Of Voices and Dreams



Over the past several months, I have been engrossed with the Dateline: Bronzeville book project. That’s no secret to anyone who talks to me on a regular basis. What they don’t know, is that I’ve also been hearing voices. Specifically,  I’ve heard and reheard, a quote ... in my mind … every day.

“If you’re not working on your dream, you’re working on someone else’s.”

I’ve heard this quote in my father’s voice, himself a son of Bronzeville on Chicago’s South Side.  He didn’t talk about the old days much, but when he did, I listened. Those were the stories of his dreams. Those stories encouraged me to work on mine.

He grew up in his grandmother’s rooming house in Bronzeville with an ever-changing cast of characters. They were the slick and wicked, the brilliant and noble - most of whom were recent transplants from the South, émigrés in their native land. All were in search of a better life.

One of his stories was of his days as “one of few” at Tilden Technical High School. Tilden, in those days, was the province of the Irish, Poles and Italians. He and those precious few “walked and fought uphill both ways” as they went to school in a foreign territory that was only two miles away. Their dreams fueled them.

I’ve heard my mother’s voice. Storyteller that she is, she shared her stories, and her dreams, freely. Mom was motherless at the age of seven.  My grandfather raised her and my uncle in a succession of rooms and apartments in Bronzeville. They benefitted from kindnesses, large and small, and suffered indignities in equal measure. She did not stop dreaming. She graduated first in her high school class, and went on to undergraduate and graduate studies at Northwestern University at a time when their were but a handful of Negroes on campus in roles other than domestic or service.

Lesson: Working on your dream takes commitment, discipline and perseverance.

I’ve also heard the voices of others and I am reminded of their dreams. They are the dreamers who never had the opportunity afforded by Bronzeville. They were the millions of Americans throughout the generations, born to slavery, either in law, or in fact, or both. Those souls never felt the vitality, and thrill, of working on one’s own dream. They only knew the suffocating weight of the dreams of others, borne at their expense.. These untold lives, history shapers all, had dreams unborn that have come and gone, unknown, unaccomplished and unfulfilled. By implication, they were told that their dreams were unworthy.

Bronzeville was no panacea. It was a hard life for most. But although it wasn’t always pretty, Bronzeville was a place that allowed for dreams. There was Joe Louis and Jesse Owens, Nat “King” Cole and Earl “Fatha” Hines, Oscar DePriest and Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. They had dreams, and they had Bronzeville, a place at which dreams met opportunity; a place that offered a chance to come within hailing distance of an elusive American Dream.

Lesson: Your dream, my dream, is just as worthy as the next fellow’s. Prepare.

It is with profound humility that I attempt to tell stories about Bronzeville through Dateline:Bronzeville and the Runny Walker Mystery Series. I do so with full realization that I stand upon the shoulders of Mom and Dad, and Runny, and countless thousands. My dream is that I continue to hear their voices, so that I can tell well their stories.

Dateline: Bronzeville - A Runny Walker Mystery is now available for pre-order. All pre-orders will receive a BONUS with our compliments.

So tell me, did your parents ever talk to you about their dreams?


Donald Jones