I have not yet seen the work, but cannot wait to read it and learn more from this inspiring and courageous veteran, educator, husband and hero.