A Tribute to Hecky Powell, former President of the Evanston/North Shore NAACP
I stand with the Evanston community today, as we mourn the loss of Hecky Powell, businessman, entrepreneur, philanthropist and family man. Hecky’s loss is a big one in our beloved community. Living in a town like ours, we generally know most people a year or two after arriving. It was a pleasure to meet Hecky not longer after I arrived. Having learned he was a former president of the Evanston/North Shore Branch of the NAACP, I quickly reached out and asked for a lunch appointment. We had lunch downtown just after I was elected to fill the role he once occupied. We had a grand time! He spoke of Evanston from several vantage points; as a young man with a desire for success, as an adult with success, and as a champion supporter of young people. While Hecky was known most for his spot on Green Bay and Emerson Roads, it would be egregious to just stop with his barbecue.
“Hecky’s" the establishment, was merely the platform, which created Hecky the multifaceted, bridge building, foundation creating, politically transforming, justice demanding, cosmopolitan human being who lived just west of Lake Michigan. All day long, I have been in conversations with Evanstonians and the discussion, inevitably, is about Hecky. From the Mayor and several alderman, hospital CEO’s, life long NAACP’ers, church members and students, we are all saddened by the news. At the very same time, everyone also has a story. Alderman Rainey said Hecky hired her in the 1970’s. My 16 year old son wrote a family text, “Rest in Peace, Hecky.”
Young and old, black and white, that would please Hecky. He lived and longed for the day when Evanston might gather together its myriad resources and become a community for all people. Hecky lived his life this way. He was as warm and ingratiating with Northwestern students as he was with kids at Nichols, Chute or Haven. He was known for especially reaching out and caring for young people and young men, in Evanston. His heart was big and filled with a warmth and kindness that enveloped everyone. He modeled an Evanston of which we can all be proud. He exemplified a myriad of virtues like hard work, dedication, perseverance, goodwill and compassion. I don’t ever remember Hecky not having a smile on his face...except when engaged in a deep and serious conversation. As soon as the talk was over, the smile returned.
The word has gone out today that Hecky Powell succumbed last night to this dreaded coronavirus that has re-written the landscape of the world. It may be that when his obituary is written and released in the newspapers, that the description will read, “Cause of death, COVID-19.” Well, I have a different perspective. I believe Hecky Powell poured every ounce of himself into life. He lived it fully. He ran up against his own barriers and overcame them. Racism could not stop him. An organ transplant could not stop him. Other realities we will never know anything about, could not stop him. And so COVID-19, for all its terror and contagion, could not stop Hecky Powell. You see, his spirit remains with us. His love for life will always make us smile when we think of him. Passing by Green Bay and Emerson Roads will remind us of him. Seeing young people turn their lives around and become independent and productive young men and women will help us to remember, Hecky came by here. He came by Evanston and stayed awhile. And when he left, he made it a far better place than anyone could have imagined.
Our prayers go out to Mrs. Powell and his family. Just as Hecky lived for Evanston, Evanston is surely with you all.
Evanston/North Shore NAACP