It has been said that the measure of a man is how he lives his life. It has also been said that the true heroes remain nameless.
Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Dwight Eisenhower signed the 1957 Civil Rights Act. Martin Luther King Jr made them reality.
The one thing those men share is that they did none of it alone. Thousands of the nameless carved out the trails they paved.
John Jordan co-founded FOR (Freedom of Residence), a multi-racial community organization with one goal – to ensure Freeport, Illinois, residents could live where they chose. An intolerable situation today that most cannot fathom, but reality in 1964. Being the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood had dire consequences at that time. Whether it was a black family moving into a white neighborhood, or a white family moving into a black neighborhood, FOR was there to defend that family’s right to live where they chose. He also fathered a son – Dennis.
Raised in that atmosphere of ‘doing what is right irregardless of color,’ Dennis has never strayed from that belief. As president of the local chapter of the NAACP for many years, Dennis held to his convictions that every person matters. Sometimes that didn’t make him so popular on either side of the color barrier. And in those times Dennis stood alone. But that is what makes Dennis so memorable. He stood. He stood for his beliefs then, just as he stands for them today.
When neighbors wanted to do something about drug dealers, Dennis was there. When a gang-related shooting occurred outside his house, Dennis was there… armed only with his faith in the human spirit.
When programs were started supplying impoverished children with basic school supplies such as pencils and paper… Dennis was behind the scenes feverishly working to get it done.
When the police wanted to establish a substation in a high-crime neighborhood, Dennis was there assuring the residents that it wasn’t about police domination; it was about community concern. And it was Dennis who was present at the first community meetings in the community meeting rooms built within the remodeled house originally slated for demolition. And it was Dennis who made sure those same doors were open on Sunday mornings for a neighborhood church that formed and had no place to meet.
When the police chief walked the neighborhoods at night, it was Dennis walking beside him.
When a resident felt the police had wronged them, it was Dennis pounding on that same chief’s door, demanding the wrong be righted. I know. I was that police chief.
And when Dennis decided it was time to knock down walls and bridge the gap between police and the community, I was proud to stand with him and swing that sledgehammer, and then build that bridge with him. That bridge became known as the Community-Police Review Panel. It was a panel of residents and police who heard complaints of suspected or perceived racial injustice and discrimination. They did so with complete independence – without police or city government interference, and without community sentiment swaying their decisions and opinions. Dennis and I made sure of that.
When I was seated as chairman of the local Salvation Army board, I approached Dennis with my concern that there were only white faces on that board. Volunteers arrived for the next meeting and the board became integrated for the first time.
I’ve retired. Dennis hasn’t. His job isn’t finished yet. Today he remains in the same neighborhood he and his family have lived in throughout their lives.
He still investigates allegations of injustice without concern for color. His concern is for doing what is right. When he has to, he calls the Department of Justice and any other organization he needs to in order to right the wrong.
My hope is that one day Dennis Jordan can retire, his job finished once and for all. But until then he will remain one of those thousands you will never know the name of. He will get up every morning and go to work defending those who believe no one cares. Every night he will go to bed knowing he will get up the next morning to continue the same battle his father fought. And every day he will hope his own children do not have to carry on the fight.
There will be those who will continue to say Dennis is an agitator, a pain in the ass, and not willing to listen to reason. They are the same people who are the problem.
As for me, I will call him ‘actively and genuinely concerned with the rights of all people to live their lives as they choose.’ But most importantly, I will continue to call him “friend.”