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Black Knights of Columbus member angry at treatment

Cornelius Anyere stands front Father Perez Council 1444 Knights Columbus building 3422 W 111th Street Chicago IL Thursday September 27

Cornelius Anyere stands in front of the Father Perez Council 1444 Knights of Columbus building at 3422 W 111th Street in Chicago, IL on Thursday September 27, 2012. Anyere said some racist guy at the Mount Greenwood Knights of Colombus Council, where he is a member, just unloaded at him and his African friend for the crime of showing up there. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 2, 2012 6:06AM



The Knights of Columbus bills itself as the world’s foremost Catholic fraternal benefit society and lists its four principles as charity, patriotism, unity and fraternity.

But a black member of the organization says he felt anything but brotherly love when he visited the Father Perez Council 1444, at 3422 W. 111th St., in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community, on Sept. 23.

Cornelius Anyere, a member of the organization since 2003, claims he and a friend, who also is black, were booted out of the council hall that night and that the Chicago police were called — all because of their skin color.

Anyere, 39, of Blue Island, said he was “kind of shocked” by the ordeal, which Knights of Columbus officials acknowledge is under investigation.

“I know a lot of people would like if the story disappeared, but if it disappeared, how would corrective actions be taken?” Anyere said.

Members of the national organization, including senior vice president for fraternal services George Hanna — who also is black — contacted Anyere and vowed to get to the bottom of his story.

“I can assure you that the behavior described in your email is entirely inconsistent with the principles of Knights of Columbus and is not tolerated by Our Order,” Hanna wrote in an email to Anyere. “We expect our members to behave at all times and in all places consistent with our principles of Charity, Unity and Fraternity.”

Knights of Columbus spokesman Andrew Walther said the incident is being investigated and that if the charges are substantiated, “significant disciplinary action will be taken against anyone who violated principles of the organization.

“We have 14,000 councils around the world, and this is not the sort of thing that occurs with the Knights of Columbus,” Walther said. “There’s no shortage of our work with African-Americans. We treat everyone the same.”

An official at the hall who refused to give his name said he would not comment on Anyere’s story on the advice of attorneys.

Anyere said the incident occurred when he took his friend John Mbawe, of Grand Rapids, Mich., to watch a “Sunday Night Football” game between the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens at the bar where the council meets. Mbawe and Anyere both are Cameroonian.

The incident occurred eight days after Anyere was charged with driving under the influence in Highland Park, according to police reports. Anyere also was charged with transporting open alcohol and speeding and is due in court Oct. 19, according to police.

“In life, we all make mistakes,” said Anyere, who does not think the charge should be connected to his complaint.

As a member of the local council, Anyere has access to the keycode needed to unlock the door. It had been more than a year since he attended a meeting at the hall, but he never had any issues with any members.

This time, Anyere said, trouble started when he walked around the bar and tried to shake hands with his fellow members.

“Some of them refused to shake my hand, which is the start of the whole circus,” Anyere said.

Anyere said one of the bar’s patrons got in his face when he sat down at the bar with his friend. The man, whom Anyere claims he did not know, said: “This is my bar, you need to get out. Your type is not welcome.”

But the bartender defended Anyere, he said, claiming he was a member of the group. The man left, Anyere said, returned with a friend and got in his face.

“At this point, he started screaming,” Anyere said. “He started chest-bumping me and said, ‘Hit me, hit me.’ ”

Not wanting a fight, Anyere said he put his hands up and walked out of the bar — where he said he encountered Chicago police. Anyere claims the police told him he was trespassing.

Anyere said he told police he belonged to the group and had a right to be in the bar. The police went into the bar and returned, saying that the people inside claimed he was a member but they didn’t want him there, Anyere said.

“I said, ‘I’m a member, I pay my dues, I belong here,’ ” Anyere said. “‘You don’t have any right to ask me to leave.’ ”

Anyere said he and his friend left, not wanting the already tense situation to escalate. He later filed complaints with the local and national chapters of the Knights of Columbus.

Reached by phone, Mbawe supported Anyere’s story.

“You hear stories about stuff like this and you never think it wouldn’t happen to you,” Mbawe said. “It’s 2012 and it’s racist. We were black and those were white guys.”

A police spokesman said information about the incident was not immediately available because there was no arrest report.

Despite the incident, Anyere said he still believes in the Knights of Columbus and would encourage many more people to join — especially minorities. There are 1.8 million members worldwide, according to the organization’s website.

“I don’t want the actions of a few to tarnish the organization,” Anyere said.



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