The third stop on the 12 Parks in 12 Weeks Tour is known as “Cole Park,” located in the heart of Chatham at 85th and King Dr. Although I have crossed a few people on this court, I cannot take credit for the name. Cole Park is the namesake of the legendaryNat King Cole.
Featuring Cole Park this week wasn't my original plan. However, since I’m being interviewed at the park tonight by the Chicago Red Eye Newspaper, I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone. First, I'd complete the interview, and then test out the new D. Rose 4.5’s on the basketball court.
Unfortunately, there’s been a rise in the murder rate in Chatham, and the Red Eye wants to ask me a few questions about the upsurge in violence. During the interview, they asked me if I thought Chatham was getting worse. I replied, “Compared to what?” They answered, “Englewood, or Austin.” I told them that I believe Chicago is getting worse. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and Chicago is only as strong as its highest in crime communities. If a murder happens in Chatham, that should matter to folks who live on the Gold Coast. If a 3d Printing Company opens up in Edgewater, that should matter to the people in Chatham. There aren’t any bad communities and good communities. There’s only one Chicago. I truly believe this is a Chicago problem, not just a Chatham problem.
Cole Park can tout celebrity players. Famous ball players like Benji, Derrick Rose, and young Michael Jordan graced this very court. Cole Park should also be acknowledged because of the summer programs it offers and the refuge it provides for the Chatham community. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to Cole Park represents murder and violence, not celebrity athletes or community benefits. It’s usually talked about for the slaying of Officer Thomas Wortham Jr., a 30-year-old Chicago police officer who was shot and killed across from Cole Park, when several people approached him outside his family’s home and tried to steal his new motorcycle.
All of this violence has led to a community demonstration called “Peace in the Park after Dark.” During this event, a group of 100 young people, along with the Alderman, 6th District Police Commander, and a host of volunteers, spend the night in Cole Park.
Cole Park is also host of The Ben Wilson Cole Park Classic, which is presented by the Chicago Park District in conjunction with 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer. The tournament has been renamed for Ben Wilson, a Chatham resident and standout star at Simeon High School. Wilson was tragically killed in November 1984, the day before his senior season was to begin, which spurred an unprecedented outpouring of city-wide grief. Wilson was the subject of an ESPN documentary "Benji.” This tournament is referred to as the city’s best summer basketball tournament for girls and boys ages 5-18.
Getting back to playing ball at Cole Park, I passed out five 3M Chicago Flag T-shirts out before the game started. One of the park's workers told me it was good to see me giving back to the community. I thought about that for a second. I'm not rich, but I am giving. It hadn’t been a big deal to me before he said that, but after he mentioned it, I really felt like I’d done a good deed. We all could do more.
The game of choice was 5on5, and we played up to 34. I know it’s early in the tour, but I swear to you, Cole Park wins my award for having the most Court Pride—at least so far. I met an old guy who said he'd been refereeing at Cole Park for 20 years. I was impressed with his passion. Every time somebody scored on a good move or a good shot, he'd yell, "THIS is COLE PARK."
The D. Rose 4.5 shoes were comfortable. I hit a lot of three pointers in these shoes and shot better than I've shot all summer. I don’t' know if this was because Cole Park is my home community court, or if it was the shoes. Maybe both. Either way, I felt good in the D. Rose 4.5's. Very slick looking shoes, and very light shoes, as well—probably the lightest shoes I've worn all summer.
Unfortunately, our game of 34 was cut short because a park attendant was placing lock bars on the rims, a tactic that’s enforced to prevent basketball playing at night. The fact that it was still light outside and a guy was trying to put bars on the rims says it all. He kept saying that we had already had him waiting 10 minutes. He had his ladder ready and was ready put the locks up, stating he didn’t want to wait until we finished the game. So nobody ended up winning.
Before leaving, I watched the pee wee baseball game. Seeing the little kids in their uniforms made me think of my little daughter. The kids could barely fit their hats, and the gloves seemed too big for them, but they were out learning and enjoying this great summer day. Parents were coaching, and mothers were cheering on the sidelines. I thought to myself that this is what hope looks like, and Chatham represents hope. As long as hope remains and meaning is preserved, the possibility of overcoming symptoms of oppression, like crime and joblessness, survives. And that’s the genius of Chatham. Chatham is proof that an African American community full of pride can … and does … exist.