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Community answers Ed Gardner’s call to action

Unemployed unilaborer Cheryl Copeljoined Ed Gardner march demequal opportunity constructijobs. The group marched north Western ave. from 95th st. 91st.

Unemployed union laborer Cheryl Copeland joined Ed Gardner in a march to demand equal opportunity in construction jobs. The group marched north on Western ave. from 95th st. to 91st. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 2, 2012 6:19AM

On Sunday afternoon, nearly 1,000 people, practically all of them African American, answered Ed Gardner’s call to rally at 95th and Western to protest the continued lack of black workers on construction sites in Chicago.

Gardner, 87, founder of the iconic Soft Sheen Hair Products and the man credited with bankrolling the election of Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor, was joined by a cadre of civil rights and community leaders.

They included activist Webb Evans, former Sen. Roland Burris, Reps. Danny K. Davis (D-Chicago) and Bobby L. Rush (D-Chicago) and Cook County Clerk Dorothy Brown. Other marchers represented a cross-section of Chicago’s business and political leaders.

They were young and old, teachers and parents, churchgoers and hell-raisers, politicians and their bashers marching alongside the well-to-do and those not doing so well.

Protesters converged from both directions on Western — at times spilling out into the street and stopping traffic between 95th and 91st and Western, chanting: “If we don’t work. No one works.” One protester waved a handmade sign that said, “Jobs Not Jails.”

“It is important to shine a light on the fact that we need to have jobs in our community,” said John W. Rogers, Jr., chairman and CEO of Ariel Capital Management, as he marched discreetly among the protesters.

“You had Johnson Products. You had Soft Sheen, Independence Bank. We’ve got to find a way to provide jobs for our community,” he said.

“I got sprinkled in this week on this project because of Ed Gardner,” said Cheryl Copeland, a union laborer and flagger.

Despite being a union member with 19 years experience, Copeland said between January and July 2012, she had worked only nine hours.

“Mr. Gardner made noise and they called me. I’m about to lose all of my health benefits. I’ve got missing teeth and can’t even get my teeth fixed,” she said.

Gardner, who walked the six-block route despite his advanced age, vowed to come back again on Thursday if he didn’t hear from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Evergreen Park Mayor John Sexton, who was stricken by West Nile virus in September. Gardner’s crusade began a week ago when he was driving on 95th Street and noticed that no blacks were working the project to replace the sidewalk adjacent to a strip mall one block east of Western. The protest grew from a handful of activists who have long agitated for black construction jobs to a crowd that included people from every walk of life.

“There is no reason that we should not have more of our young adults engaged in construction development given the high rate of unemployment in this city and this state,” said State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago).

Tanya Jones, a Chicago Public Schools teacher, said she came out to the rally because “enough is enough.”

“I am tired of the violence, and this is correlated to the violence,” Jones said.

“That is why my twins and my husband are out here. It is a family reunion.”

“This is so beautiful,” said Kublai Toured, executive director of Amer-I-Can, an organization that works with at-risk youth.

“If this doesn’t make you feel good about yourself and who you are, I don’t know what can. This is the first time we’ve seen something like this in 20 years.”

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