Keeley Parenteau

Student Essay: Where We’re From

Last month, Rachel Kim, our outgoing education editor, had the idea for the South Side Weekly to hold a student essay contest this summer. The theme for the contest was topical: as Lori Lightfoot was to be sworn in as mayor, we wanted to hear from middle and high school students from around the South Side what they wanted Mayor Lightfoot “to know and understand about [their] neighborhood,” and the “stories and memories about the people and places in [their] community” that “best exemplify the future of Chicago [they] want to see.”

We received over twenty-five submissions from all over the South Side. It was difficult to narrow them down. There were so many beautiful, thoughtful essays, each offering a different view of their South Side community and what they thought was the most important thing to tell Chicago’s new mayor. In the end, we chose three essays to print. Read the other two: “Chicago’s ‘Crooked Smile’” and “Windy City: The City with Less Air to Breathe.”

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Dear Mayor Lightfoot,

Ever since his debut, I’ve been a huge fan of Chance The Rapper. Little did I know that Chance was going to be the bridge between me and Chicago. Before I tuned in to Chance, I just wanted to move out  and never come back due to the violence and the direction this city was going in. He taught me that where you’re from means everything. Chance once said,

“I speak of promised lands,

Soil as soft as mama’s hands,

Running water, standing still,

Endless fields of daffodils and chamomile.”

That statement is what I now see for Chicago. Chance taught me that possibilities are the key to life and if you don’t have any, you aren’t living life. My mom and I used to live on 79th and Yates. When I was living in this neighborhood,  the only motto that everyone lived by was “make money and stay alive.” That was a lifestyle that everyone had to become accustomed to. Then the motto became “don’t get arrested, because the police will kill you.” As a child, I barely went to sleep at night. I often debated, “Is taking out the garbage, equivalent to losing my only life?” As everyone in our home looked at me with confusion, I would just look at police cars rotating around our block at night. Police cars instilled nothing but fear in me of the thought of being gone from everyone and everything that I love. One day, my mom sat me down and told me it was nothing I would ever have to worry about and that I can go play outside and be a normal child.

I remember the first day that I went outside to play with friends. That day was actually way more memorable than I could’ve imagined. That day was more than just my first day going outside to “play;” that day was the beginning of an automatic countdown that I couldn’t control, of losing friends to either violence or the mass incarceration rate of our race. I had plenty of friends who have died at the hands of the streets of Chicago. I feel as though every time a death occurs, it becomes nothing but a sign of publicity and moment for “griefing.” After witnessing friends lose their lives, instead of it being treated as a memorial,  it is treated with an insane amount of publicity that shouldn’t be spread. We become a cycle of placing loved ones on T-shirts and turning them into hashtags.

Chicago has a bad connotation. People from all over the country look at us in either two ways. They either look at us as a city full of possibility and great food, which makes us nothing but a tourist attraction, or as a city where it’s nothing but danger and you should only go there to prepare for your funeral. Nobody understands the truth about us Chicagoans, and I feel like that is something that you can portray to the rest of our country, or even the world. The world needs to understand that Chicagoans are the future of the world. Chicago is full of nothing but productive members of society at large that go through triumphs in their own way that will motivate them to be stronger and better.

Mayor Lightfoot, I knew ever since I first watched you on ‘The Fran Spielman Show’ that you were the person that was going to be able to make change. Ever since I was a child, I knew that there was a change to be made. I feel like you, Mayor Lightfoot, can make that change for Chicago. You have the power to stop young children from fearing the police. I know that you can change Chicago for the better. Thank You.

Sincerely, MC

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Christopher Watson is an upcoming artist on the South Side of Chicago that goes by ChrisTheMc. He attends Butler College Prep and is an author and poet. He is one of the three winners of the South Side Weekly 2019 Student Essay Contest. This is his first contribution to the Weekly.

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