Story & Picture by:
Ngozi C. Okorafor
Another profound life lesson happened last night when I picked Chinedu up from school. Here is my recollection of what transpired:
As Chinedu and I entered our vehicle, a 60+ Black man veered toward our car. He appeared homeless, wearing dirty clothes, and was lacking a hat, scarf, and gloves. It was 28 degrees outside and 6:30 pm in the heart of downtown Chicago, Illinois. He was screaming, grunting, flailing his arms, and generally looked disoriented and scared.
Chinedu: (Innocently) Mommy, can we help that man? I think he is homeless.
Me: (Getting emotional) Well, it is late and very cold, but we cannot let this man freeze outside.
We proceeded to follow the man by car veering in and out of one-way streets to keep him in our sight. He continued to scream and shout and wave his hands, scaring pedestrians and onlookers. He then reached a downtown office building with a lobby area made of glass and began to bang on the glass doors. He was clearly cold. The security guard shooed him away, leaving him out in the elements.
At this point, I drove up next to the man.
Me: (Frantically) Sir! Sir! How can I help you? Can we call someone to take you to a hospital? A shelter? What can I do?
Man: Grunted loudly and incoherently.
I could see that he had a runny nose and tears falling down his face, all of which had frozen. I called Eric.
Eric: Yes, homelessness is very real in Chicago. Not having a warm place to lay your head and eat can suck the soul out of you. Please keep a safe distance, though. You might want to contact the authorities.
At that point, the man took off and ran down the Van Buren Street Overpass, which runs over the I-94 Expressway. He hoisted himself up and appeared ready to jump onto the highway to certain death.
Me: (Terrified) Eric! He is going to jump! I have to call the police. Chinedu, turn to me now! (Hung up)
I then called the Chicago Police Department.
Chicago Police Department: Hello. What is your emergency?
Me: (Panicked) There is a man who appears ready to jump off the Van Buren I-94 Overpass – near Van Buren Street and Halsted Street. He may be homeless. Please come quickly and help!!!
Within minutes, a Chicago Police patrol car came rushing by with its sirens blaring. The homeless man had thankfully decided against jumping and was limping down the street. He was in very bad shape.
A White Chicago Police Officer jumped out of his vehicle and ran toward the homeless man. He gently led him to a potted plant to sit down and calmly started asking him questions. I drove up to the scene and identified myself as the woman who had called this incident in.
He turned to me and said:
Chicago Police Officer: Ma’am, thank you for caring enough to call this in. You did the right thing. We’ve called an ambulance. He will be warm soon and his needs will be taken care of. Have a safe evening.
Me: (So so grateful) No, thank YOU for responding quickly. God, bless you!
And, just like that, Chinedu and I left the incident. I was sobbing at this point due to what could have been. I told Chinedu how incredibly proud I was that he had insisted that we help the man by following him. I recounted what happened to Eric and later told my Mom how close I came to witnessing a colossal tragedy.
And, of course, there is a holiday lesson here. We all face challenges, some of which are very serious. But those who are in dire need of life-and-death assistance should remind us that we are all human. We should, no scratch that, we must be humane above all else. Amen.