Dear Chicago

I love you so much. You are home and I have endured a lot in this city. My heart is in every inch, crack and corner throughout every neighborhood, especially the South Side. I grew up on 6453 South Hermitage and my life was complicated from the start. I used to use words like abandoned, abused and rejected, but through a reconstructed mindset I now view life differently. Today I can see inner poverty has heavily impacted and infected our communities, but when I was young, I didn't understand poor. I was blind to it all. I knew life was tough, but how could I really frame it into words? I lived with my uncle and aunt, and it often wasn't very pleasant. It was dark, loud, distant, messy, fun, cold, heavy, good & painful. My childhood was complicated, but I still loved my family. They are a part of the blood that flows through my veins. We are one through a web of DNA. We had good days and we had a lot of bad days. It was home. I grew up without having the love of my mother and father. There's something about being raised by someone who didn't birth you. Is it possible for people to love someone that they didn't birth or seed into this life? Sure, but it's just unbelievable when your parents aren't there for you. You feel unloved, unwanted and dumped into a world to rot. I can feel it all, but I can't really put it into words, so I would just imagine something else. Something heroic and colorful.

I LOVE CHICAGO. I love the skyline, the food, the expressways, the billboards and I love my people. Our people. I love us. I love us so much that I want us to excel; to shine a light on progress and to move into a beautiful place of joy. I want my people to feel wealth. I want my people to feel powerful and to feel what it's like not to live from check to check. I want them to breathe and to go out without having to look at their bank account. I want them to enjoy life. I want them to win. I am in love with the South Side of Chicago. I love us and because of that, I am choosing to set aside my ego to serve my people. I am now a 41-year old man who has carved out a space to love in a way I never thought was possible. I am walking in a love that feeds me daily, so much so, that I must remind myself to eat. Man should never live by bread alone, but with peace and basic human needs. Subsistence, understanding and growth. Connection and love. Contribution. Esteem and Identity. Self-governance (autonomy). Significance and purpose. This is what we all need. This is what my people need, and the reality is poverty has disrupted our basic human rights. Pre-Covid, the South Side was already dealing with what is called food and medical deserts. There were more fast food spots and beauty supply stores than fresh produce and healthy alternatives.

Residents are conditioned to adapt, evolve and respond accordingly. It's the cycle of our humanity to learn how to survive even in harsh conditions. People learn how to rise above the worst and still call it home. Resiliency sometimes distorts our reality. We learned that from the days of slavery and how that has impacted us throughout generations. Imagine the things that were said and done back then that are still affecting us on today. Words and ideas are powerful. The truth is poverty is violent. Poverty erodes dignity. Recent studies suggest that growing up poor affects brain development at an early age, and those brain changes can have huge effects on learning. Children who come from families living below the poverty line exhibit “systemic structural differences” in their brains. Black Americans born poor are much less likely to move up the income ladder than those in other racial groups, especially whites. Why? Many factors are at work, including educational inequalities, neighborhood effects, workplace discrimination, parenting, access to credit, rates of incarceration, and so on. The South Side needs more support.

As the founder of Coffee, Hip-Hop & Mental Health my goal is to help normalize the mental health conversation and the many forms of therapy to help people who are in crisis. People who are underemployed, laid off and on furlough because of Covid-19 need help. Food insecurity was a real thing prior to Covid-19 and it'll be a real thing after. People need help and not just temporarily, but the type of help that empowers them to live well above their current circumstance in a more sustainable way. According to Chicago Data Portal (https://data.cityofchicago.org/), the poverty rate in Chicago is 20.6%, which is higher than the national rate of 13.1%. Research shows that the life expectancy rate of someone who lives nine miles away in Streeterville is 90 while in Englewood is only 60. Poverty is violent and we're here to take giving back to our community to another level. Join us as we gift 10,000 families on the South Side of Chicago with a week’s worth of groceries and year worth of resources. For more information on our next fundraiser or how you can give back, please visit: https://www.coffeehiphopandmentalhealth.com/piv10k