This week, we're welcoming two new online publications onto our Tumblr, This is Heaven, This is Chicago by the 7th grade writers of Sawyer Elementary in Gage Park and We Have a Dream by the 8th grade writers of Chicago Jesuit Academy in South Austin.
These memoirs, stories, and poems are the result of 826CHI's ChiTown Stand Up Field Trip, which leads students through writing exercises that explore the beauty of their city. The 7th grade wordsmiths of Sawyer Elementary wrote a vision of Chicago powered by the energy of community. In "Chicago is a Family" by Anthony F., grade 7, the narrator describes the feeling of running in a community race. "Adrenaline rushes through my body like electricity turning on a lightbulb." The narrator quells his anxiety with the thought, "We are doing this run as a community, not as individuals."
This is Heaven, This is Chicago is rife with moments of young people whose perspectives on their surrounding environment are coming into focus or shifting. Sometimes these perspective shifts are literal. In This is Heaven, This is Chicago, Adriana E., grade 7, describes visiting the Willis Tower for the first time. "Looking down at all the different cars that pass, admiring all the different buildings there are to see. Noticing all the different places we have never seen, along with some green places we didn’t know existed, which looked beautiful with the light blue sky, and slight color that the sun gives that isn’t as bright."
Though many of these students grew up in Chicago, their city continues to surprise them. In "The Chicago Life," Conrado A., grade 7, describes a trip to Navy Pier with his family. Although he'd been before, it wasn't until this trip that Conrado, "...started to notice the lake’s ever-present beauty. I widened my eyes in disbelief. The lake was a masterpiece, painted by Mother Earth herself." In "Fresh Air," Sergio B., grade 7, captures the sensory delight of something as quotidian as riding the train. "The air is crisp, like if a god made it fresh out the oven. The train’s cool air goes against my skin, pushing my hairs back, and moving my shirt like a flag in the wind. The sweltering heat transitions into cool air in the train. The lines on the CTA map are so confusing, like looking at a Where’s Waldo page."
In We Have a Dream, the 8th graders of Chicago Jesuit Academy articulate the fears, joys, and frustrations of growing up in the city. In his poem, "My Chicago," Jerry F., grade 8, names the dualities of his cities. "My Chicago is rough," the speaker acknowledges. But, "My Chicago works together / My Chicago has high expectations / My Chicago is open to growth / My Chicago has power / My Chicago is the movement." In "My Chicago Experience," Jabarrion D., grade 8, writes, "To me Chicago is a home, / A place to go, / Kind of like a warm jacket. / But Chicago can be a pretty bad place / Violence, crime, and negativity / Kind of like a put-down." These young writers love their city fiercely without casting a blind eye to its social issues; rather, these authors love their city enough to propose solutions.
In "Cicero," Valentin A., grade 7, urges Chicagoans to explore the city beyond their neighborhoods. "Chicagoans need to know that Chicago isn’t just the Bean and deep dish pizza. When people feel as though they are an important part of a really big city, it gives them a new sense of pride in their ownership," Valentin continues. "I know that feeling because when we found out that our house used to be a storage house for Capone, it made my house feel extra symbolic. You never know what you are going to find when you explore your city and learn its stories." Take Valentin's advice to heart: read our latest collections on Tumblr and explore the city through its untold stories. From uncovering the vastness of Chicago from the peak of the Willis Tower to embracing the sensory delights of riding the "L" through the bowels of the city, reading This is Heaven, This is Chicago and We Have a Dream is sure to expand your perspective on the complexities, contradictions, and beauty of the city we call home.