Follow @MaryMitchellCSTConrad Worrill is an authentic race man.
When I first interviewed him in the early ’90s, I was terrified that he would dismiss me as a “wannabe” trying to fit into a white man’s world.
He surprised me when he launched into a wholehearted black history lesson.
It didn’t seem to matter that much of what he said wouldn’t end up in my story.
He had to get it out.
After 40 years of “getting it out” at Northeastern Illinois University’s Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies — an institution recognized worldwide that Worrill helped build — he will retire on Dec. 31.
“At the age of 75, it is time for me to focus on the massive archives I’ve accumulated and to write my memoirs,” he told me.
A historian by nature and training, Worrill said his memoir will be based on much of the rich history he’s experienced as an activist scholar.
“Not only in the 40 years working at Northeastern, but in the 50 years being involved in the black struggle. Although I’ve written hundreds of articles, it is time for me to produce a few books while my health is OK,” he said.
There is plenty to write about.
Follow @MaryMitchellCSTWorrill was a key organizer of the grass-roots effort that swept the late Mayor Harold Washington into office.
During his lengthy career at Northeastern (he served 12 of those years as director of the Center for Inner City Studies), Worrill was the person most reporters turned to for a perspective on matters impacting the African-American community.
In 1980, he founded the National Black United Front in Brooklyn, New York, and led that organization for more than 26 years.
He was also at the forefront of the movement for slavery reparations.
But Worrill considers his role in helping to establish the center his greatest accomplishment.
“I have attempted to provide leadership based on the foundation of what others built, in hopes that the next generation would build on what we have attempted to preserve,” he said.
“More than 1,700 students have earned a master’s in inner city studies,” Worrill added, pointing out that Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis earned a master’s degree under his tutelage.
He calls the late Jacob Carruthers and Anderson Thompson, the men who created the center’s African-centered curriculum, his intellectual fathers.
“The goal of the center was to preserve the rich history of African people and to teach it from our own perspective and not the perspective of others,” he told me.
His retirement will give him time to spend on other issues close to his heart.
For example, Worrill, a former athlete, has long advocated for a state-of-the-art indoor track facility, pointing out that low-income students could qualify for college scholarships by running track.
“I actually first proposed the idea of building the facility to Harold Washington in June of 1983. After he became the mayor, the resources just were not there. When Michael Scott was president of school board, he tried his best to build it. The proposal got some momentum around the possibility of the Olympics,” Worrill said.
“Now it appears we have the commitment from the mayor’s office and the Chicago Park District. We’ve completed a $2.5 million contract for an architectural firm to design the facility,” he said.
Ten years ago, he and housing developer Elzie Higginbottom founded “Friends of Track and Field” to help raise funds for the project.
“Obviously a lot of my work now has to do with saving our young black people who at this moment in history seems to be challenged with their survival, particularly in inner city communities,” Worrill said.
Northeastern University has appointed BarBara Scott to replace Worrill while the university conducts a national search.