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F.U.B.U. — South Shore Edition


 "We should not be refugees from our community seeking asylum in spaces intentionally excluding us. And we should not be demonized for what we do with nothing, either."

Eva Lewis has carefully observed and documented the quest for a grocery store in South Shore, a community that surely eats but can't seem to draw a viable grocer to feed the community. "I have a lot of pride in South Shore," Lewis says. "We're known for having nothing, drug dealing, dilapidated buildings, but still taking something and creating something."

A large part of Lewis' 19 years have been informed by what her community lacks: viable grocery stores, easier access to high quality education, and, sometimes, safety. As an artist and activist from South Shore, Lewis, founder of The I Project, has leveraged these factors into an opportunity to showcase the richness and opportunity that exist alongside the challenges.

The writer and poet aims to create equitable communities directing civic resources to invest in viable solutions.

"Our work is in lieu of the government," says Lewis, whose work and ideas have been widely recognized. "We think advocacy is important, so saying 'vote, this is going to help us out,' is fine. But we are not spending our money on lobbying; we're interested in how we can create communities the government cannot touch."

Lewis' perspective is informed by watching her single mother make decisions that would allow her to thrive. Because being a hands-on mom was a greater priority, Lewis' mom gave up a job in a far-off suburb so her daughter could attend the gifted center she successfully tested into at age 4: Lewis went on to attend Walter Payton College Prep on the North Side, a great opportunity that necessitated a daily hour-long trek across the city.

She was also influenced by her extended family, such as her grandparents, whose roots in Alabama and Mississippi personify Chicago's Great Migration story. After her grandfather passed away in 2016, the family hit the road to tighten loosened family ties.

"I saw the land my granddad grew up on and the house my great-grandmother had. After slavery, my family founded a church. We went to the segregated cemetery in Meridian (Mississippi) where my great-grandmother is buried."

Grounded in the knowledge of what her family has been able to overcome and seeing her friends and neighbors persist in the face of structural barriers to progress, Lewis is dedicated to helping community members be their own agents of social change.

She puts it quite simply: "People who have experienced the problem being solved know what is going to solve the problem."

The I Project hosts online programs and organized an Education Emancipation concert last summer to raise money to provide Google Chromebooks for students at Bouchet Math and Science Academy in South Shore (this was profiled on ABC7 Chicago). Now, the team is promoting education equity elsewhere on the South and West Sides.

Lewis represents a movement among teens and young adults in Chicago (and the nation) to exercise leadership in their communities and tell a different story about what's going on at the neighborhood level. Here, outlets like The Triibe, which chronicles young black Chicago, stories told by late YouTube star Zack Stoner or the upcoming Comedy Central show "South Side" highlights a need for youth of color to frame themselves and their neighborhoods in their fullness, as assets, not a sum of so many deficits.

"Chicago is often viewed in a negative way these days (and) our show aims to find joy in the fuller picture of the city," according to a statement from "South Side" creators.

Lewis' creativity fuels her orchestration of a common song to fuel activism with an intersectional bent. "I combine art and activism in unconventional ways," the University of Pennsylvania sophomore sociology major says. "Art makes things accessible in ways other things can't. Everybody may not understand Audre Lorde or James Baldwin, but we can sing the same song."

She's also studied ballet and tap, she sings, and is also into video editing and photography.

"All the work [I Project does] goes to benefit the most oppressed subset of society, which is the black woman." She explained her approach in an article for Teen Vogue:

"Before I am a girl, I am black. Before I face sexism, I face racism. Before anyone takes note of my gender expression, their eyes focus on the color of my skin, a brown appearing golden in the sunlight."

Thus, Lewis makes a point to spotlight young female artists of color — her national I Project team reflects her stated philosophy, as all seven queer women are African American, Mexican American or Asian American. 

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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More than Feeling Fancy

Arts exposure ain't just about entertaining

In a city fueled by a prodigious cultural output — museums, plays, concerts and more — many local youth have never experienced a part of what makes Chicago a world-class city.

Jamani, 17, is one of the lucky local teens who have tapped into the Teen Arts Pass Program (TAP) sponsored by Urban Gateways. Youth ages 13–19 can use the TAP website or app to access day-of-show tickets for $5.

"Kids should have access to art because you can find a passion in something you never knew you had," says Jamani, who attends Johnson College Prep in Englewood. She is a member of the TAP Teen Council, which tested the program before Urban Gateways opened it up to all Chicago teens.

Jamani is on to something…

    • Countries with mandatory art and music education rank highest on math and science scores, according to
    • Youth from low-income families have better outcomes, such as going to college, when they are exposed to arts education, according to the National Endowment for the Arts
    • That same NEA study shows that eighth graders steeped in arts engagement earned higher scores on science and writing, and students with "arts-rich experiences" had higher grade point averages.

Recently, Jamani saw a concert at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Mozart), something she didn't think she'd be into "because it wasn't my type of music."

"But I ended up going, and the box-office guy, he was very nice, and said 'Since you're a special guest, I'm going to give you the best seat in the house.' And I got a great seat, and I actually ended up enjoying it," Jamani says.

Ida, 18, a TAP Teen Council member who attends Whitney Young, says she comes from a classical music background. She feels like there's a widespread belief that classical music is dying, but she knows differently because her school orchestra is thriving.

"Even though going to, like, plays or, like, the opera might seem like adult things, one day we will be adults, and our generation will be doing that," Ida says. "It's cool to get involved early."

TAP allows for companion passes, so teens can take a friend or guardian, though many participants often go alone; Deven, 16, who attends Disney II Magnet School in Lawndale, likes going solo.

"I can see the thing from my perspective and not have anybody else chiming in," he says. "I don't know, it's like a personal time, and then you get to see something really good."

Shows students have attended include Simon Stephen's "Birdland" at Steep Theatre and "Jesus Christ Superstar" at Lyric Opera of Chicago. In addition to seeing shows, they've rated the service they receive as young people, and give venues high marks for being welcoming.

"In the beginning," says Isabel, 17, who attends Francis W. Parker School in Lincoln Park, "it was only us in the program, and now so many people have joined it, it feels more like a citywide thing, and I'm really happy they're really trying to get more kids involved in the arts."

The all-access pass has also given Jamani a different outlook on arts education: "It just made me step out of my comfort zone and actually speak against the underfunding, and it actually inspired my school to fundraise to raise more money for arts. We just got the 'OK.'" 

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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1327 Hits

Young But Mighty

"Where I Stand" teens have a clear vision of safety, security and opportunity in Chicago

When it comes to peace and justice, are you a burner or a builder?

For 21 Chicago teens who met at Uptown's Institute of Cultural Affairs (USA), it boiled down to constructively burning down barriers and building new relationships, emphasizing ways and means for families, schools and communities to do better.

The occasion for such deep thought was the Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab Youth Lock-In, "Where I Stand." April 13–15, multiethnic adolescents hailing from Englewood, Little Village, Bronzeville and Uptown met in solidarity to talk about their roles in addressing myriad issues: gun violence, a perceived lack of support for public education, and development (for example, what Chicago communities get to benefit from new technology, jobs, etc.)

"They talked about the 95th Street Red Line expansion and how it will create job opportunities, but also may displace people," said Jhmira Alexander, a South Shore consultant who attended Where I Stand and shared social media strategies to help the participants amplify their causes. "They know a lot about gentrification and are concerned that it could happen here, and they don't want families to feel pushed out of the city."

"They expressed their ideas clearly and with great understanding," Alexander added, noting that while young, the group knew the power of its values and voices.

The burner/builder concept was born during a session with Olatunji Oboi Reed, head of Equiticity, which focuses on racial equity and justice through increased mobility. Following the #Enough National School Walkout (March 14) and The March for Our Lives (March 24), Where I Stand teens are eager to be included and highlighted in discussions that affect them where they are; "they wanted to be involved 'in' and not dictated 'to'," Alexander said.

Yet Journey Jamison, 16, knows that being young and taking on the responsibility that comes from caring about your community can be challenging — she is active in Ujima Medics, which trains community members to respond to emergencies. So she highlighted the necessity of self-care in her Where I Stand conversations.

"You have to make sure you're good because you cannot be giving from no empty well," said Journey, a street medic who has learned how to control crowds, and what to do before police and paramedics arrive. With her training she has actually saved a life; Journey was profiled by WBEZ and on and , and she received a Twitter shout from actress Alyssa Milano.

Journey continued: "You have to understand what you want because if you are trying to help everyone, and not replenishing, you're going to be stale and mean by the time you're 25."

In discussing how they might leverage social media for causes and hot-button issues, Alexander challenged the teens to develop a framework for a messaging campaign that they plan to use for a Facebook sustainability campaign: "They gave me the tone of voice to help them make their case," she said.

"They're looking at themselves as a constituency within the city. They're positioning themselves as a group of youth thought leaders in Chicago." 

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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1292 Hits

Everyone who cares deeply about Chicago’s future can play a role.

If you are an employer, you can hire young people at risk. If you are a community leader, you can help improve police-community relations. If you are a health care provider, you can support trauma-informed care to gun violence victims. If you are a funder, you can support any one of these efforts. Whatever you do, your voice matters when you speak up in support of policies that can make our neighborhoods safer. Reach out to learn more.

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