826CHI

Allow Strangers to Create Your Oxygen

A delivery service from 826CHI sends student writing, selected by students, around the city

Michaela Bailey, a Chicago Public Schools student, first learned about 826CHI in eighth grade, when she participated in a workshop that taught students how to write young adult dystopian fiction. That same year, Bailey took another film critique workshop, which solidified her decision to continue with the organization’s programs.

This April, Bailey was selected by 826CHI to pick the first piece for the launch of the Student Writing Delivery Service. Once a month, subscribers receive a piece of writing, curated by an 826CHI student, to their email or physical address. 

“The service is just a way to make sure the people who participate in our community are able to see what our students are doing in case they can’t [get] every publication 826 puts out,” said Bailey.

Founded in 2005, 826CHI is a nonprofit creative writing organization “dedicated to amplifying the voice of Chicago youth.” Teachers and volunteers want students to feel empowered and believe in the strength of their writing. The organization works with schools and students who come from fifty wards across the city of Chicago. 

“We write with 3,500 Chicago Public Schools students each year in over 111 schools,” said Kendra Curry-Khanna, 826CHI’s executive director.

826CHI helps students create thousands of pieces of writing which are shared on their website and can be found in books sold at local bookstores across the city, and at all Chicago Public Library locations.

Rather than adults curating the pieces for the delivery service, students choose which piece will be featured each month. The authors of selected pieces could range from second-graders to high school students.   

Bailey chose a piece  which was written by her friend. “I curated the piece that was sent to all the recipients and I was interviewed for the first prototype sent out,” said Bailey. 

Here, the Weekly presents that piece, written by ninth-grader Stella R. Bailey chose the piece because it resonated with her when she was a freshman in high school. “Specifically the way she captures the average Chicago student’s connection to the CTA and uses it to transition to handling the emotional trials of adolescence really stuck with me,” Bailey said.

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SURVIVAL GUIDE 

By Stella R., grade nine, from I Will Hold You Like a Bible 

(1) when your friends become stops on the CTA

let earbuds take their place

learn the lyrics so that

when you pass childhood’s second homes

you’ll have something to say

when the games you played in alleyways

steal the words from your vocabulary

rewrite your definition of “OK”

to be something less like “content”

and more like “persisting”

(2) you don’t need to be either

you’re allowed to cry

but survival means pretending

so learn to be an actor

to force your features slack

as soon as they turn to look at you

let them think that the moisture

crisscrossing capillaries on cheekbones

is a trick of the light

standing in spots of sunshine

disguises the dark

it doesn’t hurt to try

and it just might chase some of the midnight from your mind

next step; swallowing sorrows

this is the greatest hurt

though i’ve learned to bare it after years of “overreacting”

i’ve forgotten the line that separates these pains:

physical and emotional

i promise you

it’s not perpetual

(3) quiet places are not supposed to be lonely

be alone with a

backdrop of bodies

like trees,

allow strangers to create your oxygen

remember you need air to breath

(4) be unafraid to exhale

suspending worries until the next breeze shifts

undress in front of a mirror

watch the rise and fall of stomach and shoulders
—soldiers that fight each day so that you may
(5) live
day by day
listen when your head and heart are haphazardly
happy

to do or be or see
loving something is almost like loving yourself
(x) these are your instructions
written between missteps and heartbreaks
through burning red cheeks and tentative

contentment
written for a past and future and present
for when you are dragged ‘round a ticking clock
and find yourself alone on the other side
this is a survival guide

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826CHI currently offers five different programs that students and their schools may apply for or join.

After-School Tutoring and Writing allows students to receive individualized help with their homework. They are also able to sharpen their skills with daily creative writing activities.

On weekday mornings throughout the school year, Chicago Public Schools classes are invited on field trips to the lab for creative writing experiences. “Each of our six different field trip experiences is designed to be project-based, collaborative, playful, empowering, imaginative, and to encourage students to share their ideas in their own unique voices,” said Gaby FeBland, communications coordinator at 826CHI. 

826CHI collaborates with after-school programs and community organizations to create workshops that incorporate writing and another area of study, such as music, activism, or zinemaking. The organization’s education team will head into classrooms and community centers to work directly with students—supporting teachers’ existing curricula and collaborating on new ideas. 

Bailey is currently a communications intern and a student of the Teen Writers Studio, another program hosted by 826CHI. 

“Teen Writers Studio is a group of high school students who are interested in literature and art and meet every other Monday to discuss them along with current events. And every meeting we write poems or short stories or responses to our discussion,” said Bailey. 

As a communications intern, Bailey has learned a lot about development and hopes to participate as a production assistant for 826CHI’s fifteenth Anniversary. 

While 826CHI helps students aspire and dream, they don’t train each student to be “the next MFA in writing” said Curry-Khanna, but they do teach that writing can be used across any area of discipline.

“I don’t know for sure what I want to study in college yet, but I know that what I’ve learned in these last three to four years will help me in whatever field I pursue,” said Bailey.

“Communication is really the anchor for so many things that students will encounter in their lives,” Curry-Khanna said. “One of our values and goals as an organization is to share our students’ perspectives, opinions, experiences, stories far and wide across the city.”

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Stella R. is a fourteen-year-old amateur writer and professional procrastinator. In addition to writing, Stella spends her free time reading, sailing, playing ultimate Frisbee, and watching Netflix with her family and their fat Boston terrier.

Maple Joy is a contributor to the Weekly. Maple is from Cleveland but has lived in the Chicago area for over six years. She is obsessed with Chicago food. In her spare time, you can find her biking on one of the Chicago trails or hanging out at a Chicago event or festival.

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Interested in helping out? You can volunteer with 826Chi and help out with after-school tutoring, supporting students with writing projects during thematic field trips, or even becoming a store ambassador. Fill out an application online and reach out to volunteers@826chi.org with any questions.

Student Writing Delivery Services, $5/month for email inbox, $15 for physical delivery, $40/month for physical delivery and an advance copy of an 826Chi student publication.

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