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Art Mentorship at Tolton Academy and thoughts on Chicago's segregation

A few weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to mentor a 6th and 7th grade art class at Tolton Academy in Chicago's south side neighborhood of Park Manor. The program is lead by the wonderful Olivia Silver, who brings in creatives in various fields: creative writing, dancing, graffiti art, music, etc. to share their career experiences with kids who don't often have access to the arts outside of their neighborhood. These kids were SO much fun to hang out with for a few hours and had me laughing the whole time. They were super smart, politically engaged, curious about my work and eager to learn.

Since moving to Chicago from NYC I've had a lot of conflicting feelings when realizing how segregated this city can feel. The crime, shootings and gang activity on the south side of Chicago feels like a world away from where I live and it's a part of the city that I've felt so disconnected to, which has really bothered me. There's reason behind that of course, you don't just walk into a lion's den if you're not invited inside. This site details the shootings and homicides by location, date and down to the minute. It's January 24th and there have 28 homicides and 152 total shot so far this year. There are car jackings and armed robberies in my neighborhood, unfortunately there are in most areas, so it's not exactly a utopia outside of the south side and dangerous neighborhoods, but it's not an every day reality that affects my lifestyle like it does for the young kids that live in these rougher neighborhoods. I don't know enough about the history or the city's politics yet to have a completely informed opinion on why and how it got to be this bad, all I know is that it bothers me to feel so disconnected to/scared of/worried for a huge part of this city that makes up a large population, which is somehow ignored.

This one afternoon I got to spend with these bright kids was my first and a very brief insight into their world and I had the luxury of retreating back onto I-94 into the security of my "Safe" neighborhood. There's no real point to this ramble, except to say that I think as members of a shared community, that being a city we all live in, we have a responsibility to learn about the communities that make up our city and listen to their needs. Especially when so many of us get to reap the benefits of where city funding is funneled into (a new river walk! a walking/biking elevated trail!) while large neighborhoods in our community are struggling to find a way to keep schools open with slashed funding, let alone any support or exposure to arts and culture. The kids I spoke to were all studying and discussing what schools they wanted to go to for high school, excited to have the opportunity to meet new kids and have new experiences outside of their K-8th grade community church-funded academy. I don't have answers or a solution, but I'm challenging myself this year to learn more, to brainstorm, to lend my arts and culture knowledge where it's really needed, and to make a few more friends outside of my safe neighborhood.

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