Tribute to a Hero


I remember as budding pre-adolescent entrepreneurs my friends and I “hustled bottles”. We would go from house to house in my Chicago South side neighborhood of Chatham knocking on doors asking the residents if they had any empty pop (soda) bottles that we could resell for about a nickel a piece.

Nowadays that doesn’t seem like much but in the early 60’s we could hustle a couple of dollars apiece. That could buy plenty of candy back then. We took a chance knocking on strange doors and we always hustled in numbers for protection. Behind some doors were irate neighbors who met us with vociferous epithets warning us to never come back. Behind other doors we met kind adults who appreciated our young work ethics and the opportunity to get rid of old pop bottles.

One very kind, generous neighbor who is forever etched in my memory is Ernie Banks. At that time Ernie Banks anchored the Chicago Cubs on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He finished his career with 512 home runs and played in 14 All Star games. He always opened his door with a smile and words of encouragement for us. He never exhibited a super star mentality or any irritation towards us for interrupting his busy life.

Ernie Banks was a favorite of my great Aunt Bottie as we watched daytime Cub games and she screamed “go Ernie” every time he came to the plate. And he usually rewarded her enthusiasm with a timely hit or home run. He was larger than life yet humble enough to open his door to some little wide-eyed kids trying to make a few nickles.

Back then African-American Hall of Famers, Doctors, Lawyers, Educators, Pimps, Hustlers and Blue Collar workers lived in the same neighborhood. A few years later that changed as those that could take advantage of doors opened by the Civil Rights struggle and moved to “greener pastures”. Neighborhoods turned to “hoods”. That’s another lesson for another blog.

What resonated with me then and now is the loving kindness of a genuine super star with a servant’s heart. Now ain’t that just like God? -(Jeremiah 31:3)

The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you”.

RIP Ernie Banks (“Mr Cub”) January 31,1931-January 23, 2015