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Ray L. Waters, a Chicago lawyer, dies at 47

Ray L. Waters

Ray L. Waters

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Updated: August 13, 2012 2:04PM



Ray L. Waters was a one-man port of entry for many young African-American professionals in Chicago.

Roderick Hawkins was one of the people he helped.

Hawkins recalls how Mr. Waters gave him shrewd advice as Hawkins tried to achieve his dream of landing a job in Chicago.

It was the year 2000. Hawkins, a resident of Baton Rouge, La., was preparing to head to a job interview in Michigan with Dow Chemical when he called Mr. Waters, an old college buddy, and confided that he would rather live and work in Chicago, where the Chicago Community Trust had expressed interest in him.

Mr. Waters told Hawkins to arrange a long, long layover at O’Hare as he was returning from the Michigan interview — and to take advantage of the layover to make a strong pitch to the Chicago Community Trust.

“You get on the Blue Line,” Mr. Waters urged, “and you’re going to get that job.”

When Hawkins arrived, Mr. Waters was waiting for him. “He gave me the pep talk. We stood, literally, at the Blue Line tracks at O’Hare, and he said, ‘You look [the interviewer] in the eye, and you tell her ‘I want this job.’ ”

Hawkins did everything Mr. Waters said.

He got the job and built a new life in Chicago.

Today, he is an executive with the Chicago Urban League.

Mr. Waters let Hawkins stay with him and his family while Hawkins learned his way around his new city. “I drove up here with my mom, and he said ‘He’ll be fine; I have his back.’ He showed me how to get around on the Metra, on the L. He literally showed me how to navigate Chicago.”

Mr. Waters died of a heart attack in Chicago on July 5. He was 47.

Once he became a lawyer, he did non-profit work with the Congressional Black Caucus, trying to recover Southern land that had fallen out of the hands of African-Americans who moved North in the Great Migration. Though the post-Emancipation policy of “40 acres and a mule” for former slaves never gained traction, a number of African-Americans scrimped and saved and were able to buy land in the South. Jim Crow and bigotry did not help those absentee owners, but sometimes, it was their own relatives who moved in and claimed the land.

But Mr. Waters was not all about work. He liked the music of Ginuwine, and old school jams like “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

In fact, “he wanted to be a Pip,” said his daughter, Justice Waters.

Mr. Waters attended Holy Angels Catholic School and sang in its Little Angels choir. He ran track at St. Ignatius College Prep. He earned a bachelor’s in finance from the University of Illinois, where he became a member of Iota Phi Theta, a historically black fraternity.

“He was a senior when I was a freshman. He gave me little points and cues about navigating the campus,” said Chicagoan George Smith. “I had to get adjusted to having classes where I was the only person of color . . . one thing he did say was ‘Go to class, because everyone will know your name by the end of the first class.’ ” Today, Smith is a public health administrator.

Mr. Waters attended the Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, where he earned a law degree. His law office, Hester & Waters, does business in Chicago and Baton Rouge.

For law projects, he often looked for interns at Kennedy-King College and Olive-Harvey College, said Clyde El-Amin, former president of both schools: “He always preferred City Colleges students, because he felt they were in need of the exposure the experience would give them.”

He taught legal writing at DePaul University,

Mr. Waters self-published a book, Black Fathers, Black Sons that included interviews with subjects from age 7 to 71.

He enjoyed TV shows like “Cold Case,’’ “30 Rock,” “The Boondocks,” “The Wire,” and Kerry Washington’s “Scandal.” He loved hot dogs and barbecued chicken.

He also is survived by his parents, Geraldine and Raymond Waters; his wife, Carolett Watson, and his sisters, Cynthia Waters and Edith Glenn. Visitation is 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Thursday at St. John de la Salle Catholic Church, 10205 S. King Dr., with a funeral mass to follow. Burial is at Lincoln Cemetery, Chicago.

His daughter Justice, 17, said she will remember his lessons. “He told me to always stay focused on whatever I do. He told me that whatever you put your mind to, you can do it. He told me choose my words; focus; don’t slack, and don’t be a liar, because he did not like slackers and liars.”

Mr. Waters wore two gold chains. He will be buried with one. Justice will wear the other.

“I’m going to have one, and he’s going to have one.”



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