On Saturday, Oct. 26, when South Shore High School Class of 1969 grads gather at Gino’s East Pizza in River North, it’ll feel like just yesterday and today. At least that’s my humble opinion as class president of the diverse group that once celebrated Jewish high holidays. Today, South Shore closes on MLK Day. Most of us have moved from the old neighborhood. Some stayed.

Historians report 1969 was a transformative year. Two photojournalists — Karen Hirsch, who is white, female, Jewish and lives in the city, and this suburban reporter who is black, male and Christian — agree. We contend that our class mirrored the nation’s cultural and political revolution. Fifty years ago, there was widespread division amid a White House embroiled in corruption. My how times changed. Former Black Panther Azella “Ace” Collins, a nurse then and now, reported in my Ebony article (October 2018): “As I look back to 1968, black infants were two times as likely to die as white infants. Today, the rate is 2.3 to 3.0 times higher for black babies. Infant mortality is used as an indicator to assess overall health. There are Third World countries with better rates than the USA.” She provided similar parallels to homeownership, poverty, education and police misconduct then and now.

Karen and I reconnected 25 years ago at that class reunion, amid a more hopeful national period, and 25 years later rejoined efforts when yet again there was chaos in the country. We chronicled the Aug. 2-4, 2019 South Shore All-Class Festival events — a Friday pre-fest concert of alums like Carl R. Johnson at The Quarry, and an all-day, Saturday picnic in Rainbow Beach, where Lori Gault Dodson (another ’69 student leader) held court. Rainbow Beach in the ’60s was the location of race riots. Today, it’s two blocks from gang-riddled, blood-soaked “Terror Town”). That’s where, back in the day, lived Sunday concert alums Carl, who now resides in Plainfield and Mark Rashkow who flew from Israel/Palestine, jammed at Rosa’s Blues Lounge. 

Karen reminded me that the Voting Rights Bill was passed during our era. Carl made me remember Woodstock. Lori rejoiced that funk-rock was the solution to our revolution. We felt we could change the world. Many of us did, which is why getting us together might be fun. 

Our ’69 class was special because that year was epic. 

Stan West is a longtime Oak Park resident.

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