Contributing Editor @jgm3000
CHICAGO–Dr. Conrad Worrill wore many hats in the “City of the Big Shoulders”–educator, scholar, activist, political strategist, author, historian, mentor. Younger generations just called him “Baba” (father).
But whatever hat he wore when you called on him, it would fit perfectly.
“As a mentor, he was someone who turned over leadership in the best way possible,” said Kofi Taharka, chair of the National Black United Front, an organization Dr. Worrill co-founded in 1980 and was national chair from 1985 until 2009. “He’d give all kinds of support and advice. He stayed present.”
Dr. Worrill made his transition to the ancestors June 3, after a battle with cancer. He was 78. It is a loss deeply felt by many in the Black community here and other cities, particularly the nationalist and academic sectors.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan issued a statement on the passing of Dr. Worrill on behalf of the Nation of Islam (see page 10). “His work as a Nationalist, a Pan-Africanist and a tireless warrior is known. His scholarship, his teaching ability and all of the many wonderful documents he has written are a part of his legacy. They must now be examined by historians. Our historians must analyze his life and the effect of his life not only on the generations that he has affected, but also assign him a place in the history of our struggle,” Min. Farrakhan’s statement read in part. “This will cause his life to influence the movement of our people through time until victory and complete liberation and, until our nation is formed and established and beyond,” the Minister added.
As NBUF chair, Dr. Worrill engaged the organization in fights ranging from reparations, the Free South Africa Movement, police brutality, criminal justice reform and economic empowerment. He played roles in the presidential run of Rev. Jesse Jackson and other political campaigns, and was significant in the election of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black Mayor.
He was professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University where he served more than 40 years and retired in 2016 as director of NEIU’s Jacob Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS), an institution he helped to establish.
Dr. Worrill was a staunch advocate for an African-centered curriculum for public school children. He once wrote that the challenge is to defeat a system “established by white educational leaders who created curricula for Africans in America designed to prepare them to work for white folks.”
“He was a real historian and educator. He wasn’t only concerned about how you teach, but what you were teaching,” said Hermene Hartman, publisher of N’Digo magapaper, an online publication. “He was also a strategist and probably his greatest win was the Harold Washington campaign.”
Dr. Worrill was a trusted adviser to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, often traveling internationally with the Muslim leader and he helped mobilize the Million Man March. His advice and groundwork was instrumental in organizing and expanding the outreach of the NOI, including Saviours’ Day events.
“Conrad never backed down on his appreciation and brotherhood with Minister Farrakhan,” said Leonard F. Muhammad, a close aide to the Minister. “Conrad brought a unique perspective and valued advice during our travels. His death is a big loss personally, as well as for the community and nation. He was a great organizer.”
The Million Man March would not have been the success it was without the early support from Dr. Worrill and others like him, he said.
Abdul Akbar Muhammad agreed. “Conrad had no problem working with the Nation. When he got to the Carutthers Center, he really opened it up. His input and brilliance in our struggle will be missed,” said the Minister’s international representative.
Dr. Worrill was especially helpful in organizing the 1983 Saviours’ Day in Gary, Ind., the first Saviours’ Day held outside the city of Chicago in Min. Farrakhan’s effort to rebuild the NOI, he said.
The friendship also resulted in Min. Farrakhan supporting Dr. Worrill’s historic effort to present nearly 200,000 petitions to the United Nations charging the United States with genocide against Blacks.
Dr. Worrill literally re-enacted the 1951 effort by Paul Robeson and William Patterson whose book “We Charge Genocide” chronicles their effort to simultaneously present petitions charging genocide to the UN offices in Geneva, Switzerland, and New York.
He launched his effort in 1996 after reading revelations that the U.S. government colluded to funnel crack cocaine into Black inner city neighborhoods. In 2001, Dr. Worrill led a 400-member delegation to Durban, South Africa, for the UN World Conference Against Racism.
An institution builder
A former star athlete in football, baseball and track, Dr. Worrill nurtured an army of Black scholars while at CCICS. He once called the center on the south side of Chicago “an academic goldmine.” From his seat there, he galvanized the Black community around various causes and opened avenues for many to get degrees in higher education.
“I’ve known Baba all my life,” commented Africa Porter, a Chicago entrepreneur whose activist father, Rev. John Porter, embraced Dr. Worrill. “He gave it to you straight. He taught you how to be tough.”
Dr. Worrill was big on institution building and helped Ms. Porter establish the Amos Wilson Institute at CCICS. Using the term “woke,” Ms. Porter said, “we thought we knew something, but Baba taught us to understand things at the molecular level.”
“Some Black, conscious people show it in how they dress. There are those who do it on an intellectual level. Conrad would always, always, always remind us how Black people got to where we are and what it took to get here,” she stressed.
“He knew everybody and knew everything,” chuckled Andrea Evans, the CCICS director. Though she had been in higher education for several decades, she’s didn’t know Dr. Worrill.
In their first meeting he brought the new director a stack of books to read. He also wanted to make sure the late CCICS co-founder, Dr. Anderson Thompson, was recognized (his photo now hangs in the lobby).
She viewed the position at CCICS as an opportunity to have an impact on Black people. Dr. Worrill was a valued resource to help her get settled in the post, but at one point she had to assure him “I got this.”
“He was a force. He was a walking encyclopedia, full of history and love for Black folks, and really unapologetic about it. He wanted to bridge the past with the present and the future,” she said.
Dr. Bob Starks was a companion who would debate “tactics, not principle” on the many initiatives the two worked on together. He is a former CCICS associate professor and founding chair of the Task Force for Black Political Empowerment. Dr. Starks also chaired the local Free South Africa Movement that Dr. Worrill co-chaired.
“Conrad’s legacy will be one of a fighter for justice and the eradication of inequality,” Dr. Starks said.
He recounted the days the two would protest in front of the South African embassy in Chicago, and Whites would ask why they were protesting.
Known to have a knack for using course language, “he’d have some very caustic words and then turn to me and say, ‘did I tell ’em,’ ” Dr. Starks said laughing.
But perhaps Dr. Worrill’s most beloved and successful endeavor was his 37-year crusade to have a facility built for indoor track. The recently completed, state of the art Gately Park indoor track and field facility on the south side is a testament to his legacy, Ms. Hartman said.
“Track guys use to practice in the school hallway after class. It’s a state of the art, world class track. We want it named after him,” she said.
Dr. Worrill is survived by his wife, Talibah Worrill, and his daughters, Femi Skanes, Sobenna Worrill, Michelle Worrill and Kimberley Aisha King. A funeral and memorial service is scheduled for Jun 15. The funeral will be broadcast online. For more information visit the Facebook Page for Rainbow Push. Northeastern will find a way to honor his legacy in the near future.