Conrad at our humble studio last October Credit: Ben Joravsky

One of the sad side effects of getting older is that you see so many of your longtime friends and allies pass away.

This is my way of saying that the great Conrad Worrill recently died of cancer. He was 78 years old.

It’s hard to summarize who Conrad was and what he did in his life. So let’s just put it in alphabetical order. Among other things, he was a . . . 

Black nationalist, coach, political activist, professor, scholar, and sports enthusiast—with a specialty in track and field. More often than not all of these categories blended together to form the man he was.

He helped create the Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University. “He backed economic empowerment, the dismantling of educational inequities, and reparations for slavery,” as Maureen O’Donnell put it in her Sun-Times obituary. “He saw the people of the African diaspora as a pan-African source of power and pride.”

It was the political-activist part of Conrad’s life that led me to him. This was in the early 1980s, when he was at the forefront of a voter-registration campaign in the Black community that was influential in convincing (some might say forcing) then-Congressman Harold Washington to run for mayor.

They roughly registered 50,000 new voters. How was Harold going to say no to that?

But it was our mutual love for track and field that preoccupied so many of my conversations with Conrad over the last few years.

I don’t think we’d ever get tired of talking about his days running track at Hyde Park High and his connection to Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Pat Hill, and so many other activist athletes.

In October of last year, Conrad dropped by the studio for an interview, and we talked at length about his life. On top over everything else, he was a riveting storyteller who knew the pleasures of taking a tangent wherever it may lead.

I plan to write more at a later time about Conrad’s legacy in this city.

In the meantime, check out the interview if you want to hear him in his own words.

RIP, Mr. Worrill.  v