By Michael Romain
SATURDAY, MAYWOOD — “A people without knowledge of its history is like a tree without roots,” said Congressman Danny K. Davis. Davis and a congregation of public officials and people from all over the country gathered in front of the Fred Hampton Family Aquatic Center to recognize the accomplishments of various community leaders and one particularly exceptional scholarship recipient at this year’s annual Fred Hampton Scholarship Foundation ceremony.
“He touched each and every one of our lives,” said Vivian Covington, the first African-American mayor of University Park and one of the recipients of the Foundation’s framed certificates, which acknowledged community leaders in various sectors of social life. According to the Foundation’s president and Fred Hampton’s brother, Maywood Park District Commissioner William “Bill” Hampton, the awards are given to individuals who have proven to be models in the local communities in which they live and/or were raised.
By bestowing the awards on people such as Mayor Covington, who often are at the height of their careers, they may have served as not-so-subtle symbols of what is expected of Brittany Bouie, this year’s scholarship recipient. Bouie, from Joliet, is a senior at John Marshal Law School.
“We’ll continue to give out scholarships to students who want to continue to give their time and energy back to the community,” said Mr. Hampton.
The day’s gathering comprised a retinue of speakers and performers. One high point was a moving rendition of Mahalia Jackson’s “If I Can Help Somebody,” performed acapella by Rosemary Cleveland of Rock of Ages Baptist Church. Tributes to Fred Hampton, the former NAACP youth leader and Black Panther, flowed from speaker to speaker.
Dolores Jones Smith’s children went to school with Fred, the young man whose essence, Ms. Smith said, was compassion. “He was more than a Black Panther […] he [was somebody who] wanted to feed the homeless.” Smith recalled a conversation Hampton once had with one of her sons. “Poncho,” Fred said, “you have to think about people in terms of their hearts; not the color of their skin.”
“I wasn’t born yet when he died, but when I went to school, I got free breakfast,” said one woman, who appeared to be in her thirties. She was referencing the Black Panthers’ pivotal role in getting the government to implement free breakfast programs at schools in need.
“Even today, Fred’s life is still speaking to the purpose of bringing people back together,” said Gwendolyn Young, the Executive Director of Seed of Hope Foundation, an organization that mentors young women in the community.
Maywood Trustee Michael Rogers said that he experiences Fred Hampton’s legacy practically everywhere he goes. “His legacy is enduring all across the country,” said Mr. Rogers.
It’s a legacy that Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins hopes will translate into present-day transformation. “Change will come if we stay focused, stay committed […] and let our children know that they have a rich history,” said Mayor Perkins, echoing Congressman Davis.
The Fred Hampton Scholarship Foundation was founded in 1970 and incorporated in 1971 as a tribute to the civil rights leader and activist, who was assassinated in 1969 by Chicago Police. Hampton’s life and death have been scrutinized and studied on college campuses around the nation. In his eulogy of Hampton, Rev. Jessie Jackson said, “when Fred was shot in Chicago, black people in particular, and decent people in general, bled everywhere.”
According to Bill Hampton, Rev. Jackson and Rev. Ralph Abernathy presented the first donation to the Fred Hampton Scholarship Foundation for $1,000 to Fred’s mother, Iberia Hampton. That initial donation has since been followed by donations from such luminaries as Chaka Khan, Artis Gilmore and Donny Hathaway. The Foundation focuses on law school students, because Fred had planned on becoming a lawyer. He even studied law at Triton, the City Colleges of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago (where, according to Bill Hampton, he even took a class with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton).
In order to qualify for the scholarship money, recipients must have passed the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and have been accepted into a law school. Students typically receive between $500-$1000 each in scholarship funds. Since its founding, the Foundation has awarded 148 scholarships to law school students at institutions such as the University of Chicago, Loyola University, the University of Illinois and DePaul University.
Other attendees of the event included Maywood Village Clerk Viola Mims, Proviso Township Trustee Clarence Thomas, Proviso East Track and Field Lincoln Smith, Chicago attorney and potential candidate for Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykins, Texas pastor Vincent Poole, Willy Ashford of the Berkeley Library Board, State Representative Bill Davis, Judge Shelvin Hall, author Mary Moore, Les Jones of the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles, State Senator Toi Hutchinson and Fred Hampton’s attorneys Jeff Haas, author of The Assassination of Fred Hampton, and Flint Taylor. VFP