Kadner: Robbins resident says, ‘This is our home’
By Phil Kadner email@example.com October 20, 2013 9:58PM
Updated: November 22, 2013 6:29AM
Charles White was a teenager when, with the help of his father and brother more than 50 years ago, he dug the hole for the foundation of his home in Robbins.
“We used shovels,” he said. “We had an old station wagon we used to haul the rocks and boulders out. We built the entire house from the foundation up. Sometimes, when it would rain, the dirt would turn to mud and fill up that hole and we would have to dig it all out again.”
White’s home took center stage at a news conference held by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st) on Sunday afternoon.
The congressman called a plan by a private company to take “35 percent of the land” in Robbins to build a limestone quarry and underground mine “a dirty, dirty, rotten deal” and told a cheering crowd of hundreds of Robbins residents he would stop it.
“Hell, no, we won’t go!” Rush urged the crowd to chant, punching his fist into the air.
White told me his home is over the underground mine ALM Resources plans to build, part of a development that would cover more than 300 acres and eventually include a concrete mixing and asphalt facility.
The company wants the state to approve quick-take legislation so that it can level more than 100 single-family homes, along with businesses and churches.
Rush vowed to bring Gov. Pat Quinn out to White’s house and challenged him to veto any legislation that would pass the Illinois Legislature.
As for White, he calls the plan “a bad deal for the people of Robbins.”
“Must of the people out here, like us, built their homes by hand,” White said. “They’re senior citizens now. Their mortgages are all paid off. Even if they get a decent deal for their land, where are they going to buy a home mortgage free. It ain’t going to happen.”
White is in a wheelchair today, paralyzed from the chest down.
“Someone broke into my house at night and I tried to stop him,” White said, noting that was nearly 20 years ago and he lived in a different suburb, Bellwood, at the time. “He had a gun and a did my best, but it wasn’t good enough. He shot me five times. I’m lucky to be alive. Got no complaints. I can do just about anything I want.
“But I couldn’t work anymore so I came back here. My father always said, when we were building this place, it was going to be a home for the entire family forever. Anyone could come back here and live if they needed a place to stay. And, it turns out, that’s just what has happened for me.”
“The whole family, kids, grandchildren, we have Thanksgiving and Christmas here every year,” White said. “My father, he was really my stepfather but he raised me from the time I was knee-high to a grasshopper. His name was Leon G. Scott. He worked for Western Electronic as a furnace operator.
“He didn’t know anything about construction, but he took out books on how to do it and studied them. He drew up some plans for the house and took them to an architect and had him draw up some blueprints.”
“And for two years we worked on this house,” White said. “Well, the boys worked on the house, the girls didn’t have to. My father would spend every hour away from work here, working until it was so dark he couldn’t see anymore.
“It was his dream. It was our family’s dream. And now they want to come in and take our dream away from us. No one asked me about that. No one asked our family.”
“I laid the hardwood floor in this house. Me and my brother. And this house is still in pretty good shape for being more than 50 years old,” White said.
Despite what outsiders may think of Robbins, White told me it “was a great place to grow up, a good place to raise kids and it still is.”
“If you did something wrong, the neighbors all knew who you were, and they would chastise you,” White said. “And then, when you got up, your parents would chastise you again.
“They talk about how it takes a village to raise a child. Well, this is a village. It’s still that way. We have problems. But it’s not like the big city. Kids still ride their bikes around here, and there are no drive-by shootings.”
White’s home is about half-mile aware from the Robbins incinerator, another economic development project that was supposed to create jobs and tax revenue for impoverished Robbins.
“I didn’t want that, either, but no one asked me,” he said. “It seems like they feel they can do anything they want to the people of Robbins without asking them for permission. It isn’t right.”
But Robbins is a poor community, one of the poorest in America by some measures.
Its desperation to pay its bills has put pressure on elected officials to accept whatever offer comes down the pike. That’s why burning garbage and turning homes into stone quarries seems like a good deal.
I asked Rush during his news conference what he could do for economic development in Robbins if he was successful in killing the quarry plan.
He replied that with the Republicans in control of Congress there wasn’t much the federal government could do.
But Rush is a Democrat. So is the governor of Illinois. The state Senate and Illinois House are controlled by Democrats. And none of them have done anything to alter the economic plight of Robbins, which has been in a fiscal nose dive fore 30 years.
Rush said village officials should at least have demanded a lease agreement from the developers of the quarry project instead of taking a deal that would apparently give them 5 percent of any profits. He also blasted village leaders for holding only one public hearing on the development plan, where “three people showed up.”
The people of Robbins greeted Rush like a hero Sunday afternoon, and I don’t blame them. Few high-profile elected officials have been willing to stand up for people in a city where for more than 20 years the police failed to process rape kits.
“You know, building this home, with out own two hands, was a great experience,” White told me. “It changed the way I look at things. It taught me hard work. It taught me about the value of owning your own home.
“”It’s still steady. Still solid. This is a place where the family could always come and go. This is a place for the family,” he said.
“They tell us we don’t have a choice now. That this is the way it is and we have to take it to leave it.
“That’s not right. This is our home.”