Rachel Kim, our former education editor, and Ashvini Kartik-Narayan, one of our current education editors, collaborated to hold South Side Weekly’s second student essay contest this summer. The theme for the contest was inspired by Chicago native Nate Marshall’s poem, “When I Say Chicago.” We asked students: What do you mean when you say Chicago? We wanted to hear how students “find, define, build, and maintain a sense of community in Chicago”: their answers, penned during a pandemic and a summer of immense racial injustice against Black people, were especially poignant.
We received over fifteen submissions from all over the South Side. We are extremely grateful for all of these submissions and for the time, energy, and care students put into writing them during a time of unbelievable stress, pain, and uncertainty. There were so many incredible, thoughtful essays, each offering a different view of what makes Chicago so beautiful and so special. In the end, we chose three essays to print. Read the other two: “What do you mean when you say Chicago?” and “When I Say Chicago.”
I’m from Chicago.
Where it’s shoot or get shot. You’re not beautiful you’re hot. Bullets fly and bodies drop. Where you are his side chick not his wife. Some girls don’t go anywhere without a knife, and you can be 16 in a cell doing life.
I’m from Chicago where mommas bury their sons while their daughters are on the run. Some twelve-year-olds can’t go anywhere without a gun. I’m from Chicago, where making it to twenty-one is a blessing, and walking down the streets leaves you stressing.
I’m from Chicago, where people have nowhere to stay and girls tell some of the only real men out here to stay safe because they could die the next day.
Listen I’m from Chicago, where mommas crying, children dying, police lying, gangs riding, people still trying to have hope. But I’m from Chicago and I won’t ever hide it.
I’m from Chicago, but don’t forget, our skyline is the best there’s ever been and Navy Pier never fails to make you feel like a kid again.
I’m from Chicago, so you know I like that deep dish and other places wish they had pizza as good as this.
I’m from Chicago, and though our winters are rough, it makes Chicagoans tough enough to face whatever life throws at us. So stop coming for Chicago because your city probably has issues on it’s own. We might have different problems but you still should focus on the place you call home.
And if you’re ever driving late at night make sure to drive by the beautiful Lake Shore Drive. Also don’t forget about the original water tower which was the only thing that didn’t burn, in a fire started by a lantern kicked down by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Don’t know if that’s the real story but that’s what I learned.
And if you’re ever on vacation, wherever you go … just know Chicago will always be here to welcome you home. So now you know the reason why I’m from Chicago, and I won’t EVER hide it.
Morgan New is an actress, model, and dancer, born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. She is currently a sophomore at The Chicago High School for the Arts with a 4.3 GPA. Morgan has received numerous awards for her writing and academic achievements. She is one of three winners of the South Side Weekly 2020 Student Essay Contest. This is her first contribution to the Weekly.