The Bible asks the question “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The same question can be posed in reference to East St. Louis. Nazareth and East Boogie have similarities: issues with poverty, crime, reputation, etc.
Yet, Nazareth produced Jesus Christ, arguably, the most significant religious figure in the world, and ESL has produced world-class individuals in the world of academics, politics, the arts and sports.
East St. Louis produced my brother and homeboy, the late, great attorney Eric E. Vickers, who recently transitioned after a gallant fight with pancreatic cancer.
The real story is not about how Eric died but, rather, how he lived – unapologetically and boldly as a defender and warrior for his people, using his legal expertise as his sword and his courage and tenacity as his shield, fighting the good fight until the very end.
I was blessed, on multiple occasions, to witness Eric in action, eviscerating opponents in court, strategizing behind the scenes and pursuing justice as only Eric Vickers could do.
As a colleague under the administration of ESL Mayor Carl E. Officer, with Eric as city attorney and me as press secretary, I vividly recall when Eric and the mayor were briefly handcuffed, together, and jailed (in Belleville) for contempt of court over sewer repair issues. It was a national story. Yet, Eric eloquently and defiantly defended the city and characterized it as a case of “black robes and white justice.”
On another occasion, in November of 1996, I flew with Eric and over 100 others on a chartered TWA jet to a frigid New York City for a protest on Wall Street, over concerns with NationsBank, which produced $100 million in concessions for the minority community.
As we broke bread at the legendary Sylvia’s soul food restaurant in Harlem following the protest, Eric and Rev. Al Sharpton unpacked the events of the day and outlined a strategy going forward. Eric was in his element and it was an invaluable experience for me to observe, thanks to my brother.
More importantly, I considered Eric to be a friend and one whose expertise I could rely upon, whether it was an issue of discrimination with an employer or discussion (and oftentimes a good laugh) over our columns in The St. Louis American.
Eric was always willing to appear on my radio shows on KKWK or WGNU, discussing the issues of the day, with his last appearance being over a lawsuit by MEBCO (Metro East Black Contractors Organization) against IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation) over African-American inclusion on the StanMusialVeteransMemorialBridge project.
To this day, I never cross the “Stan Span” without thinking of Eric Vickers, and I will never see an injustice toward African Americans without wondering what Eric would think or do. I will miss my brother and pray that he will rest in peace and that, as long as injustice exists, that he will never be forgotten.