When most people think of the history of the Brothers and Sisters of Love, they think of the days of Brother Bill standing in between warring gangs in the Cabrini-Green projects, unafraid and untouched by the bullets whizzing by. Or they think of his partner, Brother Jim, whose 25 year ministry has evolved with the neighborhoods, visiting homes and prisons throughout the Chicago area and always showing up in times of need.
Brother Jim, however, was not the first to join Brother Bill. There is a lesser-known member of Brothers and Sisters of Love that is an important part of the organization’s history. His name is Elbert, and he became a Brother, a baptized Christian, and an unfortunate statistic all within two weeks.
Elbert was part of the Cabrini-Green neighborhood, and like most of his peers, involved in gang activity. He was nicknamed “Wolf” for his fierce physical presence. Through the influence of Br Bill, however, the Wolf persona inside him was tamed. Elbert spoke about wanting to join Br Bill in his ministry of peace. When others in the neighborhood questioned his authenticity, he remained absolute—he wanted to work beside his mentor.
Because of the influence of BS/L during their year of friendship, Elbert made a pivotal decision that most gang members did not dare to make: He said “No.” He went against his gang by refusing to shoot someone. That very night his own gang shot the targeted individual themselves, and then shot Elbert in the mouth, chest, and stomach. Elbert was rushed to the hospital where he remained alert but could not talk from the tubes in his mouth. Just two weeks before, he had warned Brother Bill that he was going to die soon. The courage to choose peace meant danger from his gang.
Br Bill, who had heard the report of the violence on the news, rushed to be near Elbert’s side. The nurses told him there was not much time. Immediately, Br Bill knew what to do. Taking a rag and dousing it in water from the sink, he baptized Elbert. Without abandoning his work during the day, Br. Bill kept vigil each night in the hospital, checking on Elbert periodically and praying for his healing. Twelve days later, on May 28, 1985, Elbert passed away, just nine days away from his 26th birthday.
During his funeral at St Malachy Church, Br Bill, with two witnesses present, cut off one of the denim-jean scraps from his habit. He tucked the scrap lovingly beneath Elbert’s collar, and initiated him into the Brothers and Sisters of Love as an official member.
In his casket, this scrap of Brother Bill’s habit remains as the sign of his promise to love, forgive, trust, and be not afraid, even into eternity.
May Elbert know peace and may his spirit watch over Brothers and Sisters of Love, doing the work of the ministry from heaven.
–Megan Sherrier, BSL
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