By Frederick H. Lowe
CHICAGO —- When the City of Chicago closed the Woodlawn Adult Health Center in 2012, the Woodlawn Connection, a monthly newspaper founded by a client, folded after publishing 93 issues.
“I wanted to publish 100 issues,” David Nero-Mailey, a former mental patient, who founded Woodlawn Connection in August 1997, told me during an interview at the Robust Coffee Lounge, across the street from the center. “I published the newspaper to have a written record of the center and to let everyone know we were there.”
Mailey, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and who has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals “not less than 10 times and not more than 30 times,” was assisted in the paper’s production by Jan Gilmore, his therapist, who typed the articles submitted by Mailey and others, but mostly Mailey. Gilmore helped Mailey make sense of his writing.
“The paper was a place for patients to express their ideas. It empowered them,” said Daniel Jean, a licensed clinical professional counselor, who ran Woodlawn from 1999 until its closing three years ago. Woodlawn still operates a medical clinic.
Gilmore, like many of the African-American male therapists at Woodlawn, employed both orthodox and unorthodox methods to help improve patients’ lives.
The Woodlawn Connection was a one- to-four-page newspaper that was type- written. Fifty copies were reprinted on a copy machine for distribution to patients, employees, a local branch of the Chicago Public Library and anyone else who wanted to read it.
The paper published traditional news articles, poetry and editorials. Many of the articles focused on Mailey’s personal experiences and his philosophy.
In the July 28, 1999, edition, the lead story reported on the center’s annual picnic in Jackson Park.
“We were treated to hot dogs, hamburgers and soda pop,” Mailey wrote. “That was just the beginning. I played a little ball. Then I was ready for the main course, which was barbeque chicken, pasta salad, a fruit salad that had watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberry [sic] and some fruit I can’t name.”
One article urged patients who also were parents to keep their children safe.
“Parents, be safe this Halloween. Dress your children in some light or reflective clothing when they trick or treat. Don’t let them wear any mask that will block their vision. Also, don’t forget to throw away any unwrapped candy or fruit that you feel may have been tampered with. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Another story told parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles that school was scheduled to open, and they should make sure their children do their homework. “Set aside a place where they can work…turn off the TV set and the radio. Make sure that you go over their homework with them, even if you don’t understand it …they will,” the story said.
The paper includes editorials urging patients not to give up despite challenging odds. The editorial is titled “Don’t Quit.”
The Woodlawn Connection published poetry, including a poem titled “Lost Times,” written by Mailey about lost relationships.
“Lost or stolen time can never be recovered because time waits for no one. If somehow you find yourself wondering what happened to your life or the people you once knew, you might as well stop searching because while you were temporarily taken from your life as you knew it, whether it was a month, a day, or perhaps a lifetime. Those people you thought you knew you didn’t know anymore. It doesn’t matter who they are or how long you’ve known them. Lost time is lost time, lost relationships are relationships that exist no longer.” He also drew Looney Tunes characters like Bugs Bunny, and Sylvester, the cat.
Mailey met me with copies of the paper, several family photo albums and other papers he carried in a grocery cart favored by elderly women and individuals who don’t drive.
Mailey, a massive man with a thick black and grey beard, was standing outside the coffee shop at a bus stop, waiting for me, somewhat afraid to go in without me. He greeted me with a warm smile that revealed that one of his front teeth was missing.
When he was a younger and a thinner man, he started and completed two Chicago marathons. He showed me a certificate proving that he finished the very first Mayor Daley Chicago Marathon on Sept. 25, 1977, in three hours and forty-eight minutes. The race is now called The Bank of America Marathon.
Mailey ran track in high school. He also began to write.
Mailey was co-editor of the DuSable High School’s “Red and Black” year book. DuSable High School is named in honor of Jean Baptiste DuSable, Chicago’s black founder.
The school boasts some famous alumni, including Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, singers Nat “King” Cole and Dinah Washington and John H. Johnson, Ebony magazine’s founder. Mailey graduated from DuSable High School in 1976.
He loves to write. “I started keeping a journal when I was 13 or 14. I wrote almost every day,” he said after swallowing a bite of a Reuben sandwich.
He lost the diary in a Chicago Police Department van when Miriam, his older sister, called the police to arrest him when she first noticed signs of his mental illness, later diagnosed by psychiatrists as schizophrenia. He was homeless for 10 years.
Mailey now lives in an apartment with his wife near the Woodlawn clinic. Like one of his poems, Mailey refused to give up despite the many challenges he faced. He is a 2009 graduate of Kennedy King College, a community college on Chicago’s South Side. He is now a junior studying art at Chicago State University. He still writes daily.
Lowe is a Social Justice News Nexus Reporting Fellow through the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. This article was produced as part of that fellowship.