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A Chicago book that holds special meaning to me

Gail Bush


“Jane Addams” by Gwendolyn Brooks written in 1989 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Hull House. Published in In Montgomery and Other Poems in 2003 by Third World Press, Chicago.

Addams. Brooks. Chicago. ‘When and how you read the work’ does not apply. I do not remember being the person I am now without carrying this poem along my path.

When local giant of social action Jane Addams meets the might pen of our Gwendolyn Brooks, literary sparks fly. Brooks tells children worried about survival, “Go ahead and live your life. You might be surprised. The world might continue.” Brooks compels us to see Addams’ life as this message to the children —

“You matter, and giants

must bother.

I bothered.

Whatever I was tells you

the world might continue.”

Brooks has insight into the types of people that Addams had to navigate through to achieve change, never leaving hold of her moral compass. However muddy or ermine wrapped, Addams powered through, she lived her life, she served, she made change happen. Resolute she fought through the giants of welfare, reform, courts, labor, tenements, suffrage, immigration, and with justice. What better threads to weave an intricate tapestry of what it means to be of Chicago. And what more does a hometown girl, born in Lawndale, raised in Irving Park and farther up north, need to know to serve through action and pen in the footsteps of this textured legacy.

We must bother. So speak giants. Jane. Gwendolyn.

 

Gail Bush, April 2020

 

I am Jane Addams.

I am saying to the giantless time –

to the young and yammering, to the old and corrected,

well, chiefly to Children Coming Home

with worried faces and questions about world-survival –

“Go ahead and live your life.

You might be surprised. The world might continue.”

It was not easy for me, in the days of the giants,

And now they call me a giant.

Because my capitals were Labour, Reform, Welfare,

Tenement Regulation, Juvenile Court Law (the first),

Factory Inspection, Workmen’s Compensation,

Woman Suffrage, Pacifism, Immigrant Justice.

And because

Black, brown and white and red and yellow

heavied my hand and heart.

I shall tell you a thing about giants

that you do not wish to know.

Giants look in mirrors and see

almost nothing at all.

But they leave their houses nevertheless.

They lurch out of doors

to reach you, the other stretchers and strainers.

Erased under ermine or loud in tatters, oh

moneyed or mashed, you

matter.

You matter. And giants

must bother.

I bothered.

Whatever I was tells you

the world might continue. Go on with your preparations,

moving among the quick and the dead;

nourishing here, there;

pressing a hand

among the ruins,

and among the seeds of restoration.

So speaks a giant. Jane.

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