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Mitchell: Henry English mourned in South Shore

Henry L. English died March 5 after the van he was driving was rear-ended on Lake Shore Drive.

Henry L. English died March 5 after the van he was driving was rear-ended on Lake Shore Drive. | Provided photo

Just when the South Shore neighborhood needed him the most, Henry L. English slipped away.

English, 73, suffered an apparent heart attack Saturday morning after the van he was driving was rear-ended on Lake Shore Drive.

For three decades, English headed up the Black United Fund of Illinois, a self-help organization that provided resources for not-for-profits while enabling individuals to support organizations addressing the community’s needs.

“It’s almost eerie,” said Keiana Barrett, of South Shore Works, a newly formed coalition focusing on housing, economic development, art and culture, and health and wellness.

“He was there two Saturdays ago and he was like a father watching with such pride,” Barrett said.

English, a member of the Black Panther Party back in the day, has provided leadership on important neighborhood issues such as the fight to preserve the South Shore Country Club as a public park and cultural center and the construction of the South Shore International Academy at 75th and Jeffrey.

Despite his hectic schedule, he took time to serve on the local school council, to mentor young entrepreneurs and to assist community activists.

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“He helped build institutions across the city from the base in South Shore and held them up in the most challenging times,” noted Yvette Moyo, publisher of South Shore Current Magazine and co-founder of “Real Men Cook.”

“If you were starting out and you were lucky enough to get a space, you also got a wealth of knowledge and direction he was willing to provide,” she said.

T.J. Crawford, 39, refers to English as “Baba,” a word symbolizing “deep respect” or “father” in African cultures.

When Crawford was organizing the 2006 National Hip Hop Political Convention, BUFI was the fiduciary agent that helped the event stay on track.

“He will be remembered as a tremendous resource as a leader, as a model on how to be a responsible man, how to be a responsible community member …,” said Crawford, who described himself as a hip hop generation social entrepreneur and community advocate.

“It didn’t matter if you were the upper class with all types of credentials or if you were lower class with an X on your back, he had an ability to relate and model behavior that said we can and we will be better. It wasn’t just an idea. It was a fact,” Crawford said.

“Henry’s legacy was that he was an organizer who knew how to creatively bring forces together to accomplish a common objective,” said long-time friend Conrad Worrill, director of the Jacob Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies.

Carol Adams, CEO of Urban Prescriptives, a consulting firm, and the former CEO of DuSable Museum, said it would take 10 people to fill English’s role.

“He was the glue that kept so many things together in our communities. He was a person who would not compromise his values and his beliefs. He was not grandstanding. He did the work,” she said.

As can be expected, English’s family, friends and colleagues are still reeling from this sudden loss.

But soon the torch that English carried all these years will have to be passed.

It won’t be easy.

Hopefully, everyone involved in that effort will consider English’s legacy and pass this torch with dignity.

Final arrangements are pending.