Mayor Rahm Emanuel tries to stir up civic activism in inaugural address

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There’s a sound that church folks make when a preacher’s sermon hits home.

It’s a deep, guttural hum that flows from a troubled soul.

That was the sound I heard over and over again Monday in the darkened Chicago Theatre as Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave his inaugural address.

“I want to use this moment to shine a spotlight on preventing another lost generation of our city’s youth,” the mayor began.

“Many are born into poverty. Many come from broken homes. And many have been on their own from early on. As a result, many of them drop out of school and are jobless. . . . Many of them lack the spark of hope in their eyes that we would never accept in our own children.”


I could almost see the church mothers with heads bowed, waving their fans toward the mayor as his words sunk in.

They know what he’s talking about.

They see the faces of the “lost and unconnected” young men and women who pass their windows every day.

But as the mayor noted, those faces are “often invisible” to the rest of us “until we see them in a mugshot or as the victim or perpetrator of a senseless crime.”


The inaugural may have been a coronation, but the swearing-in felt like a spiritual event.

From the start, the mayor struggled to hang on to his emotions as he thanked his wife, Amy, whom he called “my first love,” and his three children, Zachariah, Ilana and Leah.

He let the Apostolic Church of God Praise Team set the tone with Hezekiah Walker’s “Every Praise,” a song Emanuel said he liked to hear when he was going through a difficult time.

When poet Harold Green III took the podium and delivered a bold affirmation of what black manhood truly is, he brought the audience to its feet and opened both hearts and minds.

“I ask what is more dangerous — someone who is not afraid to die or one who has found everything to live for?” he asked several times.

Emanuel acknowledged that Chicago has failed to give some of the city’s children enough to live for.

“When young men and women join gangs in search of self-worth, we as a city must and can do better. When young men and women turn to lives of crime for hope, we as a city must and can do better. When prison is the place we send young boys to become men, we as a city must and can do better,” Emanuel said as the audience erupted in applause.

“I refuse to accept that we cannot help these children create a stronger future.”

Cynics will say the mayor intentionally avoided the tough questions about the city’s financial crisis.

But is it time for the loss of so many young lives to move to the top of the city’s agenda?

The mayor said what had to be said: “Anything that stunts the hopes and expectations of thousands of young Chicagoans undermines our entire city’s future.”

“These problems did not originate in Chicago, but because of our unique history of civic engagement, Chicago is uniquely positioned to point the way to the solution.”

On Monday, Emanuel spoke truth to power.

Now, what are you going to do?

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