Signed in as:
Signed in as:
Proverbs about perspective aren’t particularly unique. You can find references in folklore around the globe, with metaphorical variations abound. Whether it’s walking a mile in someone else’s shoes or seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, the sentiment is the same: understanding a person’s circumstance requires a willingness to learn about their situation.
From his childhood days in West Garfield Park to his role as a Chicago police officer living in Austin, perspective has been everything for Edward Whitaker, Jr.
Ed, as he’s known to his friends, was blessed with a solid support system.
“I came from a two-parent household, real church-going,” he recalled. “We were going to church every day. We had Sunday school, the regular service, then the afternoon service.”
His church family, his actual family and a tight-knit group of neighborhood friends were his village, the ones who helped him grow from a quiet kid struggling to fit in into a star athlete and into a community leader.
“I grew up as an introvert,” Ed said. “The reason for that is that I stutter. Most people thought that was a sign of me being shy, being calm, being reserved, but no, I didn’t want to be laughed at.”
Working through a speech impediment is a complicated thing for an elementary school kid on the Westside where displaying any vulnerability could lead to ridicule.
“Most people didn’t know I stuttered,” as Ed recalled his early reluctance for public speaking. “All throughout grammar school, I had speech therapy.”
The tricky thing about stuttering is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, each person has to find their own path. Ed found his comfort zone on the basketball court.
“Sports helped me get out those aggressions,” he said when reflecting on his frustrations when he was learning to verbalize his thoughts. “I started to talk more during sports.”
If you’re familiar with the rapid Chicago high school basketball scene - the term “March Madness” was coined in Illinois - you can understand that being a player on one of the best teams in the Chicago Public League has some advantages.
“I wasn’t made fun of because the basketball team was really good,” Ed said, perhaps understating the team’s significance on the Westside.
Ed was a junior guard on the 2002 Illinois High School Association state championship basketball team from Westinghouse, the first and only boys basketball title in the school’s history.
The title was a point of pride in the community, a byproduct of growing confidence inside of a young man and his teammates, but the grace it afforded Ed in his speech and leadership journey was the real success.
“Every chance that I get to do public speaking, I do it,” Ed said. “Most people think that I’m doing it for them, but it’s really for me. It’s like self preservation. I’m trying to tell myself and prove to myself to not let that particular issue stop what you need to do.”
Life as a police officer on the Westside of Chicago is full of opportunities. There are opportunities to learn about people, the neighborhoods, and about yourself as you navigate challenging environments and personal interactions.
“I learned to navigate my emotional feelings and not let someone’s opinion break me down,” Ed said. “When people see the police officer, they normally clinch up and things like that. I understand that it’s just an emotion and it’s not me, as a person. They aren’t talking about Edward.”
That’s a sentiment you often see from a person whose personal experience has shown them that painting with a broad brush can miss the most important things about a person.
“Your perspectives in life change with your experiences,” Ed said. “You have to look at things with a small lens.”
It’s that personal, engaged approach that has Ed working as a coach and mentor for the Chicago Westside Police and Youth Sports Conference.
“It’s a holistic approach to kids,” Ed described the conference. “You have athletics, but then you have the police department involved, you have the churches involved, you have nonprofits involved. It’s not just athletics. It goes deeper than just sports.”
“I wanted to challenge myself to become somebody that someone can look up to,” he said. “Legacy is very important to me.”
Part of building a legacy is to be a beacon for his community, something he embraces as part of the Austin Response Team, a group of faith-based leaders and not-for-profit organizations that mobilize in areas that have experienced traumatic events to provide resources and support for the residents.
“It’s really empowering the community,” Ed said of the group’s work to connect people with resources. Being that conduit, the go-to guy for Austin is a role he embraces.
“If someone needs something in particular, I know a guy.
If someone wants a particular grant, I know a young lady, who is in my cohort, who is pretty good at grant writing and who has her own business,” Ed said. “If you want to start a running program or get into a running program, I know a guy. If you want to talk about reparations, I know a lady.”
For Ed, it’s about being there for each person, as an individual. Learning about them and their situation in order to better understand their circumstances - walking a mile in their shoes. A lesson he learned early in life when he was finding his voice.
Edward Whitaker, Jr. is one of 18 up-and-coming Westside leaders selected to be a part of the inaugural cohort of Community Leadership Fellows. Community Leadership Fellows (CLF) is a leadership development experience that involves educational workshops, tactical training, collaborative learning, coaching, mentoring and networking. We believe that the investment in homegrown talent will lead to sustainable, vibrant communities.This is a long form text area designed for your content that you can fill up with as many words as your heart desires. You can write articles, long mission statements, company policies, executive profiles, company awards/distinctions, office locations, shareholder reports, whitepapers, media mentions and other pieces of content that don’t fit into a shorter, more succinct space.
Edward Whitaker, JR CLF ’23 Fellow and Officer with CPD. Hear more about his mission to use community policing to change the hearts and minds of people in his community.