Ways To Tell: Perspectives from Our Neighborhoods in Art and Words

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WAYS TO TELL

Perspectives from Our Neighborhoods in Art and Words



The ConTextos Authors Circle was developed in collaboration with young people experiencing, navigating, surviving complex traumas in El Salvador. In 2017, this innovative program expanded into Chicago to create tangible, high quality opportunities that nourish the minds, expand the voices and share the personal truths of individuals who have long been underserved and underestimated. Through the process of drafting, revising, and publishing memoirs, participants strengthen self-reflection, critical thinking, camaraderie and positive self-projection to author new life narratives. Speaking Our Truths is a compilation of memoirs from high school students of Englewood Stem High School. Through the CPS initiative WITT, We’re in This Together, ConTextos partnered with the ESHS learning community to provide meaningful supports, connections and opportunities for young people navigating multiple pandemics in the spring of 2021 in Chicago. The memoirs in this compilation harness the power of complex truths and lift up important, authentic voices. Our thanks to everyone who made this journey possible: Chicago Public Schools, ESHS leadership team, the brave and talented authors. May Speaking Our Truths complicate narratives and embolden the vision of vibrant futures for young people of ESHS and all generations near and far in Chicago.. In collaboration with

Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and Illinois Humanities


INTRODCTION ConTextos is a literary arts organization that uses the power of personal narrative and Art to promote healing, restoration, critical thinking and dialogue. Ways To Tell, a community-based Author/Artist led program seeks to amplify voices and inspire others to use their stories as tools to help unify and transform Chicago. ConTextos alumni Authors and local Artists were selected to co-create public art pieces rooted in stories from their respective communities. Ways to Tell was made possible thanks to funding from the City of Chicago DCASE Cultural Grant Program as well as Illinois Humanities. The art pieces, inspired by Authors’ experiences and insights, are powerful tools of transformation in the push to restore and build equity throughout our city. The art created in this program will be publicly presented in community based exhibitions to spark dialogue and engage local community members. In phase one of the Ways To Tell program, we met twice each week for 90-minute Authors Circle sessions. In those sessions, we learned about Chicago and our specific neighborhoods, got to know one another by sharing personal stories set in those neighborhoods, wrote about our experiences and insights, created small scale collaborative art pieces such as neighborhood flags, and made plans for large-scale art pieces to be produced in phase two. In phase two Authors and Artists collaborated to create artwork inspired by the writing and experiences of our Authors. Bringing Authors and Artists together allowed us to tell our stories in new ways. We learned a lot about Chicago neighborhoods and the wealth of history that surrounds us every day. We learned that many of us from different neighborhoods share similar experiences, memories, and sentiments in and around Chicago. We learned how to collaborate in the creation of Art, which can be very personal by its nature. As we explored our own experiences growing up in our respective neighborhoods, we also investigated structures and phenomena that are common across neighborhoods throughout Chicago and beyond. In addition to memories and anecdotes, the writing contained in this book is a collection of the reflections of Ways To Tell Authors and Artists on topics including representation, gentrification, education, and what leisure looks like in our neighborhoods.


The art created by the four Ways to Tell artists: Dave, Kalief, Naimah, and Senyah, offer a wonderful visual representation of the ideas shared in conversation with our Authors Aisha, Jonathan, Gilbert, and Tim. Dave Flynn Elliss’s art, a stunning triptych in his trademark graffiti-surrealism style, depicts people, places, and images from the South Shore neighborhood that his Author partner, Aisha Truss-Miller, calls home. He used a combination of digital print and paint on a large canvas. Kalief Dinkins, paired with fellow Roseland neighborhood native Tim Cox, created a panoramic digitally painted image of children of Roseland sitting on a hill, looking toward their future. The image is full of iconography that inspires and draws us back to Roseland, from the Derrick Rose jersey to the roses growing out of bushes that spell out “We Grow Here Too.” Senyah Haynes created a beautifully detailed collection of paintings on canvases of various sizes and shapes depicting her Author partner Gilbert Henry, and iconic imagery from his Rogers Park neighborhood. Naimah Thomas has created intricate pieces of multimedia art that combine paint, collage, and text to convey the stories, experiences, and feel of Jonathan Ivory’s memories growing up in Austin while also speaking more broadly to a shared black experience. It was an immense pleasure for me to facilitate the Ways To Tell Program. I felt privileged to participate in such meaningful conversations as we shared the stories of the places that made us and learned about the challenges that persist throughout our city. We hope that you enjoy this book, and that it serves as an artifact that will increase understanding and inspire dialogue between and within our diverse communities.

Dimitri Hepburn ConTextos Ways To Tell Facilitator



My Chicago Introduction Dimitri.................................................................................................................................................................. 1 Love Letter Aisha .................................................................................................................................................................. 4 From Chicago with Love Kalief .................................................................................................................................................................. 8 Love Letter to Chicago Naimah............................................................................................................................................................. 9 Chicago Senyah.............................................................................................................................................................. 11 Dear Chicago Tim...................................................................................................................................................................... 12 My Tour Of Chicago Jonathan........................................................................................................................................................ 13 What Does Chicago Look Like Naimah............................................................................................................................................................ 14 Chicago Through My Eyes Tim...................................................................................................................................................................... 15 Derrick Rose Kalief................................................................................................................................................................. 16


My Chicago Chicago In My Eyes Senyah............................................................................................................................................................. 18 What Does Chicago Look Like Kalief.................................................................................................................................................................. 19 Have You Ever Seen Tim..................................................................................................................................................................... 20 Tour Of My Neighborhood Kalief ................................................................................................................................................................. 21 The Dazing Tree, The Death Tree Senyah............................................................................................................................................................ 22 Why This Neighborhood? Kalief................................................................................................................................................................ 24 Giving A Neighborhood Tour Naimah........................................................................................................................................................... 25 Neighborhood History Kalief................................................................................................................................................................ 26 Top 10 Senyah............................................................................................................................................................ 27


On Institutions and Representation Education Jonathan...................................................................................................................................................... 30 Does Education Work? Kalief ................................................................................................................................................................. 31 Was I offered a good educational experience? Naimah........................................................................................................................................................... 32 Leaders Senyah............................................................................................................................................................ 33 On Representation Dave................................................................................................................................................................. 35 Leaders Wanted Kalief................................................................................................................................................................ 36 Leaders Naimah........................................................................................................................................................... 37


In My Neighborhood Police Raiding a House Party Dave................................................................................................................................................................. 40 Taking Three Buses Jonathan....................................................................................................................................................... 42 Everybody Knew Everybody Kalief................................................................................................................................................................ 44 Back of the Cab Aisha................................................................................................................................................................ 46 More than a Bike Kalief................................................................................................................................................................ 48 A Squatter’s Paradise Senyah........................................................................................................................................................... 50 Sullivan Naimah........................................................................................................................................................... 52


Love, Lessons, Hurt, and Healing Scars Senyah........................................................................................................................................................... 56 Birthmark Aisha................................................................................................................................................................ 57 Scars Naimah.......................................................................................................................................................... 62 Good Advice Gilbert.............................................................................................................................................................. 63 Life is Advice Kalief................................................................................................................................................................ 64 Ways to RememberTim.................................................................................................................................................................... 65 My Soulmate Gilbert............................................................................................................................................................. 66 PTSD Kalief................................................................................................................................................................. 67 Hot Summer Day Jonathan...................................................................................................................................................... 68


Just For Fun Leisure Kalief................................................................................................................................................................. 70 Leisure Naimah............................................................................................................................................................ 71 Leisure Tim..................................................................................................................................................................... 72 Summer Afternoon In Austin Jonathan....................................................................................................................................................... 73


Changing Neighborhoods Mama, why is Ms Toni moving? Jonathan....................................................................................................................................................... 76 On Gentrification Gilber................................................................................................................................................................ 77 Gentrification Kalief................................................................................................................................................................. 78 What Does Gentrification Look Like in My Neighborhood Naimah........................................................................................................................................................... 79


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My Chicago 3


LoveAisha Letter Dear Southside, I love you. You’ve given me so much, you’ve shaped me, you grew me, Your courtyards, parks, back porches, alleyways, and gangways fostered friendships through playing It & House, and BBQ’s, sippin’ on a lil’ sumthin’, ciphers and circles, long conversations and smoke sessions. You orchestrated crossed-paths with one of your native sons, a manchild of your promised lands, That anchors me, our love, fathers our child, and who has grown into a strong, sensitive man. Southside you schooled me, helped me study and graduate from schools and hard knocks, You led me to opportunities to spread my wings and soar, You amplified and gave bombastic bass to my lioness-like roar, You inspire my self love and confidence, that sometimes is mistaken for arrogance, Especially by those who are not yet comfortable or have yet to understand and wielding power. Southside, we’ve fought together against others and we’ve fought each other. We’ve scraped, weathered storms, and survived the trenches. I’ve cussed you out and cursed you, Breakin’ up and makin’ up, use to be all we’d do, But we also had peace and treaties, And, yes Friend! There were and still are times you’ve shattered my heart into tiny fragments, I’ve wailed soul-cries and fallen to my knees, bruised, battered, scattering the corners of darkness tucked in sunken places that only folks like us know and navigate,

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Without enough light, picking up and collecting rigid, callous, ice-cold, sharpened and raggedy broken pieces of me, with blood running from cut hands across finish lines. Wounds like when my 17-year old cousin was shot in the face, Murdered with an assault rifle in front of our place, Closed casket. Vanity was shot and killed with friends in South Shore, damn that shit was tragic. And, what happened to Tariq! Southside, is all fair in love and war? Our share of battles and intimate moments has taught me to have hope, And to extend patience and myself a bit more, Taught me how to self-regulate, lessons of forgiveness, and to think for myself- and beyond myself. You encourage me to radically imagine liberation- in the now and for future generations. Southside, you taught me how to compromise, lead, and follow, When it’s time to roll up my sleeves, get dirty, duck, jab, and bounce, And how to listen and strategize, speak truth to power, build power with my people, and take action. However, in some of these areas I still fall short! And when I do, you pick me up, dust me off, and give me the space and grace to practice my principals of love, community, determination, and liberationNot just as an individual, but as part of the collective, and beyond the racist and classist lines that historically (and still today) design the divides of our Bitterly Gritty & Sweet Home of Chicago. Beloved, you planted seeds of Black pride in my youth that blossomed into my Ebony fists in air, Showing up to new jobs downtown crushing goals, while getting white stares cause of the zig-zag crown of cornrows made of my hair, You gave me Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Carolyn Rodgers, and Haki

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Madubuti. You’ve given birth to revolutionaries- You’ve attracted cross-town and cross country revolutionariesFrom- Chairman Fred Hampton who helped get you organized, to Reverend King, and Ali’s founding of the mosque on 47th & Woodlawn, and Ida B. Wells, the abolitionist, feminist, anti-lynching Crusader, educator, journalist, co-founder of the NAACP, movement builder, and newspaper editor and owner. To Rev. Willie Barrow- a woman who started Operation Breadbasket that evolved into Operation Rainbow PUSH. To Assata’s Daughters, Wild Yams Collective by Wisdom Baty , and Black creators of queer spaces like Affinity and South Shore’s Jeffrey Pub. From Obamas to O-Block to young people Organizing in these Streets for a Trauma Center, Southside you give me strength and hope. Even when I’ve thought you took everything I have to give, You find ways to always fill my cup, and I am grateful. Thank You. With Love & Gratitude, Always & Forever, Yours Truly, Aisha

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From Chicago with Love Kalief

Chicago, I love you. I don’t think I’ve ever told you. I thank you for making me who I am. I’m a diehard Chicago South sider. They say you’re the second most beautiful city in the world. I think you’re number one and I compare everything and every place I’m unfamiliar with to you. Honestly a lot of these places to be by myself and they don’t even know it because they haven’t had a chance to grow up with you. Your phone is the world unapologetically and I never seem to give you your credit. LA this, New York that, but they not even close to you. They are scared of your potential and they try to keep you down. You’re right on the flames every time. Not flames and started, but have been put through yet the question why you are the way you are. Give and the rest of the world just takes. The world without you looks different. There are your kids. They OU respect. They always got your name in their mouth. They say you are violent, but they gangbang and trying to be like you. They making drill music in the UK. They trying to dress like you. They trying to footwork like you. Kia got them in a headlock. Everybody wants to be like mike. You come in the game like the D Rose. Youngest NBA MVP, they do you dirty when you’re down, and when you come back from the ACL they cheer and say they never doubted you. But we know the truth. Chicago you embody the survival of the fittest because you know this world is a jungle. They need you and make you the bad guy to push the narrative that they are the good guys. You give me hope while showing me reality. You don’t feed me lies or sugarcoat. That’s love. You set me up to be the best me under any circumstances and for that I love you, fuck what they say.

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Love Letter to Chicago Naimah Chicago, my relationship to you is one of respect, admiration, appreciation, and also one of frustration, contention, disappointment, fear, mistrust, abandonment, and pain. I’ve learned about what it means to be worldly without leaving my hometown. From eating delicious warm paratha with delicious samosas to Banh Mi to pizza. My palette has been shaped by all that you offer. Your robust flavors, tantalizing offerings from North to South and East to West. The culture bubbling inside the continuous grid of the city is unmatched. From museums to parks to piers, growing up in the city taught me be open to trying new things, but also taught me not to go down dark alleys, to walk in the middle of the street at night so I could see if someone was waiting to snatch me up, learning to sit on the outside seat of the bus or train to ensure I had control, rather agency over who sat next to me, to make sure I could flee if things got weird. I learned it’s best for me to ride on the 1st car of the train and near the back door exit of the bus after sundown. The streets of Chicago taught me to define and readjust what personal safety means to me. Chicago taught me how to find things, resources, hidden gems, and parts of the city not designed for me. Chicago taught me to ask questions, to seek out answers,to make a way out of no way. Chicago taught me there are at least 3 sides to every story. Chicago taught me that nothing is finite, nothing is infinite, and multiple truths can exist at one time. Chicago embodies the tales of multiple cites, cities defined by gentrification, racism, segregation, fallen Black angels, missing Black women, children gone too soon, and stories of triumph and pain.

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Chicago taught me and still teaches me about the beauty of multiple truths happening all at once. Chicago, my relationship to you is one of respect, admiration, appreciation, and also one of frustration, contention, disappointment, fear, mistrust, abandonment, and pain.

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Chicago Senyah

I enjoy immensely the way summertime is savored so intensely For the handful of weeks that we have good-to-be-alive weather Folks in their own ways get it in Jogging along the lake, sailing on the riverboat, yacht parties in the harbor, backyard bbqs, Hair braided on the stoop, strolling down the Mag Mile, bubble tea or Ghirardelli cone in tow, looking down at passers-by from the vantage point of Grand Lux dining… I feel a sense of pride when I leave and I’m looked at differently for where I resideIn a way that people think they somehow know who I am because of where I’ve been Like the bar in Zurich that was named Chicago Or the Moroccan sage in the Marrakech bazaar who said he loved my city Or the Parisian who, while strolling on the Champs-Élysées, said they loved Michigan Avenue. Even the Jordanian who said “Oh, it’s not as violent here,” gave me a bitter thrill of recognition I love your place in the world And still I beam with absolute true heart joy when I see little Black girls and boys On the South Side or West Side doing their chants and hand claps and rhymes as they grow, Recognizing that this city is all they know… and they are truly of it.

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Dear Chicago Tim

I got love for what you put me through. It made me who I am. As a boy, I had fell/failed, but when I got up I was a man. I got love for the streets and the concrete jungles. Appreciate the nights I starved, cause my hustle cured my hunger. I wouldn’t know how to love the sunshine without the days that it had thunder. I got love for my city. From tears I shed to sweat I drop, even gave up blood for my city. But it’s a dirty game. Sidewalk aint always paved, and the streets got potholes. It got me swerving lanes. Whole time this city took folks from me. I’m still hurt from pain. But I wouldn’t be grateful for the sunshine if it wasn’t rain. I still got love for my city off the stuff I gained.

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My Tour of Chicago Jonathan

My tour of Chicago would start off by showing a historical landmark followed by a present day shot to show the change over a period of time. Also, I would ask for feedback from the people in the community about what they think about the community. My tour would show what there is to do, eat, and places of enjoyment, but also the bad areas and explain why things are the way they are and what changes need to be made. Going down Madison Street, I think I’ll stop at Uncle Remus. Get me some wings with extra mild sauce. Then we could hit up Columbus Park, cookout, go swimming, maybe even fish. The park is so big. It has everything. Even the drive on the way there through the neighborhood is scenic. There are so many Victorian style homes.

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What Does Chicago Look Like Naimah

Chicago looks like me roaming around Roger’s Park, between Bosworth and North Shore, jumping off back porches. Thinking I was a superhero...those were carefree times. Trees blooming, sun shining, not having to word things a certain way. Somewhat carefree… But Chicago also looked like not being able to explore my community beyond Bosworth and North Shore, taking the longest 5 minute walk home from school, not being sure about what to expect when I got home… Would it be a good day? Would he be in a good mood? Would I be invisible or in harm’s way? Memories are cloudy...they hit me like fingers on a trigger. I suppress them only to help co-create brave spaces for others while feeling no sense of urgency to deal with how many versions of Chicago shaped me. Chicago is home but home will never be in Chicago.

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Chicago Through My Eyes Tim

Thru my eyes nobody dies But they do at the same time After five if you still alive You just fighting to survive I stay in Roseland So I rise From where the concrete resides. Thru my eyes no one dies But they do at the same time. Some of the cops don’t save lives But they do at the same time. If you have to ask I’m traumatized I don’t thinking that my brain’s fine Young boys, they popping percs So you know they brain fried. Thru my eyes the skyline Stands tall from the other side And it’s a whole other world When you exit the Dan Ryan

A visual representation of Dave’s favorite things about Chicago

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Derrick Rose Kalief

From my experience, Derrick Rose is my neighborhood and City Icon. A champion of the people of Chicago. Basketball is more than a game to us. It taught us life lessons. Gave us community. Taught us what fighting for something you wanted to achieve looked like. How we play basketball is a reflection of who we are. Derrick Rose was every bit of that and showed the world. No matter how far he went or didn’t go in the NBA he would always be a champion to us. The greatest to us. The whole city watched him play, it was like nothing else mattered, felt like the violence came to a halt whenever he touched the court. A household name even to those that never watched a game. He was that influential, which is crazy because he actually never said a word. His actions spoke for him and we understood. When tragedies would happen, he’d often pay for the funerals of those lost. He didn’t parade it, it wasn’t a publicity stunt, but a responsibility he felt because of who and what he represents. To many it was the possibility of a way out. He looked like us, talked like us, acted like us and against all odds he made it the NBA, #1 overall pick, Rookie of the year, youngest MVP ever! I wanna be like him. Hoopin, taking care of my family, my mom, my dad, my brothers, my sisters. And shorty did that. That mean I can too. Bigger than Mike to me. It resonated differently. I even bought his shoes simply because they were his. Motivation everytime I hooped and I wasn’t even trying to go to the league. Just gave me a feeling that at the time I could conquer anything out in front of me. I watch his highlights to this day whenever I need inspiration and motivation with life. His speeches. Why can’t I be MVP? And then did it. That’s my hero. Our Champion. A world ICON.

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Chicago in my Eyes Senyah

Sunshine in the city With a sky that’s bluer than blue Since it’s preferred shade is grey For most of the moons But let’s talk about the sun Sparkles dancing on the lake Like glitter all the way to the horizon As I speed downWhat’s the name now? Is it DuSable Drive? Drake To the left standing sturdy and grand Against the generations But I can’t see that now- I’ll catch it on the way back Boats to my right look like a delicious buffet of leisure My mind’s eye sees me on one in a tantalizing “someday soon” Gold Coast to my left Though it’s anything but shiny More like stately and aged like the old shit it is My city…

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What Does Chicago Look Like Kalief

Chicago ain’t for you if you want life served on a platter. Or maybe it is, but that’s not the Chicago I got to know. The truth is Chicago has many different personalities. Two things can be true. Can Chicago be the war zone the media makes it out to be? Yeah, that’s true. Is Chicago the greatest city in the world? Yeah, that’s true too. Chicago is kind of like the vending machine at your school. Some days you get what you want put in and some days you don’t. But it is what it is. It might take your money or you might get two bags of chips. Chicago taught me how to make the most out of what I’m given and sometimes how to finesse my way around it. Honestly, this vending machine has taken a lot of my money, but I keep coming back. Maybe because it’s all I know or maybe there’s a lesson I have yet to learn…

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Have You Ever Seen Tim

Have you ever seen… A rose sprout amongst the weeds Despite its surroundings It somehow Gets the nutrients it needs Maybe it was the tears The mothers cried That strengthened the roots Maybe it was the blood That wasn’t cleaned From the pavement Which gave It, It’s color How could this be ? Surrounded by weeds A red rose blossoms On the side of the street -Timmy F

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Tour of My Neighborhood Kalief

If I were giving a tour of my neighborhood I would probably tell them all my favorite places as a kid and show them where and how that looks now. I’d want them to envision the space as I did as a kid; the good, the bad, and the ugly, because ultimately all of these parts contributed to who I am. You miss a lot of details when you are on the outside looking in. Just like the cops in the neighborhood that jump at every little thing because they can’t gauge the difference of situations because they’re not from there. I would honestly make parallels to other neighborhoods so they could understand the similarities and differences. You had your neighbor’s mini mart around the corner. I had the candy lady on the third floor. See how we’re not so different. Now ask yourself why we are.

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The Dazing Tree, The Death Tree Senyah

The dazing tree, the death tree Just standing there as it must have been for years Minding its business Not bothering anybody, giving free air Like samples of green smoothie at the health food store Shedding leaves when the seasons say so Blanketing the grass beneath Blooming in cycle, never moving except To add rings to its own girth Minding its own damn business But those humans Boy oh boy, that humankind Be it addiction to speed or too much sauce (If they were feeling a little loose then you can blame it on the Goose) Be it the Law of Attraction and their energy was vibrating at too low a frequency Or the garden variety hubris that typically comes with youthAnd them failing to remember that death walks beside them daily And can at any time stick out its foot for them to trip Whatever the reason, those humans… They meet the dazing and death tree The motorcycle that one timeDazed Must’ve been going under 40… lucky him He walked away The red truck? Death Away he went too, but he didn’t walk

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And I, nine times out of ten in my bonnet, sometimes between the witching hour and dawn, Watch the aftermath from my window Calling to a god I don’t really believe in to bless their soul Sometimes I make the first call Sometimes it’s already been made And like any good gaper on the Dan Ryan at rush hour Holding up traffic I stand and I stare and hope and wish And tisk tisk tisk But that tree, that dazing death tree It never even has a scar!

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Why This Neighborhood? Kalief

This neighborhood is a part of my story. My grandma lived in this house. My mom grew up in the South with her two sisters. My mom had me at this house (not literally) and we stayed in the basement. Then we moved upstairs and it was just our house. Then my little sister was born at this house. And everyone we knew from the neighborhood knew me from this lineage and that’s how I knew them. I was always Michele‘s little boy, do you know Shirley’s daughter. That’s her grandson. That’s why people know who you are. They go down your whole family tree. Everybody knew everybody. They see when you do bad and all celebrate when you do good. You represent more than yourself. And it still follows me today. I can go back to the house and neighborhood and I’ll be Michelle‘s little boy, you know Shirley? This her grandson.

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Giving a Neighborhood Tour Naimah

Washington Park I would show/start the tour at the Stony Island Arts Bank...catch a DJ set and take in the visual art, inviting them to sit outside and enjoy the breeze. Making sure to invite tourists to look at the beautiful architecture, notice the vibrant life bubbling on the southside of Chicago. After taking a moment to take everything in and reflect. We would then head to the DuSable Museum. Making sure to frolic in/on the grass before heading inside. Taking time to reflect on the vibrant history and life the building is named after– the founder of Chicago. We would then wrap up and head to lunch at I Can’t Believe it’s Not Meat in Hyde Park. Grab some dessert from Shawn Michelle’s in Bronzeville and walk to the beach to take in the beautiful sunset.

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Neighborhood History Kalief

Murals in my neighborhood have kind of been our way of communicating memorable moments or feelings. There is also a lack of these Murals that serve as visual histories to our neighborhoods on the Southside. Art or visual histories are a way in which hieroglyphics communicate life. This is why they are important. Honestly, life moves pretty fast in our neighborhoods and things that were, oftentimes get forgotten. Unfortunately there’s always a next big thing that gets attention and blasted to the point things get overshadowed. Conversations may be the main way these scars are communicated in our community. From the “I remember when” or even when spaces become landmarks, “the old beauty supply,” are our coded ways to remembering history or scars. “They turn our scars to profit, projects to high-rises, black trauma to entertainment.”

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Top 10 Senyah

1. The way my parking spot is respected when I put chairs out in the snow 2. The way the boulevard looks green and lush when spring turns into summer 3. The fireflies in my backyard on summer nights 4. The street art reflecting the people who live there 5. The proximity to an interstate highway and how I’m pretty much home when road trips from the South take me to the 90/94 6. The backyard bbqs that neighbors have that blast loud dusties that everybody on the block can sing the lyrics to 7. The “African bazaar” of free people hustling at the light before the Dan Ryan entrance 8. The characters who do and have made their mark as hood staples: the homeless sisters walking slowly yet on some unknown schedule, rain or shine; Michael, the dancing man in the middle of the street 9. The bucket boys 10. All Black-owned establishments

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The hardest thing about listing the top ten things we love about Chicago is limiting the list to ten. Food, architecture, history, and the lakefront featured prominently on many of our lists.

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On Institutions and Representation 29


Education Jonathan

Growing up as a child, my educational experience was different than most. From K-12 grade I’ve been to 11 different schools in three different states. The circumstances at the schools were all different. At some it felt like I was ahead and some I felt like I didn’t know anything. All in all though, I had good teachers and learned valuable lessons. The best school I went to was Brian Piccolo on the West Side of Chicago. The school is in a high poverty area with drug dealing and gang violence. And the children in the community are victims to the foolery. If there were more programs and safe havens for children to participate in and go to, it would make a big difference. Children are only in school for 6-8 hours. The rest of the time needs to be occupied.

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Does Education Work? Kalief

My education got me to where I am today so I had to work, right? Straight A’s in elementary, high school, and even college. So it was effective right? Well it is more to it than that. My mom is a teacher, like the school is different for me. She checked my homework every night, got me studying, and would call my teacher if I fell off or if the teacher does. I hated it, but I was lucky to have that. I think about how many didn’t have that, someone who cared, someone who double checked homework. All the things I hated because my mom is a teacher. My mindframe was a lot different. I made more out of my education than what was given to me and I could not do that alone. A lot of the other kids in the same building had different lives and were getting a different education from the same source. I got lucky and the crazy part is you shouldn’t have to get lucky. They deserve more.

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Was I offered a good educational experience? Naimah

So many broken systems, created and designed by white supremacy, lack of resources, lack of funding, silenced imaginations. Not because people don’t care, it’s because white supremacy never wanted us to know how to read, write, engage in critical thinking. How do we fix a system never designed for you? Never designed for liberation but rather subjugation. How do we allocate resources to aid communities in social emotional well-being when you profit off of people’s pain, their trauma, their/our silenced imaginations? White supremacy has always profited off of Black pain, Black bodies, and Black Trauma. This country runs, survives, thrives, on the tears of Black people, on the souls of Black people, and the Black gold of Black people. As I say and believe, “You cannot reform what was not formed for all the people.”

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Leaders Senyah

What kind of leaders does my neighborhood or district need? Have I thought about running for elected office or taking on some other kind of representative role, why or why not? Hell no. Not my ministry, and no interest whatsoever. As Obama said, politics is a slow way to create change. I worked in youth development and my favorite part was the aha moments which you can see instantly. And over the course of a couple years, tweens to teens, to young adulthood, you can really see how far you’ve moved the needle with your influence and because you have direct contact with the human it impacted; I find it infinitely more gratifying. We need leaders who are willing to go to the mat about violence. And more importantly, the underlying issues that cause it- low educational and economic opportunities. I think that is one of the most pressing issues plaguing my community, and it bleeds into the city. Duck was shot in the Gold Coast after all. I think that if someone takes the time, has the political will and fight to get a coalition and tackles that, collectively the underlying issues that cause violence- even issues that on their face may not look to the uninformed to have anything to do with violence, we would have a fighting chance. I’m talking about a many-pronged approach Overpolicing- that causes trauma to residents that may lead to later violence, and it also disproportionately incarcerates, breaking up families, causing a cascade of hardships, that can also lead to violence Poor educational opportunities- that leads to lower economic opportunities and

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outcomes and has many roads that can lead to violence. Poverty is directly connected to levels of violence in a community as the rise of desperation goes up, so does criminal and criminalized behavior and so too does violence. Housing and hunger- this falls under the category of poverty and shares its impacts. Healthcare, especially mental healthcare. This is a huge and often directly linked factor in violence. People who are desensitized, numb, enraged, traumatized, emotionally maladaptedthese things are an ignition to violence and likewise substance abuse and addiction would fall under the needs of healthcare. Both these mental and physical health issues being properly addressed would greatly diminish instances of violence.

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On Representation Dave

My hood definitely needs people/ elected officials focused on preserving the culture of ethnic enclaves in Rogers Park. I also really feel like there should be some type of focus around aiding those with housing inequalities. You can’t walk two blocks on the Northside without seeing someone desperately in need. So often elected officials in Rogers spark are only focused on growing and improving Loyola rather than sustaining the rich culture that already exists in Rogers Park. I used to think about running for office. But honestly, I’d rather make my impact through art.

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Leaders Wanted Kalief

My neighborhood needs more leaders that look like them. Look like them in more ways than them being black. Because that does not guarantee that they represent you. And we are more than that. We need more young leaders that understand the life on the southside and the truth about that is that our grandparents and even parents who are so close to it don’t understand. That change they want, it’s not always what is needed. They want safer neighborhoods and other changes, but at the expense of others. They see things from the perspective of an outsider and fail to understand there is reasoning behind issues in their neighborhoods and oftentimes those involved are victims of their situation. They don’t (meaning those who don’t look like us, even if they’re black) want to change the root of the problem, they want the result of the problem to be removed, which will keep happening until the root is addressed. “An artist that doesn’t want to be seen as a Black artist and just as an artist, wants to be seen as a white artist.” I have not and will not want to run for political position because other forms of leaders are needed as well. I could potentially do more and affect more change there. Stop telling kids they’re going to be the next president. What has this country done for me, to think I’ll be their spokesperson.

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Leaders Naimah

I don’t feel like my/our neighborhood needs leaders because they already live there. They just don’t know it yet or haven’t discovered it yet. There are leaders. They are represented or not presented by the people in power. University of Chicago buys up the block while simultaneously engaging some of the people within the community. The Arts Bank, The Currency Exchange Cafe, Artists, community, organizers, and people who love Washington Park and Hyde Park. They are the leaders. Some have more privilege than others, some have more time, equity, resources, language, imagination, while others are just getting to where they need to be. I think the leaders are there, they are in need of more resources, whether it be time, money, advocates, organizers, artists, disrupters, to push beyond the limits of zoning, White supremacy, patriarchy, red lining, crime, and the narratives of under-resourced communities.

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During one of our Ways to Tell sessions, we drew a home where we had lived and the surrounding area to create a mini-neighborhood map. We shared a few stories of events that took place somewhere on the map.

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In My Neighborhood 39


Police Raiding a House Party Dave

I was with the usual group of people I usually hung out with. All I remember is the music cutting off and the home owner yelling trying to get everyone in the party to stop talking and moving. Once the noise gradually came to be no more, the owner opened the door. Once people observed the officer standing in front of the door aggressively questioning the guy, people began running towards the back door. I never expected to see cops so entertained darting after teenagers. I didn’t know whether to be entertained because of the thrill of the chase or to be terrified for my life.

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During one of our initial Ways to Tell Authors Circle sessions, we each drew a map of the neighborhood surrounding our homes. We shared memories of events that took place there. We shared stories of stolen bicycles, young love, tragedy, and adventure while getting to know one another and the neighborhoods we call home.

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Taking Three Buses Jonathan

Snowballs and Fruities Chicago looks like pineapple, Rough on the outside, sweet on the inside. Chicago looks like Snowballs and Fruities. Chicago looks like speed bumps and potholes. Chicago looks like a steel oasis. Chicago looks like vacant lots and abandoned buildings. Chicago looks like a United Nations convention. Chicago looks like block parties and cookouts. Chicago looks like home. Chicago looks like a museum. Chicago looks like history. Chicago looks like me. I’m Chicago.

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Everybody Knew Everybody Kalief

This neighborhood is a part of my story. My Grandma lived in this house. My mom grew up in this house with her two sisters. My mom had me at this house (not literally) and we stayed in the basement. Then we moved upstairs and it was just our house. Then my lil sister was born at this house and everyone we knew from the neighborhood knew me from this lineage and that’s how I know them. I was always Michele’s little boy. “You know Shirley’s daughter. This is her grandson.” That’s how people knew who you were. They’d go down your whole family tree. Everybody knew everybody. They see when you do bad and all celebrate when you do good. You represent more than yourself. Well, I did and that still follows me today. I can go back to that house and neighborhood and I’m Michele’s little boy. You know, Shirley’s daughter? This her grandson.

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Back of the Cab Aisha

I didn’t know what was happening, but I could feel the energy; it was heavy, real suffocating, uneasy like a humid summer day sitting at 97 degrees. The faces of my sister and cousin Mika seemed serious. They were young adults. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them look so serious, as if they strategizing the next move to escape a plantation. My sister and me didn’t live at Momma’s Sistahs no more, not since she had Shamari, my baby niece. Momma Sistah or Sistah Truss is what folks called my grandmother. I mean we still live close, right around the corner down Clybourn, near Cabrini, and next to Farmer Brown’s- I still yearn for that good ass BBQ- or at least the smell of it. But they still trapped out of Granny’s project rowhouse. Our cab pulled up. Mika got up front holding baby Rere. I was about 11 and in the back with Reese.

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More than a Bike Kalief

Growing up me and my dad and sisters used to go on bike rides around the neighborhood when we had time during the summer. My dad was what you call a scavenger and handyman. If he saw something that he wanted he’d bring home and fix it. That’s how we ended up with TIM bikes at our home. Mountain bikes, lowriders, choppers, BMX bikes, even strawberry shortcake bikes. Any bike you can think of, we had it at some point. Our house wasn’t that big so we had to have the bikes on our patio locked between two gates, with double locks, and another lock woven in between every bike for maximum-security. Or so we thought. I’ve had every bike I’ve ever owned stolen from me. And I ain’t new to the game. This is the story of the final time I had my bike stolen. One summer day, I’m going outside to play catch in the street. As I open the house door, like a block away down the street. Tell me why I see 8-10 bikes and 8-10 kids from around the corner who are riding circles in the middle of the street. I know, I just know this isn’t what I think it is. Two seconds it took me to process this, I ran through the house to the back patio to see every single one of our bikes gone. I scream in the house and tell my mom and pops. They think you’re sweet. Me and my friend grab a bag, my pops walks out the crib on foot, and my mom hops in her car. There wasn’t any conversation. We just knew if you see a bike, get the bike. Simple. My dad went around the corner and got a bike, rode it back to the crib. Me and my friend fought two dudes for three bikes, we took them back to the crib. Meanwhile my mom, Teacher at the neighborhood school, chased down a boy on a bike in the alley with her car. He was slow so he hopped off the bike and

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hopped the fence. I grab the bike and ride home. We ended up with two extra bikes and nobody ever stole a bike from us again. Didn’t even think about it. Especially with the new cane corso in the house.

Dave creates a flag to represent his neighborhood.

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A Squatter’s Paradise Senyah

Those broken windows looked like scars. Jagged edges kicked in leading to the dark and moldy gloom of abandonment and I looked at it every day. That tiny brick house that looked so much like mine - absent life. That little square house with the vintage bricks–dusty red, faded brown, and camel colored- the kind you see stacked carefully on pallets at torn down sites to add quaint charm to some future million-dollar home though they just came from what was left a vacant lot that the city will sell for a dollar. And every day I watched the scars mutate from jagged and small in one window frame to smooth and gaping as there was no more broken glass, just a naked form. Someone was living there. Far be it from me to deprive someone a roof over their head, but in the wintertime with dunes of snow and no power, soon they’d be creating their own warmth. As though I’d called up the flames, the next thing I knew that house was a kiln ten feet from where my oxygen-dependent aunt lay her head. Oh hell no, and fuck that! No roof over their head, my ass. Squatters gotta go! Addiction? Maybe. Mischief? Could be. Hard times? Certainly. But I’d gone from WWJD to NIMBY faster than the plumes of black smoke could blot out the moon on a winter night. And there we had it. The future was foretold but unlistened to by anyone who could’ve prevented it.

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Sullivan Naimah

When I started high school I literally didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what I was good at and barely got the opportunity to explore beyond the 4 block radius around my home, place, space, location. My elementary school was literally across the street from my new highschool. Despite being accepted to St. Scholastica (an all girls high school), passing the entrance exam, writing an access, and getting accepted...I had no way to pay...too uneducated to know how to apply for assistance. I was also accepted to Lane Tech Highschool, but was met with another barrier along the way. I passed the entrance exam, but didn’t get chosen in the arbitrary lottery process. I didn’t know about ChiArts or Lincoln Park...not feeling Senn, but too sheltered to explore Whiteny Young. Too dumb at math (algebra and triganometry) to attend Von Stuben. I was left with Sullivan. Where I assumed all the regular, poor, under-resourced, people unfamiliar with the selective enrollment process, and families too tired to invest time into finding the best school fit for their rising stars. I was left with Sullivan. So of course I had to make due with what I was given, I took dance, visual art, math, science, language arts, history, biology, and whatever prerequisite required of me. I attended class, did most of my work, completed readings, excelled at biology, damn near flunked math, got distracted by the small tastes of freedom...enjoyed finding time to dedicate to video games, watching X-men the animated series on Fox. Topping it off with whatever else came on regular television. While I was away at school I ebternatied older boys,walked the streets around my home with friends...all while catching the attention of my art teacher Ms. Maltz. I think she saw something in my stroke, how I applied paint to the canvas, how art was often a way for me to practice painting happy trees, secluded beaches–some

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with vibrant sunsets and some with deep dark night skies. I believe she saw enough of something in me to suggest I apply...myself to applying myself. I finished off the year with a new hairdo that moved with every flip of my head. I got Anita and Monica to thank for my new look. Who knew people would ask me if it was real? Is that your hair or is it a wig? It’s so thick, it can’t be yours. It was all mine, no wig, no lace fronts, just a thick Egyptian blowout. I learned how to paint happy trees digitally, I learned how to bump and feather my hair, all while applying myself and my techniques to Gallery 37, which is now After School Matters.

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During the Ways to Tell program, we talked about the symbolism behind the elements of the Chicago flag and created our own flags with elements that represent each of our neighborhoods

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Love, Lessons, Hurt, and Healing 55


Scars Senyah

Interesting thing about scars- some you see, some you don’t. And just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not physical and that they don’t still cause physical pain. Sometimes there are scars inside your body, physical scar tissue, and sometimes it can be excruciating. Whether it is because the tissue around it is cyclic, or because the barometric pressure has changed on a rainy day. Not every scar causes a limp; some can cause a ceaseless throb. And the interesting thing about those non-physical scars: they can manifest in so many unique and unexpected ways. If a scar is simply evidence of a wound, then quite literally, psychologically speaking, some people’s reactions and thoughts are scars. Sometimes people’s actions are scars. Their choices, their preferences, their tolerance levels or lack thereof… A sharp, clever mind or a weak and malleable one, those can both be evidence or results of a psychological wound, and in each person it just healed one way or another. To be clear, every regret I’ve ever known was a scar, so truly, they come in all forms. And psychologically speaking, sometimes you forget your scars are even scars…to you, and others, it’s just the way you are.

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Birthmark Aisha

He was supposed to come out September 28th, but that day came and went. It was almost midnight, as I walked along the Lakefront at Rainbow Beach, holding– well, more like Kung-Fu gripping–- my Love’s hand. I squeezed tighter and tighter. I inhaled and exhaled while counting in my head. I did my best to practice the breathing exercises I learned in that free, all damn day, nearly all-white couples Lamaze class with my husband at Northwestern. It was beneficial. I did my best to let Lake Michigan’s Eastside gentle breeze comfort me. I did my best to let the lake’s attractive crashes of sultry and soft waves cast a spell one me, seduce me into tranquil intimate moments. I did my best to lean into the love and physical strength of Bae. And respectfully, none-of-that shit seemingly mattered. We walked home; physically and emotionally exhausted, I tried to sleep. For two days and two nights I screamed and squirmed every few minutes, at least 60 seconds, after midnight. Bellows of agony echoed through our bedroom, building, and probably all of South Shore Drive. Bae looked tired and desperately wanted to ease me of all the pain, but he couldn’t. Oh, sh... would the neighbors think someone was hurting me? Ahhhh!!! Who cares at this point, cause someone is hurting me, and it’s this baby. I screamed until I had no voice left, but the pain found ways to activate sounds, howls and hollers I’ve only heard from the pains of life and death, felt by multitudes of Black women and women- sounds through mouths bellowed from our souls. I tried to cry the pain away. Talking about Braxton-Hicks, these are real live contractions. This baby is coming, and slowly. “Get it out of me! Someone please get him out of me!” We got the bumpiest ride downtown to Northwestern Prentice Hospital from our modest 2 bedroom South Shore apartment on 78th. They sent me back home 2 days in a row, both times with a lack of good bedside manners.

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I’mma snap out, up in here. We returned home, then we walked to the Dollar General “on the 9”. I’d researched the wonders of castor oil. Ready to be free of the aches of labor and this foreign yet familiar life inside me, with assumptions of his hesitation of being born. The cashier was being stubborn and tried to refuse selling it to me, calling herself scolding me. “What you think you ‘bout to do with this? Girl, that baby gone come when it’s ready.” She had no idea that I was capable of violent crimes to get this over with, but more than likely she did know. My pregnant nose, spread from ear to ear, flared up and I growled pleasantries, “Bit... (I told myself nope). Excuse me, Ms.,” with a deep exhalation. Continued with a forced smile, “Pretty please leave me the fuck alone and lemme make my purchase. Thank You.” She shut up and rung me up. Bae grabbed the bag. We left and I was slightly pissed, but I knew she was right though. Every good baker knows you cannot rush a good cake, and every artist knows you can’t rush a masterpiece. Not another day of anguish and anxiety or annihilating my vocal cords, sleep deprivation, or looking at the powerless faces of my husband and mother. I demanded, “Take me to the hospital and get this baby out of me. Forget Northwestern, take me to the University of Chicago”. Who’d thought all the demonstrations I participated in, like Die-In’s demanding for a Trauma Center at UChicago I’d be shouting to drive me there. But my husband’s stepmother had other plans or barriers, I don’t know, but she drove me around the corner to South Shore hospital. I had never heard of such a thing, it was dark, seemingly abandoned, with flickering lights accompanied with an obnoxious buzz; sights and sounds straight out of a horror movie about harvesting Black folks’ organs on the Black market. Thank God they said they don’t deliver babies, but I think I would take CTA to the hospital, if necessary. Then, my husband’s stepmother suggested Jackson Park. “Mary, you can pull over and let me take the bus before I let you take me there.”

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I was screaming while being rolled through the doors. They begged for me to calm down, as if it was possible, as if I wanted it to hurt this bad. Hours later they gave me something for the pain. Next I heard unfamiliar beeps from the monitor. I heard that his heart rate was declining and they needed to do emergency surgery. Months ago I had already envisioned this exact moment in the present. Fear flooded my eyes and streamed down the side of my face towards my ears. I prayed, and pleaded with God to take me instead, if one of us must go. Save my son, give him a chance to live a long and good life. Please. As my consciousness fades away I call for my Love, I try to hide the panic my eyes project to protect him. Everything fades to Black, I remember being unsure if I’d wake up again. But I do, wake up again. I’ve been cut open. I’ve never felt so exposed. It’s freezing, I can’t stop shivering. It’s hard to speak. Bae holds my hand and tells me I did good. He looks to the left with concern, past the drapes. I’d learn it was so much blood from the cesarean. I can’t see below my belly button. Where’s the rest of me? I’m drowsy and get a glittering glimpse of Asan. “Go Bae, make sure he feels your skin and finds your voice.” I hear crying and singing off in the distance. I feel reassured and fall asleep. I had chosen, in advance, for him

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to stay the night with me. As they rolled him I whispered, “Is there any room in the nursery for him? I cannot move much.” They said no, and I sighed. Asan began to cry. Momma had fallen asleep. I tried to call out to her across the room for help, but a deep cut through my epidermis and to my abdomen prevented raising my voice above a whisper. The Illinois Department of Corrections would not extend Bae’s movement, so he had to go home and then go to work in the morning. I was alone for the first time with my baby. He shrilled. I was afraid I couldn’t tend to this baby in moments of struggle, my baby– who needed and relied on me. I couldn’t extend my arms to reach him, or pull him closer. The phone was closer. I dialed my Love crying for support; he sings. Asan stops crying. I cry in disbelief that it worked, I cry in pain and in joy. I lightly touch the stitches across my lower abs, well what’s left of my abs. This cannot be strong enough to hold me together. Weeks pass, sitting up and sliding out of bed eventually gets easier. The stitches dissolve and the wound is still tender, but it heals over time. A purplish perfect horizontal line, roughly 5 and half inches deep scar rests where we welcomed our son into the world. I wear the badge of giving life beneath my belly, above my flower where my Love sees. He kisses it and tells me with love and admiration in his eyes that I am beautiful.

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Scars Naimah

Webster defines scars as a mark left on the skin or within body tissue where a wound, burn, or sore that has not healed completely and fibrous connective tissues have developed. When I was a child maybe 6 or 8 years old I remember falling off my care bear bike. I had a scar on my left leg for many years. A constant reminder of a moment in time where I tried and failed...literally. This external scar has since faded away, but the internal scars, memories, of trying and succeeding still live within me. The trauma, shame, disappointment are still being held on tight by my body. To this day I still don’t know how to ride a bike… I bought a nice one last summer. It’s aqua, black, and silver (with thin wheels...I thought it was cute, but may not have been the best choice for a noob)... it’s real fancy. I spent money and waited for my new purchase with the hopes of shedding myself of shame, ridding myself of the fear of failure, and becoming more mobile. Despite spending the money I am still afraid to hop on and peddle. Something in my body stops me everytime. Something about moving forward keeps me standing still. I assumed the scars had healed, but memories tell me otherwise.

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Good Advice Gilbert

That was good advice. “Don’t matter how many times you fall, what matters is how you get up.” I was told I wouldn’t be able to walk again. To see my doctor’s face when he saw me walk made me feel good. I didn’t start school until I was nine, but to see how far and how quickly I learn is amazing to myself and my teacher. How would you feel if you moved to a place then became homeless while attending school? My teacher and classmates didn’t know. But to see me graduate made me feel an out of body feeling just because I was depressed and lonely. Plus I was fighting a case where I may be gone longer than ten years. Yes, this was my first time ever in Cook County and I only lived in America no longer than a year.

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Life is Advice Kalief

I honestly must say I have received a lot of great advice in my young life. I received the bulk of it when I was even younger. My dad was kicked out at 13 and wasn’t able to finish high school. He graduated from the school of Hard Knocks. My mom put herself through college and had me while she was still in college, to then come out and become a teacher. I’d like to say I got the best of both worlds and I always got the real. Nothing was ever sugarcoated because life does not play fair. Most conversations with my parents were centered around advice. Not because they wanted to lecture me, but because there’s always an opportunity to learn from the situation. The biggest and best advice was to do just that. Pay attention and be aware, listen because there’s always something you can learn. They often told me not to make the same mistakes they did. Learn from their experiences so I don’t have to have them as well. It is because of them I am able to listen to bad advice. If people want to talk, even if they’re wrong, I’ll let them. There’s always two things beneficial to me. I’m either going to know what to do or what not to do. Advice does not have to be taken, so I listen because it helps me further understand life and it’s situations, even if it’s bad advice. This intro to raw advice, which is life experiences, helps me see life differently. It has helped me decide what life I want to live. I thank my parents for that. “Why be the best at something, when you can be the only at something else?”

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Ways to Remember Tim

Ways To Remember After many years we reunited In such joyous moment of excitement A young lady agreed to bring you flowers Because i was leaving once the night hit You were going to be my Valentine Cause after everything you deserved it You were sick, and i was hurting And as i worried it had worsened I had school the next morning I didn’t plan to spend my day mourning Your sister called me with the news That left me confused And lost from torment So Just a day before Valentine’s Day And near the end of winter God Called My Granny Home And this is my way to remember

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My Soulmate Gilbert

At the Park in Rogers Park My soulmate looked me straight in my eyes and told me “One day you will be mine.” “How? What do you see in me? I’m far from perfect, affected by my surroundings, motionless.” People left me dried up like a dead leaf, but those felt like heaven, and I still have questions. Full with tension. Got me deep down wanting some love and attention. But she confessed that our time might not be today.

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PTSD Kalief

A lot of times you don’t know when events will happen that will leave you with a scar. If you did, you would avoid them. That’s the beauty and the curse. Scarring experiences help you avoid similar scars in the future, if in your control. Scars in a sense help to find you and we all process them differently. If you get bit by a dog, you might never want to see a dog again. Skateboarders fall all the time, but the determination keeps them getting back up. Athletes get injured and due to the time lost, they work harder to come back next season because they appreciate getting a second chance to play the game they love. And in all of these cases though there is a feeling that runs through your mind and body when you recognize a similar situation that left you scared. My situation was this one Thursday school night dropping my friend off at home. We were Juniors at the time during a long stretch of televised police shootings of black boys and men on the news and social media 24-7. Crazy, but we’ve seen the police shoot and kill people like us on Twitter more times than we should, infuriated every time, but over time we became desensitized to it. It’s kind of become the norm, but it’s different when you see the same situation potentially play out in front of your eyes. Back to this Thursday night around 11 PM. Dropping my friend off in front of his house maybe 10 blocks away from my own. I pull up and park. Handshake as usual and as my friend attempts to get out, a car pulls by, then hits reverse. Damn, right. Luckily or not it’s the police in an unmarked car. They didn’t care about no license or registration. They pull us out of the car and handcuff us. Searching my car is the little one while the big cop holds us. The little one laughs and says “oh there’s books in here” referring to our book bags. My friend instantly goes off as I try to stay calm, because we know how the story can go.

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Hot Summer Day Jonathan

It’s a hot summer day in Chicago. Sun beaming, giving off smothering heat. But I don’t care. I’m a 9 year old kid trying to have some fun. It’s my grandma’s birthday and we are having a cook out to celebrate 57 years of Black leadership. Uncles, aunts, family, friends, and all my cousins are over, so we decide to play tag (it) to entertain us. We run outside. “I wanna pick who gon be it,” Angie said. “Nah man. You don’t even know how to do it right,” Deron replied. “Yes I do. I know how to do bubble gum bubble gum in the dish, Johnny ate a burger, eenie meenie miney moe.” “Alright. Hurry up. You gon be the first one tagged anyway.” Angie ends up doing it and Deron winds up being it. So we proceed to start playing. I eventually wind up being tagged. I start chasing my brother. My mom and everybody told us to stay out the street, but we didn’t listen. As I’m chasing my brother, he started angling toward the street. He wasn’t really paying attention to what was in front of him because he was looking back at me. At the last second I see a car flying down the street, but before I can find the words to tell him to stop, it was too late. BOOM! My brother defies gravity and starts going toward the sky!

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Just for Fun 69


Leisure Kalief

Leisure as I know it right now probably isn’t an accurate depiction of leisure. Skydiving, Disney World, driving four wheelers in Dubai, exhilarating things. Things me and my family couldn’t do but scheduled our version of for the summer. I look forward to these times of leisure every summer. It wasn’t a trip to Dubai, but I enjoyed them. Crazy thing about that is it’s literally once a year and always at least six months away. I don’t deserve leisure this week? This month? When I do choose to have these times why does it have to be this grand, expensive experience that makes me have to work hard and not play to be able to afford. Then sets me back, but I got my leisure time right? Meanwhile, others are having picnics by the lake on a Tuesday afternoon cloud watching. See I’m not a hater, that’s cool you get to do that. I want to do it too, but I don’t have the privilege of even leading that idea across my mind. People like me don’t do that. You got to do everything you need to do for the week before you think about cloud watching. Things I say to myself.

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Leisure Naimah

Why is leisure important to me: Leisure if necessary Rest is necessary Leisure helps us enjoy moments of calm, smell the trees and embrace the breeze. Leisure helps us have space in our day, lives, relationships, and appreciation. Leisure helps us have space in our lives for joy, helps us slow down, disconnect to reconnect with ourselves. Leisure is like the concept of boundaries...we don’t know what they are, what they mean. How necessary they are to our well-being until it’s too late. Leisure means I can indulge in a 90 minute massage. Leisure means I don’t have to worry about being on time, I just need to enjoy being on my time. Leisure means taking a 6 mile walk into the sun, not having to be on the run. Leisure means I get to cultivate joy, within myself and spread it to those around me. Because when I feel present, grounded, rested, joyful, connected… I worry less about tomorrow and I can focus more on appreciating the day.

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Leisure Tim

Leisure is important because it helps one escape reality. Some people’s circumstances where they live aren’t always in the best condition. So a small getaway could be vital to someone’s sanity. Some folks just don’t even know what fun is anymore. Only because they’re forced to take things so serious all the time. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be in danger just by sitting on someone’s front porch, which is something some people would do typically for leisure time. But it’s hard to enjoy it when you live at the end of the block near a stop sign. So when cars slow down to come to a stop, you think someone’s about to do a drive-by because your trauma triggers your paranoia.

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Summer Afternoon in Austin Jonathan

It’s a beautiful summer afternoon in the city of Chicago. I’m just a ten year old kid on the way to the store to get some snacks. My brother, two cousins, and another cousin from out of town are walking with me. As we make it to the corner of Laramie and Lake the ground starts to vibrate as if an earthquake is about to shake things up. Then a loud rumbling noise draws closer to us. My cousin from out of town starts freaking out saying, “what’s that, what’s that noise, what’s going on?” A look of panic forms on her face. My brother looks at me and my cousins and we all start laughing. “Why are you scared? That ain’t nothing but a train,” I tell Fatima. “You can’t be scared of cuz we gon have to get on it in a minute.”As we are boarding the train Fatima is looking around in amazement because this is her first time on one. “ What do y’all do for fun up here,” Fatima asked. “Well there’s a lot we can do and we can get there quickly because of this train right here. Let’s see there’s Columbus Park, one of the big parks in Chicago. It has trails, big fields, a pond that you could fish in, basketball courts, picnic areas, a swimming pool, you name it the park probably has it there as far as things in parks go. Sometimes someone on our block opens the fire hydrant when it’s really hot out and we play in the water until somebody from the city comes and turns it off. Oh yeah, there’s also a big vacant lot at the end of the block, we can play softball there and we can always play It or tag as some people call it. We can go to Austin Townhall, the YMCA, or Levin Park. Levin is much smaller than Columbus though. Or we can go to where the rich people are and go to Stevenson Park, in Oak Park not too far from here. There’s so much to do and I know I’m forgetting some things but that’s a little of it.

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During our Ways to Tell sessions we discussed what leisure looks like in our neighborhoods. This illustration by Dave is based on Aisha’s description of her experiences reading to elders as a child.

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Changing Neighborhoods 75


Mama, why is Ms Toni moving? Jonathan

“Mama, why is Ms. Toni moving?” “Them white folk done bought her house.” Gentrification is supposed to be a good thing, right? Well it’s not. Gentrification causes displacement and sometimes destroys whole cultures. In my neighborhood there are family-owned businesses, restaurants, and other things for the community. Gentrification breaks up family and friends. So for instance, our neighborhood is getting gentrified. New upscale businesses are coming in, new housing is coming in, but the people that live there can’t afford to buy the food or pay the rent. So they have to move. It’s happened in my neighborhood. Gentrification looks like strong arm robbery, the defenselessness you feel when you can’t protect your property. Gentrification looks like migration. Whoever thought these atrocities would happen in this great nation? Gentrification looks like harassment, banks and landlords at your neck and you can’t pay up because you down to your last cent. Gentrification looks like abandoned buildings and vacant lots–a community forgot about and left to rot. There was this barbeque restaurant I used to frequent and one day I wake up to go there after not eating there for two weeks and on the window is a “Closed. For Sale.” sign. I saw the owner and asked him what happened. He said business slowed up, “My food ain’t good enough for those fancy people.” Gentrification is bad. Invest in the people that’s already there.

76


On Gentrification Gilbert

Gentrification runs so deep. It goes way back to the railroad. Let’s take a deeper look. Let’s go back to Africa. Is it safe to say gentrification started at slavery? Look, ain’t nothing new under the sun. This been going on since your grandma and great grandma went through it and now still. 2022 gentrification’s still happening. It’s not just the community, but the people. What I mean by that is it’s the mixed baby era.

As we explored the impact of gentrification on our neighborhoods, Dave created this caricature of a gentrifier. The planets revolve around him. The buildings bend to make way for him as he stands with life’s pleasures at his feet.

77


Gentrification Kalief

Gentrification is crazy when you realize that you were subconsciously fearful of it before you even knew what it was. I remember being younger and being shocked and questioning “What them white people doing walking over here?” or “Uh oh! There go some white people, they coming back.” These thoughts stemmed from how abnormal it was to see white people in a neighborhood you knew they didn’t belong. Like what are you doing on 63rd Street? We also know throughout history they came into neighborhoods one at a time and then move you out. The crazy part is I know they feel the same about us coming into spaces they identify as theirs. The difference is when they come into ours, they bring a Chipotle, Starbucks, and a Whole Foods. We didn’t get those before and still don’t because now we have to move. When we move into their neighborhoods… Oh actually I don’t know what that looks like. I haven’t seen it. But for real, a Whole Foods on 63rd… It’ll never make sense to me. It just don’t look right.

78


What Does Gentrification Look Like In My Neighborhood Naimah

It means vacant lots that go unattended until it’s time to shoot a movie. It means living between two blocks of random gun fire, seeing fewer and fewer Black faces and more and more White dog walkers. Gentrification means more art on display for the white gaze, not for the consumption of the people who live, work, laugh, and love in the area. Gentrification means I’m constantly reminded my degrees don’t help me gain a sense of ease, no safe passage to home ownership, more debt, no kids because I can’t afford them, because I am too afraid that I waited so long to heal my traumas, that now my window to break generational curses has closed. Every few years aclomatting to different spaces, changes, and expectations. Gentrification means the closure of the culture. Gentrification means fewer people of the global majority and more feelings of being overwhelmed and swallowed whole by a system designed to keep me down, to keep us down, to keep things gentrified.

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