This week on SSW Radio, we spoke with anti-racism organizers, self-described “nerdy” DIY art space coordinators, heard a brief South Side ghost story, and considered parallels between Black activism of the 1960s and today
Open Mike Eagle, born and raised in Chicago, moved to Los Angeles after college, and for the most part, he didn’t look back. He joined the hip hop collective Project Blowed, formed the trio Thirsty Fish with Dumbfoundead and Psychosiz, released his first solo album Unapologetic Art Rap in 2010, and has a forthcoming stand-up and music show, The New Negroes, on Comedy Central that he will co-host with comedian Baron Vaughn. But on his most recent album, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream—a hazy, dark, powerful, and sometimes sweet recollection of the Robert Taylor Homes and their demolition, he comes home. The album reimagines the story of the Robert Taylor Homes, imbuing it with equal parts childhood fantasies, fuzzy memories, and the real-world darkness of a city that isolated, ignored, and then forcibly displaced thousands of its most vulnerable residents. This mix is perfectly encapsulated by the video for “Brick Body Complex”: Eagle plays Iron Hood, a superhero trying to warn residents that their building is coming down, fight back against gentrification, and stop the city’s demolition; in the end, at the moment when it seems Iron Hood has stopped the demolition, the cops show up to haul him off to jail.
For nearly a year, Lee Bey and I were neighbors in Pullman, living a few doors down from each other on the same stretch of workers’ cottages on St. Lawrence Avenue. We did not know each other at the time—except, of course, in the way that we all learn to recognize our unnamed neighbors with curiosity, apprehension, fondness brewed from familiarity. I can say that we definitely must have brushed elbows, standing on the 115th Street platform awaiting the forever-late inbound train; he can recall how he one day passed Cottage Grove Avenue to see me setting up the Pullman Free Library in the corner storefront. It was only after I moved out of Chicago altogether that we became Facebook friends and pieced together our neighborly past.
This Interview Issue, the fourth of its kind, contains eight interviews with artists, activists, writers, and residents of Chicago.
The Englewood Arts Collective is a group of nine artists, working in diverse media, who came together earlier this year to influence public perceptions of Englewood and improve access to art within the neighborhood. I sat down with Collective members Tonika Johnson (a photographer), Janell Nelson (a graphic designer), and Joe Nelson (a muralist) to talk about the forming of the Collective and its plans for the future.
Weekly photographer Sebastián Hidalgo attended the last Increase the Peace campout—youth-led anti-violence demonstrations across the South Side—of the summer. On August 4, dozens gathered outside of St. Michael’s Church in Back of the Yards for games, music, and food to celebrate the community center’s reopening after over ten years.
Every few weeks this summer, a block in a South Side neighborhood was taken over by peace marches, workshops, free food, and an all-night campout. This is the Resurrection Project’s Increase the Peace campaign, a youth-led program that grew out of the tragic drive-by shooting of high school senior Naome Zuber in the fall of 2016. Naome was riding in the back seat of a car when a stray bullet ended her life. Her death galvanized her community; since then, other neighborhoods from Little Village to Englewood have come together as well, on these warm summer nights, to think about structural ways to stop gun violence long after the campouts end.
I was a dissenter. I retaliated against a lot of things, but more so I retaliated against the way people tried to color the world for me. I questioned, and I didn’t realize until I got older that I was always questioning why things have to be the way they are. I was deeply invested in my imagination, and cinema was that environment that sort of told me: you can create, these ideas can come out of you and unfold, and you can create the reality that you want through this particular medium.
Asylum seekers occupy the uncertain ground between outsiders and refugees. Unlike refugees, who are pre-screened by the government and can access public assistance upon arrival, asylum seekers find their own route to the U.S.—sometimes illegally, sometimes by visa—and are ineligible to receive any government assistance while awaiting a decision on their cases.
August was Black Philanthropy Month: a campaign started in 2011 to connect the often “silo-ed” world of Black giving, as Jackie Copeland-Carson, the campaign’s founder, described it. Last month, South Side Weekly Radio broadcast interviews between reporter Bridget Vaughn and members of the Black philanthropic community. Every week offered a different viewpoint on giving back, including how corporations give back to the communities where they operate, how individuals give, and how groups of people collectively join forces to make a greater impact. Below are excerpts from those conversations. Listen to the full interviews here.