For some, the way the expression “staywoke” gained traction in the era of social media has moved the dialogue forward on race relations in the nation in different ways.
As such, dozens at the Fountaindale Public Library converged to take part in a program aptly titled, “StayWoke The Men Convene.”
It was the third of four community conversations that various Joliet organizations presented, this time around bringing together the efforts of the NAACP—Joliet Branch, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.—Eta Chi Zeta Chapter, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.—Iota Rho Sigma Chapter, and Alpha Phi Alpha Sorority Inc.—Theta Mu Lambda Chapter.
The program, by design, aimed to get the community talking and hear from them regarding issues that need to be addressed.
Panelists for the event included Mike Clark, of NAACP—Joliet Branch; Jessie Rhymes, of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc.; and David Hulbert, of Phi Beta Sigma.
“Basically, we wanted to get together and have a conversation about some of the things going on in our community, especially as it concerns black men,” Clark said.
Topics discussed during the program ranged from the influences on black men today and concerns for image to bridging the generational disconnect and civic/community engagement.
“One thing is we really want everyone to be involved in this conversation, join in, and give your input,” Clark said. “I think we can get some really good things going out of this.”
Rhymes, a father and a Joliet resident, told those at the event his thoughts on how the family dynamic influences young black men. He said being an influential black man means more than sporting a nice car, being a good athlete or having nice clothes.
“For me, I try to make sure that anything that [my children] see me do is positive,” he said.
Rhymes stressed how important it is to be mindful of what you do at home and said it’s about the values that you instill in others.
Among those at the event was Bolingbrook resident Ray McConico. He said the program came as advertised on social media and that it opened up a dialogue in which he learned of different perspectives.
“It was exactly what I thought it was going to be,” McConico said, adding that he “didn’t know there were so many organizations in the area.”
Clark hopes more black men will get involved in the community moving forward.
He said he wants to know “what can be done to get the numbers up or make the organizations more attractive, or a better fit, for us to come out and be involved.”
Rhymes questioned if the values instilled in him years ago are emphasized with the younger generations.
“There’s often an age disconnect, and we have to find ways to bridge that gap,” he said.
McConico acknowledged Rhymes’ concern and said as a 27-year-old himself, he thinks it’s important for older generations to find a way to relate to those who are younger.
Clark agreed, saying he is all for young people and their use of social media, but there are actual rooms where decisions are being made.
“We are not in those rooms to the level that we should be,” he said. “You see the same couple people who are dedicated to being in those rooms, but they get tired. They can only do so much by themselves. We’re going to have to do a better job of doing both. We can communicate on social media, but the way the system is set up, we’ve got to be in those rooms.”
Clark wants to know what else people are doing to show younger generations there are better paths to follow.
Lonnie Posley, pastor of New Canaanland Christian Church, said that idea resonates deeply with him and that it reminds him of “The Book of Judges” out of the Bible.
“Individually, they were winning as individual tribes, but in the Book of Joshua, they were running as a group,” Posley recalled. “We started losing, but yet we got successes. … How do we come back together and win together as a team?”
Posley questioned when people in the community will become passionate again about helping one another.
“Until we start caring about the community again and caring about ourselves, we’re going to keep having these conversations,” he said.
The fourth event of the series aimed at moving the dialogue forward on race relations will be held at a later date. Further details will be provided at the next meeting of the NAACP—Joliet Branch. It meets at 7 p.m. the first Monday of every month at Unity CDC, 1 Doris Ave., Joliet.