The death of Ben Kendrick & the Marcy-Newberry Association

Ben Kendrick, former Executive Director of the shuttered Marcy-Newberry Association, passed away recently. His wake and funeral were this past Saturday. I came to know Ben over twenty years ago when UIC, HUD and CHA were beginning to formalize their respective plans for the UIC South Campus Development and what is now known as Roosevelt Square. He was a tireless advocate for poor people in our community, particularly young ones. Ben appeared to be a simple, humble man, but appearances are often deceiving. Ben was humble, but he was not intellectually simple. He was an avid reader. His favorite subject was history. He spent his last vacation days from Marcy-Newberry, before its was forced to close its doors, at home reading history. People love simplicity; in our nation many people seem obsessed with it, particularly politicians. The recent race for governor and the present one for mayor might strike you as dueling politicians throwing raw red meat to the masses as if we are all rabid, hungry dogs.

Ben’s death made me reflect on some recent history of Marcy-Newberry; one of the oldest social service providers in Chicago, it evolved out of the settlement house movement that Jane Addams brought to this country and our community. A few years ago Ben had hired a consultant to advise the organization on how it could remain relevant in our changing community. She interviewed many people in our community and we spent two hours together discussing the history of Marcy-Newberry, our community, and what the organization’s role might be in it. Then I never heard about her efforts again, but she and her questions were impressive and I was hopeful for the future of Marcy-Newberry and our community.

I continued to work for many months with Ben and others in our community to bring people of socioeconomically disparate backgrounds together using Marcy-Newberry as a place where that could happen and then one day I asked Ben how his consultant’s efforts were going. He told me that he could not afford to have her complete her work; SEIU was trying to unionize the organization’s small work force, but Marcy-Newberry couldn’t afford it and, if SEUI were successful, it would likely be the end of Marcy-Newberry. SEIU was successful and Marcy-Newberry couldn’t afford payroll and closed. Nobody benefitted from SEIU’s efforts; neither the employees, nor SEIU, nor the poor people Marcy-Newberry served nor our community. That’s not to bash unions, but things are not always as simple as rabid partisans on either side of the aisle often make them out to be.

It seems like our democratic republic is increasingly becoming more like a client state with political parties pandering to their special interests while arguing across an increasingly imaginary political aisle and it’s expensive. If you don’t think so, wait until you see your future property tax and other tax increases and try not to disproportionately blame one party or the other; both parties shoulder blame in this state.