This fall, 826CHI had the privilege of hosting eighth grade students from Arthur Dixon Elementary School in Chatham, Chicago. As part of our ChiTown Stand Up! field trip, these students explored Chicago through its art, stories, and culture and had the opportunity to write their own truths about our city. Today, 826CHI published these poems and memoirs in Voices of Unity, an online publication. Read these stories, and see Chicago anew—from the vivacity of the Bud Billiken Parade, to the glory of Harold's Chicken's extra mild sauce, to block parties that unite the neighborhood.
In "I'm So Chicago" by Brandon, the speaker takes pride in the turns of phrase that make Chicago distinct.
"The way I move explains enough
It's not the Willis Tower, it's the Sears Tower
I don't wear sneakers, I wear gym shoes
I don't drink soda, I drink pop
I don't go to the movies, I go to the show
Your tall buildings don't impress me
Your living don't move me
I don't need to put my city on a hat to tell where I'm from."
While many of their poems share a celebratory tone, these young writers do not shy away from the harsher realities of life in Chicago. In "Reflection of the City/Voice of Unity," Amorion laments, "I’m tired of seeing sisters and brothers being beaten, killed, and raped in this city. Why is my skin seen as an image of me. I hate the fact that I can’t have a voice. But things are going to change. I will unite our people." These young people don't let our city be defined by pain and trauma. They find hope in themselves, in the people in their lives, and in the strength of their communities. In "What I See Vs. What You See," Joia argues, "Chicago is not what you outsiders make of it...Chicago is not just the city that is displayed on the news every night...My city has civilized individuals who not only represent themselves but also our city the way it should be portrayed." These writers invite you to look deeper than the one-dimensional media narrative and see the beauty of their own private Chicagos.
In the simply titled "Poem" by Corey, the speaker becomes a writer because of—not in spite of—growing up in Chicago.
"Tough streets of Chicago, you made me who I am.
Tough streets of Chicago, for me you had a plan.
You forced me to observe, what kids my age did not.
You taught me to look and see, always looking for a plot."
Whether you're a 10th-generation Chicagoan, you moved here last week, or you have the misfortune of living anywhere else, Voices of Unity will make you open your eyes a bit wider to the Chicago you thought you knew. Read these students' brave words, and share them with people you love. Help us redefine Chicago not by its tragedies, but by the hope we can find in the brilliance of its young people.