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Spirituality, hope infuse Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s inauguration address

A 1989 song that spoke to the crisis and uncertainty of a difficult labor could be a metaphor for the female triumvirate of Lightfoot, Anna Valencia, City Clerk, and Melissa Conyears-Ervin, City Treasurer.

City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin and City Clerk Anna Valencia cheer as Mayor Lori Lightfoot mentions the number of women of color in top Chicago and Cook County offices during her inaugural address at Wintrust Arena, Monday morning, May 20, 2019.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Listening to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s powerful inaugural address at the Wintrust Arena, a song that has intrigued me came to mind.

“This Woman’s Work,” was written and performed by a British singer in 1989. But R&B singer Maxwell made it unforgettable when he covered it nearly a decade later.

The haunting song seemed to capture the spirit of this historical moment.

Pray God you can cope

I stand outside this woman’s work

This woman’s world

Ooh, it’s hard on the man

Now his part is over

The 1989 song spoke to the crisis and uncertainty of a difficult childbirth, but it could be a metaphor for the female triumvirate of Lightfoot, City Clerk Anna Valencia and Melissa Conyears-Ervin, City Treasurer.

After all, they’re in for some hard labor pains.

Additionally, Lightfoot is entering office just as the issue of reproductive rights is again being tested. As Chicago’s mayor, she’s sure to get drawn into the national debate, something she felt compelled to talk about during her address.

“As I stand here today, Georgia is also on my mind, as is Alabama and every other state that is enacting laws intended to deprive women of our rights. We must stand with women all across our country who fear for their basic rights and feel powerless in the face of the hateful legislation designed to control our bodies, our choices,” she said.

“We cannot go back — not in Chicago, not as a nation. We will join together and we will fight,” Lightfoot said, drawing thunderous applause.

My cynical self says it’s just like a man to give the job to a woman after he has screwed things up.

But Monday’s inauguration had a spiritual aura that gave me hope divine intervention was in the mix.

For one thing, there were five prayers offered up, including the invocation and benediction.

And Lightfoot’s 90-year-old mother, Ann Lightfoot, is a deaconess at her Ohio church. That makes her a powerful prayer partner.

Lightfoot let her emotions show when she acknowledged her mother and siblings who had traveled from Massillon, Ohio, to witness the historic moment.

“She’s my role model, my champion. The woman whose dreams and high expectations for me propel me through life, my mother, Ann Lightfoot,” the new mayor said.

There was something else on full display — unabashed pride.

You could see it in the faces of Vivian, Lightfoot’s 11-year-old adopted daughter, and her wife, Amy Eshleman.

You could see it in Valencia’s exuberance after she took the oath of office.

And you could see it in the way Conyears-Ervin and her relatives coordinated their pink outfits, while Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) dutifully sported a pink tie.

Chicago has come a very long way from that day in 1989 when a group of aldermen stormed the Art Institute and took down a painting depicting the late Harold Washington in bra and panties.

The city’s 56th mayor is not only the city’s first black woman to be elected mayor but the city’s first openly gay mayor.

While Lightfoot didn’t run as the “gay mayor,” never again will a gay person feel like he or she has to hide their authentic self because of their sexual orientation.

Standing in “her-story’s” spotlight, Lightfoot acted much like the mother who gives out a dose of nasty medicine followed by a taste of something sweet.

“I’m looking ahead to a city of safe streets and strong schools for every child regardless of neighborhood or ZIP code; a city where people want to grow old and not flee; a city of sanctuary against fear where no one must hide in the shadows; a city that is affordable for families and seniors, and where every job pays a living wage; a city of fairness and hope and prosperity for the many, not just for the few,” she said.

She turned to the words of Gwendolyn Brooks — the first black woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize — to bring home the point that it is going to take more than politicians to end the violence that continues to plague our city.

“We are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond,” Lightfoot said quoting the famous poet.

“For me there is no higher calling than restoring safety and peace in our neighborhoods ... Public safety must not be a commodity that is only available to the wealthy,” she said.

Lightfoot said she is appointing a deputy mayor to develop and implement a comprehensive violence-prevention strategy.

Even as Lightfoot was being sworn in, some people still couldn’t believe she broke through these barriers.

“How did she even get elected?” I overheard one man ask another.

“This city needed healing,” I wanted to say.

“Now starts the craft of the father,” I could hear Maxwell croon.