I’ve found, after 30 years, that being in Congress is great in terms of the macro, but not as much for the micro. Poor people need help from an institutional perspective but also from an individual perspective. I want to spend the rest of my life trying to help those people spiritually, politically, and culturally by getting into communities and meeting them where the rubber meets the road.

I’ve been on the elevator with Republicans who would not even speak to me. It wasn’t just because I’m a Democrat — it was also because I’m Black.

One thing that endeared me to the [Black] Panther Party early on was its focus on the intellectual development of the people. We weren’t just some automatons walking around with guns, devoid of any ideology, any social perspective, any advanced thinking. We were trying to change the course of history. Our problem became that we had too many members who forgot the ideology and became more attracted to the machoism of the party.

I don’t listen to a lot of the commentaries. You will always be criticized, you’re always going to be attacked. You have to stand up on your own and be accountable to yourself and your community.

I have walked away from sure death more times than I care to remember — at the hands of authorities, at the hands of enemies in the Panther Party. A few years after one particular incident, the fellow came to me and said, “I had a contract to kill you.” I certainly did not think I was going to live to be 30. Now I’m sitting here at 75, a cancer survivor.

Chicago is too segregated for its own well-being. It’s like living in two different countries. They may speak the same language, but they don’t have anything they share viscerally and meaningfully. They learn about each other through the prism of public media, but there’s no interaction. Chicago’s history has always been centered around protecting the middle-class white community from the Black community. The power structure wants to keep us divided. As long as they can make the Northwest Side feel threatened by the Far South Side, they can manipulate that. If we don’t intentionally learn to live with one another and therefore love one another, that will remain our problem.

You have to confront that which you are fearful of. You’re not doing anything but limiting your possibilities when you allow fear to rob you of your potential.

I surrendered my life to a cause. My children had to sacrifice a lot because of that. Part of the reason I am leaving Congress is that I want to spend some uninterrupted time with them. And when I’m gone, I don’t want my grandchildren to only know me by what they read or what they saw on TV. I want them to say, “I remember when Granddad dropped a plate in the kitchen” or “You remember when Granddaddy tried to cook?” When you held or shook your granddaddy’s hand, was his skin hard and callused or soft? It’s those kinds of memories that are important.

I don’t have any regrets, man. I’m living the life I love, and I love the life I live.