The same day that City Council voted to approve the new $95 million police academy plan in West Garfield Park, mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot spoke at the University of Chicago about the need to build an even more expensive and expansive police academy. Lightfoot clarified that she does not support the current proposal “as is,” but that “we absolutely need a new training facility,” and “to do it right it would cost far more than” $95 million. She cited the New York Police Department’s new $750 million training center as an example. To Lightfoot, a police training center done right should involve more community engagement and “academic development.” Notably, she said the city should consider turning some of the thirty-eight remaining vacant schools of the fifty closed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel into police training facilities.
Kahari here, to briefly introduce y’all to the big homey Desmond “Des Money” Owusu: a native Chicagoan and fellow South Sider whose passions as a designer and photographer have led him to blessing the world with a legacy of projects that are community driven and civically minded. To say the least, Des is a pillar in the Chicago creative community and steward for many others coming up with him. While simultaneously building upon his own streetwear label “We All We Got,” Des also co-owns and runs the Fat Tiger Workshop. A Black-owned clothing boutique alongside friends and colleagues Vic Lloyd, Rello Jones, and Joe Freshgoods.
You might be wondering why I’m here speaking out right now. The reason is to speak my mind as a Mexican-American girl growing up on the Southwest Side of Chicago. I might be young but no mind is ever too old or too young to think about topics of community and justice. I am not only speaking for myself but for the people who feel undervalued because of where we come from. I am not saying this for people to have pity for us, but to show people we want to be heard and respected. What people don’t understand is that violence is not where I come from. I come from a community that is being told we “are the problems.” And if you let me, I will show you how each part of Chicago is actually the solution.
I don’t remember the first time I went to a Silver Room Block Party, but I remember how it made me feel. Imagine hundreds of Black people drinking in the daytime, walking in the street, and dancing to an array of house music and hip hop. It felt like my favorite memories of homecomings and family reunions. I’m sure to Hyde Park’s gentrifiers and purse-clutching white women, this would be terrifying, and their fingertips would dial 911 at the smell of a wood tip wine Black & Mild. But at the Silver Room Block Party, we get a little taste of what public Black joy looks like outside of our backyard BBQs. We just have a good time.
On the south lakefront, a series of art installations has transformed open park space into gathering spaces. Through this initiative, Roots and Routes (R&R)—a network of major institutions and South Side community organizations working to break down barriers and connect people, especially communities of color, to local green spaces—hope to open up an opportunity for residents to explore a new form of urban green space.
In my twelve years teaching social studies in CPS, I’ve taught at two different high schools. I have recently made the decision to go to my third.
In my first few years of teaching, I loved my students so much that it seemed almost impossible for any other educator to care about their kids more than I did. But after having children of my own, I realized that while I still love my students, I’ll always love my own children more. Although I’ll always go way above and beyond for my students, there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for my own children.
I don’t say these things lightly. I’ve made a conscious effort to work for my students and the community. I’ve constantly worked to create a curriculum that teaches my students to question power structures and to work to create change when inequalities exist. I’ve written countless articles about my students and ways to improve our schools. I’ve been arrested for fighting to keep Chicago Public Schools (CPS) from closing fifty schools in 2013. At times, this commitment to my students has put me at odds with my administration, incited fear of write-ups, and produced threats from strangers. These risks sometimes make me question my desire to defend my students.
But like any parent, I would do anything for my own children, risk more, and ignore idle threats. My drive to protect my children and their well-being, education, and opportunities is stronger than anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s like that moment when you have children of your own and finally realize how much your parents actually love you. It is a window into the emotions of a decade’s worth of my former students’ parents. I now know more completely what those parents wanted for their kids, and wonder if I had fought hard enough. Did I fight as hard as I would have for my own kids?
By now, many of us are aware of the increasing conversation around “food deserts” in Chicago and across the country. Food deserts are typically defined as low-income areas in which a significant portion of residents live a mile or more from grocery stores and supermarkets. In Chicago, the majority of food deserts are in predominantly African-American neighborhoods lacking accessibility to fresh food options, with much easier access to fast food, liquor, and convenience stores. While a great deal of the momentum that has emerged around the issue has focused on increasing food accessibility, many of these proposed solutions—including the proposal to increase grocery stores in the city—actually operate within the status quo and fail to make structural change.
During my first year of teaching in Chicago Public Schools, at Corliss High School in Pullman, a colleague and I started a boys’ volleyball team. We had only three volleyballs for practice, but the biggest problem I had was an essential one—I had a net that could not be raised.
As a high school English teacher, I know that one of the biggest challenges for my students at the beginning of the school year is being sure about an answer to a question. Sometimes students meander and then finally get to an answer; at other times, they only answer one part of the question. Lately, in reviewing my district’s answers to clear-cut questions about how our schools function, I realize that my students are not alone in struggling to come up with good answers.