A letter from Randolph Johnson

Center on Halsted provides an array of programs and services for LGBTQ community members over the age of 55 through our Senior program. Each week, more than 150 seniors participate in workshops, take classes, share a meal or make new friends. In the fall of 2014, in partnership with Heartland Alliance, Center on Halsted opened Town Hall apartments, Chicago’s first LGBT-Friendly Senior Housing. The six-story apartment building includes 79 studio and 1-bedroom apartments designed for independent seniors, retail space, and community rooms for classes and special events. Our Senior Center, Center on Addison, is joined with Town Hall Apartments here in Boystown.

Below is a story from a Town Hall resident who is native to Boystown and is active in the Center on Addison community. We hope you enjoy and learn from his knowledge just as we have — and that this story proves why we have a continued need to create space for Seniors in our community.

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A letter from Randy:

I remember seeing Sammy Davis Jr. dancing as a little boy. Have you ever seen that? Look it up. You’ll see what real talent is. When I saw him perform, I said, “Mama I wanna do that.” I’ve always loved to sing. My mother was a singer. So much that, when she’d sing, the church would have to rest for a while.

When I was in Jr. High School, I realized I wanted to play an instrument. I started playing french horn and was very serious about it. As a senior in high school, I auditioned for the Civic Orchestra right here in Chicago and was accepted the summer before college. French horn paid my entire way through college.

I went onto the University of Illinois where I continued to play the horn until having to discontinue due to my instructor’s bigotry and hate; and still, the best times of my life were there. I played in multiple chamber ensembles, orchestras, and jazz bands including the University of Illinois jazz band, a top 10 Billboard group. I danced for about five years. I played with Don Smith, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, the Clark Sisters and so many more… and I’m still performing.

I am a performer first and foremost, but I am also a black, gay, HIV+ man. Being a part of the Center on Addison and Town Hall community allows me to take care of my health in order to do so. Our caseworkers here at Town Hall are beautiful humans. Britta (Senior Services Director) is an angel and the reason I am in this space.

I’m from Chicago. My adulthood has always been in Boystown. It’s eclectic. I’d run up and down this neighborhood in my 20s and 30s. I love it here. This is a place I feel secure. It has changed so much — it’s fascinating, but it shows growth. This is an LGBTQ-friendly building. I’m not necessarily for separation but for human rights. The most important aspect is to treat people as a human. We try to do that here. It has never been easy. Most of us came from farms, larger houses, more land. We’re all different. We had to consolidate all of that into a studio or one bedroom but I have finally found a place I want to nest in.

I love this space. I can sing whenever I want and my neighbors don’t mind. There are a lot of offerings. After all that seniors go through in life, we need something to be offered to us. Some of us been through hell and you can’t even see it. This place has made me feel comfortable and secure. We have nice little community. I take advantage of some of the things they do here. We take trips. My favorite was going to see Women of Soul. That was fun.

Sometimes, as a senior, we are put away; but as a retiree, we should be able to do more. My contribution is performing. Young people say that they’re learning from me. I tell stories. That’s all I have left is stories. You tell people about your life experiences so that people don’t have to make the same mistakes.

Creating space for our community is beyond important, and we could not have gotten to this point without community support from individuals like you. We rely on your monetary donations to keep programming strong and community members happy at Center on Addison. Through this, we can continue to share stories like Randy’s. By contributing financially to Center on Halsted, you are becoming a part of someone else’s story. We are beyond grateful for all that you do!

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Center on Halsted is the Midwest’s largest community center dedicated to advancing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Movement.

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