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So, who is Carlos Nelson?

670 The Score) Carlos Nelson was on the clock.

It was the evening of April 29 in Cleveland and Nelson was seated far from the NFL Draft stage wondering how he would deliver the announcement of the Bears' No. 20 overall pick to the world. He glanced up to the large video screen and saw Chicago's blue and orange pictured for the No. 11 pick.

The Bears had traded up, and an NFL executive was sprinting over. The 58-year-old Nelson found himself in a race against the 10 minutes on the clock, running with league officials backstage. Nelson was handed the card with the name he would soon announce: Justin Fields, quarterback, Ohio State.

Finally, he broke from the moment's frenzy and froze. In all the craziness of the night, Nelson assumed Fields was already off the board before No. 11. A lifelong Bears fan, he realized what this selection meant to his favorite team and his hometown. Overwhelmed and overjoyed, Nelson stepped out to the stage and beat NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to the lectern.

"Carlos," Goodell said. "Are you trying to take my job?"

While the drama built around the Bears' bold move, Goodell introduced Nelson. He spoke of a man who has devoted himself to his home community as the CEO of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC), which Nelson founded in 2001. Nelson is the kind of selfless individual the league wanted to honor after a 2020 of great challenges.

Goodell shook hands with Nelson and left him to the microphone and the momentous announcement. After all this time wondering how he would script the announcement, Nelson spoke from the heart.

"With the 11th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the," Nelson said before his words changed and emotions rose. "My Chicago Bears select Justin Fields, quarterback, Ohio State."


So, who is Carlos Nelson?

He's a husband. He's a father of six. He was born in the Bears' championship season of 1963 in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on Chicago's south side, and he still calls that community home. At the age of 6, Carlos' mother married Cleophus Sanders, his stepfather who raised him like a father would.

"He was the best man at my wedding," Nelson said. "He's just a great, great, great man, and an honorable man.

"That was my dad. Just a beautiful man."

Nelson was a bright young mind who went off to college at Tennessee State and studied to become a mechanical engineer. He landed a job in Tennessee but was never too far from home in Chicago. Each weekend, he would fly back to Auburn Gresham and watch the Bears games with his father. Their bond strengthened through the team's lean years in the 1970s and was rewarded with the Super Bowl championship season of 1985. They watched every single Bears game together.

Carlos and Cleophus shared a love of the great Walter Payton and frustration over Bob Avellini, and they struggled to even utter the name Cody Parkey. They loved family, community and their Bears.

It's why Nelson was filled with emotion the night he stepped to the NFL Draft stage. On Thursday, April 1, he was leaving the home of his sister, Sharon, saying goodbye at the end of her battle with lung cancer. She would pass away that day at the age of 68. As he drove home, Nelson struggled to answer an incoming phone call.

On the other line was Marge Hamm, the director of the Bears' charitable arm, Bears Care. Hamm had known Nelson since 2016, when the team first became associated with GAGDC. She wondered whether he would be interested in possibly announcing the team's first-round draft pick later that month. At that moment, Nelson wasn't the infectious personality Hamm had come to know. He was in the midst of great loss.

The day prior, Cleophus had also gone to a local hospital to undergo tests for fluid in his abdomen. Nelson and his father discussed the Bears that Wednesday, as they always did. Then more tragedy struck. Just 13 hours after the passing of Sharon, Cleophus died unexpectedly at the age of 87. He never left the hospital after undergoing testing, passing away that Friday. Nelson and his family are still awaiting the cause of death.

One week later, Nelson had just officiated his father's funeral when his phone rang again. Hamm revealed the news that he was selected by the league to announce the Bears' draft pick on stage in Cleveland in the first round. He broke down in tears over the phone.

"This thing is so special to me on a personal level, it's unimaginable," Nelson said.

The Bears joined the NFL's 31 other teams in selecting a candidate to deliver their draft pick, and the league chose four representatives out of that pool to do so on behalf of their favorite franchise in the first round. Nelson was the Bears' choice because of his commitment to building the Healthy Lifestyle Hub in Auburn Gresham, a neighborhood that had Illinois' first COVID-19 death in early 2020 and is miles from the nearest healthcare facility. His goal was to address health disparities.

Hamm was aware of Sharon's passing from her first phone call with Carlos. She then found out Cleophus died when informing him he was chosen to represent the Bears.

"I can understand it would send thousands of (fans) into orbit with that news," Hamm said. "But it seemed like it was meant to be.

"I did feel like it was divine intervention somewhere or like it was what he needed to keep going."

On Wednesday, the Bears and Bears Care announced they're donating $611,000 to build a state-of-the-art training and teaching kitchen in the Healthy Lifestyle Hub in Auburn Gresham. Along with a $10-million donation from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, Nelson's dream for his community will be opened in 2022.

"My responsibility was to help my people," Nelson said. "I mean, whether it was helping with math and science, whatever the case may be. This is something that's been instilled. Not many people get to do what they were put on earth to do. This is my lot in life.

"I got directed into really putting my heart and soul and mind into helping redevelop this community."


When Carlos stepped up to the microphone with the announcement millions were waiting to hear, he thought of Cleophus. He wished his father could be with him like for every Bears game they watched together.

Carlos couldn't help but to think how proud Cleophus would be of this moment, how thrilled he would be for Fields' arrival in Chicago. He unveiled the Bears' selection thinking of the connection they shared with the team.

My Chicago Bears, he said.

"It was just in the moment," Nelson said. "It was so in the moment. It was my dad. It was so in the moment that it just fell out. My Chicago Bears.

"I was thinking about him all the time."

Chicago and its Bears hope Nelson's announcement of Fields lives on in history. The franchise has long coveted a star quarterback and believes Fields could be just that.

Nelson kept the draft card he read with Fields' name as a keepsake of a night he'll never forget.

"It became personal at that moment," he said. "And it was mine. I guess that's the sound clip that will last forever."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.

Keywords: Auburn Gresham, Chicago Bears, Chicago Bears Care, Community Wealth, gagdc, Healthy Lifestyle HUB

Posted in Auburn Gresham in the News, Business, Housing, Economic Development, Community Highlights, All news


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