The Burning Black Fire

Written by Director of Communications, Jake Payne

I very vividly remember a time during the tailgate of a Chicago Fire game where I was standing in line for some tacos. I turned around when someone said “HEY” really loudly and I turned to see a white and black guy smiling at me.

The white guy said,”Look there’s the other black fan!”

The black fan and I laughed about it, shook hands, and that was about it. I don’t even think we got each other’s name.

Why did that short moment stick with me?

I love the Chicago Fire and the community that surrounds it. Some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met have been at Fire games. However, it doesn’t change that there was more truth than a joke in that statement. In my time of being a Fire fan, I’ve only met three other black fans in an entire stadium of people. It’s disappointing considering how global the game is and how much soccer is apart of so many different cultures. It might be hard to understand why this is a big deal. That’s something maybe we as a country don’t do enough of, understanding. So it might help to understand how the current fan atmosphere can make it difficult for other black fans.

Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire defender) and Jake Payne (Section 8 Chicago’s 2018 Director of Communications)

It’s similar to being an away fan, where you are constantly aware that you’re different, but you have pride that’s shared with the people around you. Except for us, there are not many people to share that pride within the supporters sections. I feel that Chicago has a huge opportunity to help that pride be celebrated with the Fire in a way that other leagues can’t, no other sport has the celebration of pride and culture like soccer. You can see it on constant display in banners and two poles, involving black fans in the celebration would mean the world and would be another way of preserving a culture. The city of Chicago is already so segregated, neighborhoods changing by the month, people’s cultures vanishing or being underappreciated, crystallizing that black culture into a supporters history that has proven to withstand time gives another chance to keep what is there. You can see that in the Polish influences that are ever present in Chicago Fire culture, and for other teams German and British influence. Sector Latino celebrates their own culture. I really haven’t seen that celebration anywhere for black fans.

That’s what I feel this league and this city needs, a celebration. Another outlet for black men and women in this country to express themselves in ways that aren’t easy otherwise. It’s so easy to confine this to a month of Black History or to just talk about it as an idea, but if there’s anything I learned from my mom, it’s to be the change you want to see.

For my time on the board, I will be planning an event in February 2019 where we will be celebrating black culture and the accomplishment of black players and team employees of the Chicago Fire. I also want to make one banner with the participants that will symbolize the black culture that Chicago has. Throughout the year, I will be working with The Promontory to add a bus that will take Kenwood and Hyde Park residents to at least 4 games throughout the year. People say it’s hard to get to Toyota Park, imagine how hard it would be if you were in a part of the city that isn’t near the Pub to Pitch buses or the Orange Line. I, of course, will be doing my part to make sure Section 8 Chicago is a welcoming experience for any fan of color. Please reach out to me or any of the Section 8 Chicago board members if you have questions about getting involved, or about Section 8 Chicago in general, or if you have feedback.

I feel like I can ask one thing of the people reading.

If you are a black fan, or a woman, or Asian, or LGBTQA, or Hispanic, or what have you, take the chance. No matter what team is near you. Come out to a game, or a watch party, or a tifo painting. Get involved. It will be awkward at first, it will be strange. However, I can say that for every person you feel will judge you, there are 1000 that want you to be there. Give yourself a chance to express yourself, and show people who you are. Soccer fandom is all about that, and it can be something so positive for you. I won’t give up on this city finally showing something for the black communities that have been overlooked for so long, and I don’t want you to give up on the Fire. Whether you’re Senegalese, or Belizean, or African American, come let your blackness be heard because you deserve to shout it, and the world deserves to hear it.