JEDIDIAH WAS BORN Darryl Eugene Coleman. His mother, Ottoweiss Cook, a minister herself, took Jedidiah to a prophetic church when he was 13, and a woman he didn’t know pulled him aside. “God told me to tell you that He’s going to change your name,” she said. Soon after, his mother called him into the living room and there stood a stranger who looked like him. It was his father, Grayling Brown, who said giddily that God had told him he had a son, and God said the son’s name was Jedidiah. Jedidiah means Beloved of the Lord.
In 2012, Jedidiah rented a two-story building along 71st Street where many of the storefronts no longer housed businesses. He lived in the apartment upstairs, and used the commercial space below for church services. In 2014, he started an organization called Young Leaders Alliance, which he headquartered in the storefront as well. Many African Americans had moved out of the city, a quarter-million since 2000, leaving communities on the South and West Sides that were even poorer and more perilous than before. Jedidiah made a point of getting to know the teenagers who idled on corners, but too frequently he ended up seeing one of their bodies splayed on the concrete fringed by yellow police tape. This was the spring of 2014, still months before a police officer killed Michael Brown in Ferguson and the first large wave of organizing under the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag.
That summer Jedidiah called on the residents of his South Shore neighborhood to join him for a rally. He borrowed a coffin from a local funeral home and rolled it onto the street to represent the scourge of violence. He wore a dark suit and tie—he felt he always had to project authority and churchly rectitude. To his surprise, 400 people showed up, clogging the intersection. They included guys from opposing gangs, the cliques he’d convinced to gather peacefully. When the police appeared, Jedidiah announced into a bullhorn, “Don’t come to stop us. Join us.” As the group marched through the streets, people leaned out of apartment windows, shouting their support. Jedidiah made sure everyone who wanted to speak was given the bullhorn.
In the following days, he received calls from pastors and politicians and city officials. Now they wanted to work with him. Pat Quinn, then the Illinois governor, requested a meeting, and pretty soon Emanuel was waking Jedidiah up with the occasional morning phone call, asking for updates on his neighborhood. Suddenly, Jedidiah could reach out to city administrators to get a homeless woman into a shelter; after shootings, he was able to contact police commanders on their cell phones, acting as an intermediary between the cops and the guys firing at one another. Glen Brooks, the Chicago Police Department’s director of public engagement, told me that Jedidiah “has definitely reduced tensions at shootings and allowed everyone else to go home safely.”
BY THE START of 2016, Jedidiah was living in an apartment several blocks south of his old place, offering free lodging to a half-dozen boarders. Now a full time first responder advocate, Jedidiah rushed to just about every calamity in the city to lend support. Jedidiah couldn’t slow down. The violence in Chicago was reaching unprecedented levels—762 murders in 2016, a two-decade high, and an average of 12 shooting victims a day. And then there was the rise of Trump. Jedidiah had seen the clips of Trump supporters shoving black women and sucker-punching black men, urged on by the candidate himself. In March 2016, when a Trump rally was scheduled for Chicago, Jedidiah declared, “Not in my city.” He would go to the event to defend his people.
Once inside the crowded arena, he was determined to take the stage and shut the rally down and before he knew it he was leaping over the barricades. A man wearing an American flag as a cape jumped on his back, and a video of Jedidiah spinning around and landing a right hook became a viral sensation. He didn’t regret defending himself, although he said it led to death threats.
Shortly after the rally, Jedidiah got a job as an auxiliary police officer for a security firm, patrolling South Side business districts and public housing complexes. The job suited him. In his uniform, his Glock on his hip, he provided the kind of community policing he believed the city needed. He arrested the people running the drug operations, but he also befriended the young dealers and buyers, addressing the women as “queen” and the grizzled lookouts as “old school.” He shared his cell number freely, and people phoned him in a panic, asking him to break up fights or to calm the mentally agitated.
He was often stationed at the Trumbull Park Homes, a small public housing development in the Wild 100s, the increasingly desolate three-digit streets of the far South Side. One of his partners, a female officer, told me they made quite a team once they figured out that locking up the same residents each day was pointless. Jedidiah regularly bought juice and candy for the many children at Trumbull from a corner deli. “He is very gentleman. Everyone loves him,” the store’s Middle Eastern owner said. “He makes sure no one does anything stupid.”
Jedidiah continued to have a heart for giving citizens a better quality of life and tried to take on any injustice that time would allow. Although advocacy has led to some challenging moments for Jedidiah, those challenges have led to growth, a deeper connection with the community he serves, and an unexpected upside: He learned he wasn’t alone. After weeks of leading a protests outside a suburban hotel in Rosemount, IL to fight against injustice, Jedidiah partnered with people who had traveled from all over the country to start an organization called J.U.S.T.C.E. As the founder and former national president of the organization, Jedidiah has planned and carried out hundreds of humanitarian efforts throughout the country, including bringing two trucks of water to the residents of flint, Michigan and creating an event called "Kids Speak Out", which was done in South Shore and duplicated in several other States. Jedidiah is a true public servant. A liaison between government and citizens, who uses his understanding of systems and his connections to decision makers to improve the quality of life for all of us.
Due to the majority of his adult life being a resident of the south east side, Jedidiah wants to focus all of his efforts on improving the quality of life of 7th Ward residents. His plan is to establish a robust community engagement operation, support the local organizations, appoint precinct captains, bring business to 79th street, empower entrepreneurs, develop job programs for youth, and minimize daily crime. He truly has a plan to give residents "A Reason to Stay".
Copyright © 2018 Jedidiah Brown for 7th Ward - All Rights Reserved.