Walking down North Avenue with his bulky Home Depot purchases in tow, George Blakemore sparkled in a glistening metallic-toned ensemble he painted himself. “I think that we all are artists,” he said. “We all use our imagination and we all are creative. There was a Black gentleman that died called Mr. Imagination who would say everything begins with the mind. When you saw me and thought, ‘I would like to take a picture of this gentleman,’ it started from your mind. And so, even though you are a reporter for the Reader, that’s an art too because you are creating.
“We all are artists because everything comes from the mind. And during the COVID-19 that was good therapy for me, and it would be good therapy for everybody to do something creative. Some people might sew, and might sing, and might dance, and all of that is using your imagination,” Blakemore said, always generously bringing his attention to the person he’s talking to. It is fair to say he interviewed me as much as I interviewed him on that bright Sunday afternoon earlier this spring.
Activist and artist George Blakemore on North Avenue in Spring 2022. Credit: Isa Giallorenzo
“I paint Chinese umbrellas and I do canvas also. During my birthday party, they had a lot of my artwork there. A lot of people who came over made a purchase, and some of them gave me a little present,” says Blakemore, grateful for the 80th birthday party that the organization Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change (ECCSC) had just thrown for him.
“I just thought it was wonderful that these young men and women were there to honor me. They are ex-offenders who are free now, and they’re doing good things in the Black community. I like to push positive things because there’s so much negativity that’s going on in our community. This is a grassroots organization whose founder, Tyrone Muhammad, stayed in the penitentiary for 21 years. Now he’s out trying to make positive contributions,” Blakemore explained.
An activist himself, Blakemore reminded me he’d been featured in the Chicago Reader 2015 People Issue, which presented him as “The Concerned Citizen.” That profile by Deanna Isaacs showcased Blakemore’s extensive history of attending meetings of local governing bodies and speaking his mind whenever he could. “The citizens have a responsibility and the elected officials have a responsibility. All of the above have dropped the baton,” he said in the article.
A jaunty scarf and hat in a similar design complete the ensemble. Credit: Isa Giallorenzo
In his activism, Blakemore—a former civics teacher—fights for Black people to receive goods, services, contracts, and jobs in Chicago and Cook County. He considers those to be reparations that the Black community deserves. Having arrived in Chicago in 1970 at the end of the Great Migration, Blakemore said he has mixed feelings about the city he now calls home. “I’m working to make a better, more inclusive Chicago, where all people can benefit from living in this beautiful global city,” he said.
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