Raych Jackson is an educator, voice actor, playwright, poet, and political commentator from the South Side of Chicago. Alongside Toaster, Jackson is co-host of Big Kid Show, formerly Big Kid Slam, which started as an adult poetry competition in April 2018 and now welcomes artistic performances of all disciplines.
Her debut book of poetry, Even The Saints Audition, features pieces that lead readers through the complexities of growing up a church baby, reclaiming, reflecting, and unlearning. Her book was published by Button Poetry, and Jackson’s spoken word performances have continued to gain traction on their Youtube channel as well, her poem “Period Rules” reaching 1.8 million views and counting. With more than 130,000 followers on TikTok, she also lends her comedic essence and smooth delivery as the face of The TRiiBE’s political commentary videos.
I probably met Raych while she was teaching a workshop, or hosting a poetry slam when I was in high school. In January 2020, I won a women-only Big Kid Slam; this one in particular was special because the slam served as a qualifier for the Womxn Of The World Poetry Slam (WOWPS). They sent me off to Dallas that March with all expenses paid to represent Chicago where I took fifth place on the final stage right before the world shut down.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Raych recently to talk about her book, her many interests, the importance of community, and more.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
South Side Weekly: Has being from the South Side had any impact on your identity or how you navigate the world and what you create?
Raych: Definitely. I think just seeing different resources—for example, I went to Morgan Park [High School], and I was on the volleyball team (for a hot minute, let me not pretend like I was an allstar) and we went to a school on the North Side. The gym at Morgan Park isn’t—you know, it’s a good gym, but we went to that gym and I was like, “Oh…wow.” I think just in general, it shapes your mind when you’re like, “Oh wow, these are not the same resources at all.” But that’s a negative; there’s also a different sense of community here.
I currently live a five-minute drive from the church I grew up in on 46th and Drexel. And I went there for the church picnic last Friday because I wanted some barbecue (she laughs), so it’s still home. I’m happy to live near where I spent the majority of my childhood. In my case, sneaking out and doing non-godly things with my church friends; hopping on the bus and jumping double-dutch at Rainbow Beach, and stuff like that.
I think that I owe a lot of my artistry specifically to a Black church on the South Side. That is the first place I ever performed. That is the first place I learned about tech. That is the first place I learned how to jump rope. I don’t think a church on any other side of the city could have done that for me.
What made you decide that Even the Saints Audition needed to exist? And who is it for?
Even the Saints Audition is for the church babies, is for the kids that were at church four times a week, doing different roles, that know the hymnals in and out, the scriptures in and out, but still were able to see the loopholes. The church babies that didn’t jump headfirst without asking questions. In the acknowledgments I say it’s for the church babies, but then the first quote is P. Rico—Chicago rapper: “Whole time she is a church girl so it’s a blessin’.” It’s an actual quote from his song “Hang Wit Me”. It’s a different understanding when you’re no longer in the church but still acknowledge God, just outside of organized religion.
I was reading a lot of my friends’ debut collections, as well as people who I admired, and [they] were kind of like an introduction. It was like, what is important to you? My church baby story is very important to me. I have so many Bible poems that kind of just mesh together. So when I took a collection of poems about me and poems about the Bible, and strung them out, it started to be more fluid. And I was like, “Yeah, this is a book about me, it’s a book about the church as well.”
What are some of your communities? How important are those communities to what you create?
I have community in the poets, still; a lot of my writer friends are poets as well. That’s one, and then there’s a section of queer, women poets that are inside of that section, it’s like communities in communities in communities. I have some school friends; my first friend at DePaul, his name is Darius. And he introduced me to so many people. The reason we met was because I showed up to a remedial math class at DePaul (she laughs), and it was raining outside and I had a plastic bag on my head. And he was one of the few other Black people, and one of the few people that understood that.
I also investigated this question last week: how do I show up better for my community? They show up, and that’s been another reason why I was investigating that for myself, right? Because my community pulls up. I think of way back to when I was trying to figure out what I was doing, people were there sitting at the table with me writing, working on their own projects. I could call someone and be like, “Hey man, I got this idea in my head. Do you want to have a workday?” That’s very beautiful; my book was written around friends. Whether it’s showing up to an event, or sitting in front of me so I can finish something, or even like FaceTime. The community shows up through my work, even though I’m not specifically saying “shout out to so and so.”
What is Big Kid Show and how did it get started?
So, my other half of the show, Toaster, and I, when we were coming up, our mentors definitely snuck us into bars to slam and to perform. They either paid the doorman or I snuck in through the back because they got to the point where they recognized that we were—not to toot our own horn—we were like winning these competitions against people our same age. And [they] were like “OK you’re winning against yourself, let’s put you in this thing against a thirty-year-old. The first couple of times, maybe I didn’t win. The last couple of times, I was destroying them. As Toaster and I got [eighteen and older], it was this super gap that happened; once you get out of high school and, formerly, LTAB (Louder Than a Bomb) age, there was nowhere for people to perform for real that were above eighteen.
Our first show we were running it for free, because we wanted it to be free, and it was eighteen-plus, it was a beautiful moment. People were donating gifts, because we couldn’t afford gifts—no joke, we had no budget for this show. Jamila [Woods] gave supreme tickets to one of her big shows, artists donated their prints. We stayed at YCA [Young Chicago Authors] for eleven months. We made sure the cash prize was fifty dollars, but one time we were so f*cking broke that it was like thirty-five dollars. Then on our anniversary show we moved to Que4 Radio. Then we started charging a suggested donation of five dollars, and that ripped us apart. We just built this whole thing of free community, I [didn’t] want to charge people but we also are in a new venue. Then from April to all the way up to like March 2020, we were booming, packing out,and then COVID happened. And we thought long and hard, we had a virtual two-year show, and then we thought long and hard like, “What else could we do?”
And then we paused for literally like three years.
So many other projects have happened, Toaster’s completed a couple projects, I’ve branched on to other things, but it always was this thing that we’re coming back, we’re coming back.
In 2018, a lot of our audience was eighteen to twenty, and I was like twenty-six, twenty-seven. Right now, in 2023, our audience is twenty-one to forty at this point, because we are pushing it to a bigger audience, and I’m in my 30s.
So, when we had our first show [at Dorian’s], and we’ve been at Dorian’s ever since, we hit capacity.
Big Kid Show has gone through a lot of waves, some very low, but the majority has been high specifically because of the community. To go from only being able to afford a thirty-five dollar cash prize, and then giving people candy because I bought a big bag of candy and we had nothing else that we could really afford, to consistently being able to just do $100 cash prize, WNBA tickets, like it’s nothing—but not like it’s nothing because it’s still community.
We went from Big Kid Slam to Big Kid Show because we wanted to invite other types of art. So if you’re a rapper with music you can perform, you can also use props, and so that’s a huge no-no in the poetry slam community.
Talk to me about your work as a political commentator.
That has been very exciting. I love talking sh*t. The TRiiBE and I have been interested in doing something for a minute. We collaborated because it was a scary time in Chicago during the mayoral race with nine candidates and seven of them were Black people. And a whole bunch of them were all trying to get that endorsement from the police. And it was actually really sick how far these candidates were going. A bunch of the candidates—I could spit further than the votes that they were going to get anyway, but it was a clear decision to split the vote, and then get up under Paul Vallas. The report came out that Paul Vallas spent two to one to Brandon Johnson. That’s how much money he had. So in January, it was just pretty intense because after all that tip-tapping Paul Vallas obviously got the police [union] endorsement. The first video is about that; Top Cop Candidate of the week is Paul Vallas. We put out the video, within two hours—doxxed. Putting my mugshot everywhere; MAGA was so behind this man that they were on my ass.
It got to a point, maybe the next day after the video comes out, the editors at The TRiiBE text me. They’re like, “Can we group call you?” I was like, “Yeah, what’s up?” They’re like, “You’re being doxxed right now. Do you feel comfortable continuing?” And it became a thing; there have been so many worse things that have happened to me, but I was also like, “Oh they’re scared [in reference to Vallas’ supporters].” So I was like yes, let’s do the series, and I’m finna put my foot in they ass for real. So then we went like, boom, boom, here’s what Lori Lightfoot did, this is what Chuy Garcia said, this is what Willie Wilson said! It was just outlining how much people’s safety policies were only “let’s get more police, let’s get more police, let’s get more police,” as if the police budget hasn’t continued to rise.
The reason I had so much fun with political commentary and continue to do it is because I don’t have a desire to stay in politics. And you don’t scare me by putting out my mug shot. It’s been a freedom to do political commentary because I truly don’t give a f*ck; I’ll talk about politics one day, and then post a picture of my ass on my Instagram the next day, because I literally can.
How do you practice or experience radical self love?
I celebrate the little things. If I go through all my chores, my daily chores, and practice my hygiene that’s a huge win for me. Because how my depression can get, it’s like, maybe I’m not showering as often or like, maybe I shower every day, but my dishes are a mountain. So my radical self love starts off with my space being clean. For me, radical self love is not this intense thing. It’s actually really simple things that I make sure I do, like cleaning my body, walking my dog, calling my mom. I’ve been celebrating the mundane.
Anything else we should know?
The next Big Kid Show is August 3rd at Dorian’s [1939 W North Ave, Chicago, IL]. Be there or be square; “no two shows are the same” is our biggest catchphrase. I have been quietly working on a book.
Shout out to Luya, Respect The Mic, Grandma’s House, Line Break […] I think what’s really cool is that we not only show up to each other’s events, but we promote each other’s events.
Even the Saints Audition by Raych Jackson is available on buttonpoetry.com. You can find Raych on Instagram and TikTok @RaychJackson.
Chima Ikoro is the Weekly’s Community Builder.