WASHINGTON PARK — Tammy Anderson believes a smile can make all the difference in someone’s day.
For six years, the crossing guard has kept students safe at Beasley Academic Center, 5255 S. State St., using a stop sign and a kilowatt smile that makes drivers alter their routes just to get a dose of her cheer.
The mother of three doesn’t simply escort a group of tiny backpacks across the street; she is a nonstop dance machine, waving at passersby, directing traffic with her brightly colored nails — painted yellow on a recent weekday — and keeping her rhythm as she keeps order on State Street.
The 52-year-old said she isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Being a crossing guard is her calling, and the joy she receives from giving it is a bonus, she said.
Some drivers have reached out to Anderson throughout the years to let her know how her dancing made the world seem better, if only for a little while, she said. They’ll catch her on her way to the school or at the grocery store just to say “hi.”
It’s those moments Anderson lives for, she said.
“It means a whole lot to me. That ‘bump bump,’ that wave … it gives me joy in my soul. Just replenishes it every time,” Anderson said.
‘When I Get To My Corner, I Bless Every Direction’
Tammy Anderson has always been a helper.
Even when Anderson was a student at Beethoven Elementary and DuSable High, she was the one to come to if you needed an ear or a hug, she said. As an adult, she volunteered at schools to keep an eye on neighborhood kids.
Anderson was already on the Safe Passage team when her youngest started at Beasley, but she had always wanted to be a crossing guard. When a librarian at Bessie Coleman told her Chicago Public Schools was looking for people to fill slots, she and her son worked quickly to get her application in just before the deadline in 2016.
Anderson was ecstatic about her new position, but she didn’t bust out the dance moves until a year later, she said. It started with a wave from a stranger, then another. She found herself waving back. The energy was infectious.
“I was like, ‘OK, there’s something here, and it’s making me feel good,'” Anderson said.
Each morning begins with a prayer, a little Steve Harvey, multivitamins and coffee. Sometimes Anderson will get in a quick workout before heading out the door. A gospel playlist keeps her energized on her walk to catch the 15 Jeffery Local — her current go-to inspirational jam is Jekalyn Carr’s “I Won’t Stop Believing” — but if the weather is nice, she’ll skip the bus and make the trek by foot, she said.
When the bus drops Anderson a block away from Beasley, she asks God to clear her mind and path, she said. The sidewalk becomes her runway, and soon she’s strutting, her “stop” sign tucked away in a favorite blue tote over her shoulder.
Staying active is necessary; during the pandemic, Anderson and her daughter signed up for gym memberships and committed to a healthier lifestyle. Two years later, they’re still sticking to it.
Between that and the hours-long dancing, Anderson said she’s lost 100 pounds in the past two years.
“I was tired of feeling tired,” Anderson said. “Something had to change.”
After Anderson’s shift at Beasley, she heads to Nicholson Elementary in Englewood for another shift as a crossing guard. The fifth-graders keep her in stitches, she said.
A recent video of Anderson dancing during a shift has garnered 246,000 views, prompting enthusiastic commenters to share their uplifting interactions driving past her.
“She is truly the sunshine every morning to us all!” one person wrote.
Earlene Lane, a former Beasley cheerleading coach, saw the clip when her niece sent it to her from her college dorm in Atlanta. Lane said she was ecstatic to see her friend receive the recognition she deserved.
“Someone I went to school with posted her video online, too, and said that [Anderson] brightens his day. It’s helpful. No matter what’s going on in your life, speaking to somebody you don’t know can help make things better,” Lane said.
Beasley lunchroom supervisor Katrina White has been friends with Anderson for three years. When White lost her son, it was Anderson’s love and support that anchored her, and Anderson continues to buoy her each day, she said.
“Once I see her, I just know it’s going to be my day,” White said. “If she ain’t around, I look for her. She was one of the main ones who made me feel welcome here.”
Anderson understands loss. She’s mourned family members who died from gun violence in quick succession, including her brother. Through her own grief, she resolved to keep going — not only for her family, but also for her adopted family at Beasley, she said.
“When I get to my corner, I bless every direction: north, south, east and west,” Anderson said. “Then I get prepared for my parents, my drivers, my babies. I ask God to cover me and let me give out what he gives me.”
There are people in life who show you what’s possible, Anderson said. For her, it was her mother, a single parent who raised six children.
Anderson relied on her mother’s love and grace when raising her own children: a 28-year-old Illinois Institute of Technology graduate, a 24-year-old who lives in Wisconsin and a middle schooler at Kenwood Academy. Anderson said she considers them her greatest work.
“God gave me some great children. No problems yet, and I’m grateful. I still keep my foot on the 28-year-old’s neck though,” she joked.
Now that Anderson’s kids are growing up, she counts on the boundless energy she receives from the little ones she escorts to school and the love of her church family at Life Center God of Church and Christ, where she’s sang in the choir for nearly a decade.
And she has no plans to retire.
“Not until God taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Servant? Well done!'” Anderson said.
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