Homegrown Honor

Chatham art installation recognizes first responders where they live and serve

As a child, Nedra Sims Fears would take a sobering ride to a Joliet cemetery.

Her father, a police officer, was shot and killed in an armed robbery more than five decades ago. “Unfortunately, he was killed in the line of duty, and every Memorial Day we would get dressed up and go to the cemetery. I always felt that I wanted to honor him in the place where he lived and served; I think there’s power in seeing how many people served before him,” said Fears, executive director of the Greater Chatham Initiative.

This year, she finally didn’t have to leave the neighborhood to honor him.

His name and years on watch — Osbourne Sims, 1954–1956 — can be found in a sea of 200 placards in the “We Honor You” art installation, erected in Brown Memorial Park, 634 E. 86th Street.

The memorial, which will be displayed annually, with plans to grow it each year, currently includes only a fraction of the “more than 1,600” firefighters, paramedics and police officers that are connected to that community, Fears said. “This was our attempt to start this annual event. We appreciate the first responders that are here because we know Memorial Day is a high-demand day for your service,” she told those who attended the inauguration of the installation.

“It’s important that we do it here, in this park in particular, because this park is named after a fallen firefighter,” said Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6th ward). “I can’t reiterate enough ‘thank yous’ for your service and what you do here every day. You’re the ones that are walking into trouble when we’re all trying to get out, so we honor and thank you, in particular, those of us who have lost ones in the line of duty, whether it be police, firefighters or paramedics, any one of those first responders.”

Fourth District Police Officer Blanca Moya, who lives in her district, left her teaching position a little more than a year ago to become an officer. She found the “We Honor You” event to be a defining and definite reminder that what she does matters.

“This is amazing, just to see people who support the police. This is when it’s like, ‘It’s worth what we’re doing,'” she said, remarking that she hasn’t regretted her decision at all. “I like working in my community. I love my job and I don’t see the negative: I just see I get to help people, I see what I can do for them.”

Scott Roberts, who lives in Hyde Park but whose childhood home is just a few blocks away from Brown Memorial Park, was blown away by the art installation.

“This is a fantastic idea; I like the idea of the accessibility to the community, and it’s something other communities can do,” he said. “And it doesn’t just have to be on Memorial Day.”

Editor’s note: The Greater Chatham Initiative is making “We Honor You” an annual event; the next observance will be held May 18, 2019.

This is a post related to the Police Reform and Community Relations strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.