BT Tuesdays: My Love Letter to Chi

This past Saturday I was at the MCA for a concert. It made me feel old. Old and dorky. I literally said, “Kids these days,” as I watched the edgy fashion go by me in droves. I was amazed. Impressed. And, yeah, a little envious. Envious of the ability to say, “I’m gonna shave the side of my head and wear leather overalls.” It’s the foresight that makes me jealous. How do you know that’s going to look good?? I would totally rock some purple hair and plaid suspenders if I had any idea what was going on.

I was at the MCA to see Jamila Woods and Noname. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love (am obsessed with) Jamila Wood’s music. Her voice, her lyrics, her vibe–all come together to create something magical and that truly touches my soul.

With each artist’s performance, I was completely overcome. Something in me was bursting. I couldn’t quite name the feeling. As Noname was closing her set, smiling and bouncing with the beat, I realized what it was: pride.

Immediately I questioned the liberty of this emotion. Like, what right do I have to be proud? I mean, obviously all I’d done was watched their progression, not participated in it.

See, this was the second time I’d seen Jamila Woods and Noname perform in the same night. The last time was at Schubas in a long line-up of musicians and poets. I remember the room wasn’t full, but intimate. Nice. That was four years ago. Last Saturday, they played for a sold out, jam packed MCA.

I know I wasn’t the only person on Saturday who’d been there that night at Schubas. I recognized a lot of faces. Faces that have been around the youth poetry circuits, like YOUmedia and Young Chicago Authors. Faces that still keep it going at YOUmedia and Young Chicago Authors. And I know I wasn’t the only one who’s taken note of the progression each artist has made in her work. And there’s no way I was the only proud person in that audience on Saturday night.

These women made me proud to be a Chicagoan. 

Chicago has been getting a lot of recognition for the talent she’s been putting out right now. But it’s about more than talent.

Because not only do these artists rock their craft, but they’ve put in the time to their art, which breathes acceptance, love, and equality. It’s talent with a message.

Jamila, Noname, Chris Redd, Chance. These are people I’ve met and interacted with–and you know what they have in common? They are hardworking. They are talented. And they are kind. 

They are the essence of Chicago. 

Because that’s what we demand from our people. I’ve never been in another place where kindness is such a requirement. And like any rule, there’s exceptions. Like when I said good morning to the city worker picking up garbage outside my apartment and he shouted at me, “You’re a sinner!” Word.

But tell me another city where a whole bus insists the driver wait so a man could run to the bus to pick up his phone he had just left on it. An entire busload of people, on their way to work, to appointments, to therapy (hypothetically), waited patiently for this man to retrieve his phone. A passenger offered to run it to him if the bus driver waited. When he returned, everyone commended him. “What you did will come back to you in a blessing,” one woman said to him. (Cottage Grove bus, 9:34 A.M., a Monday) 

Tell me another city where you can see the beach volleyball courts almost full on a 50-degree, gray October day. Friends, gathered in old sweats and hoodies. Not for a workout, not for competition. Just to get out and enjoy what the city had to offer. Mind you, I was running by in full winter gear. Not a chance you’d catch me barefoot in that weather. (Montrose Beach, noon, a Saturday) 

Tell me about another city where a woman would help a vomiting stranger on their return flight home. Without question, without hesitation, one woman helped another in need when others turned away. The sick woman later shared her story. That she’s undergoing chemo and desperately needed a friend–and a hair tie–in that moment. (Southwest Airlines to MDW, 7:30 P.M., a Tuesday)

Chicagoans are full of stories like these–of compassion and friendship and care. Maybe it’s because we know, in so many other aspects, we’re a tough city. So we look out for each other when we can. Maybe it’s because we won’t tolerate anything other than kindness to strangers. Or maybe it’s because that’s just how our mother, Chicago, raised us.

I’m excited to see the artists that continue to rise in our city. I know they will continue to make me proud.

Because Chicago expects nothing less.

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