Chance the Rapper shows Chicago’s struggling schools the money
The city’s youth get a bad rap and a bad education, but this Grammy winner is inspired by them
Chance The Rapper’s mind wasn’t totally on a recent ESPN The Magazine photo shoot on the West Side of Chicago. He wasn’t rude by any stretch, speaking, laughing and joking with the Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler as well as the production crew and stylists. Nor was he impatient.
But he had to leave by 5:20. 5:30, if I was lucky. Thankfully, I was lucky. On his schedule was his Open Mike. The event was held at the Harold Washington Library with a focus on providing a platform for “young creatives building the next generation of cultural community.” Previous guests at Chance’s Mike events include Chicago’s Kanye West, Vic Mensa and Jeremih.
“Come through, bro,” Chance said while dapping people up before bolting. “It’s a good look.” Not going was one of my worst life decisions. There were some “stars” there — a comedian named Chappelle, the aforementioned Butler and the cast of BET’s New Edition biopic — but the night was, after all, the youth of Chicago connecting on a personal, intimate and creative wavelength with a hero not much older than themselves.
Something noticeable from the moment you enter Chicago is the city’s authentic relationship to its new favorite son. Kids love Chance the Rapper. Uber drivers praise him. Bartenders salute him.
Which is why it wasn’t shocking to hear the urgency and disgust in his voice last week when discussing his sit-down — or lack thereof — with Illinois governor Bruce Rauner (this isn’t his first back-and-forth with a Chicago political figure either).
On Monday, he donated $1 million, much of which came through ticket sales from his own shows and from AEG, Live Nation and independent promoters, to Chicago Public Schools, a system integral to his life and career’s story. A 2015 report by The Education Trust revealed Illinois earned the infamous distinction of the worst school funding system in the nation. Illinois school districts with the highest number of students living in poverty receive nearly 20 percent less than their more affluent peers. And districts with the highest enrollments of minority students receive 16 percent less than districts with the lowest enrollments of minority students.
“Yet again, Gov. Rauner is perpetuating a racially discriminatory state funding system and his so-called plan actually demands that Chicago students do more to get the same funding that every other student in the state of Illinois is entitled to receive — a gross disparity that has no place in 2017,” reads a statement from Emily Bittner, a Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman. “Chicago residents stepped up and are paying $342 million more in taxes this year alone to support schools, and it’s past time for the state of Illinois to end the racial discrimination that is creating a separate and unequal funding system.”
Chance’s Monday afternoon news conference at Westcott Elementary School came only hours after Rauner introduced two new ideas to help the much-underfunded Chicago Public Schools find the $215 million the 516 schools desperately need — which Rauner vetoed last December after becoming “a little emotional.” The timing is part of the reason Chance left their meeting March 3, visibly frustrated. He called Rauner’s answers to his questions and concerns “vague.”
Chance also was not interested in focusing on the past while the future sat right in front of him. All too often, headlines reflect the massive violence in Chicago. Young men and women not even near the primes of their lives gunned down. The discussion from there is nearly textbook: Why are the South and West sides of Chicago like this? Do they not care about the value of a life in Chicago? Well, if they don’t want that stigma associated with their city, they should stop killing each other. As if the history of America — the history of being black in America — was ever that simple.
If last year’s Coloring Book is Chance the Rapper’s Confessions — the critically acclaimed 2004 classic from R&B singer Usher — then Chance’s 2013 Acid Rap is Usher’s 8701 — the criminally underrated predecessor to Confessions. Both of Chance the Rapper’s projects provide a glimpse into the frustration of everyday life in America’s third largest city. They murking kids; they murder kids here/ Why you think they don’t talk about it? They deserted us here/ Where the f— is Matt Lauer at? Somebody get Katie Couric in here, he lamented on “Pusha Man,” an Acid Rap standout. Coincidentally, he sat down with Couric for an interview regarding Chicago last week.
We still catching lightning bugs/ When the plague hit the backyard/ Had to come in at dark ’cause the big shorties act hard, he lamented on “Summer Friends” on Coloring Book. OK now, day camp at Grand Crossing/ First day, n—–’s shooting/ Summer school get to losing students/ But the CPD getting new recruitment. Without the $215 million, CPS announced last week, it may be forced to cut summer school and shorten the school year by three weeks.
So, yes, Chance’s actions on Monday resonate. He’s been thinking about and rapping about this stuff for a while. “Our kids should not be held hostage because of political positioning,” he said, basically addressing Rauner. “A community ceases to remain a community when its lifelines are stripped from them. No lifelines lead to desperation. Desperation leads to violence. If the governor does not act, CPS will be forced to end school 13 days early, which means over 380,000 kids will not have adult-supervised activities in June, and could possibly be put in harm’s way.”
Chance, 23, is not far removed from the hundreds of thousands of Chicago kids who look up to him. By taking on the political establishment — and putting his money where his lyrics come from — means Chance, an admitted non-politician, is in for the biggest fight of his adult life. It’s about redirecting the narratives of youth of color from the city of Chicago. No longer will they be solely blamed — without pushback — for their situation. This is a fight, via his emotions, his music and his actions, Chance the Rapper seems committed to.
“Gov. Rauner,” he concluded, “do your job.”
Chance didn’t drop the mic. That time is still to come. But in this cypher between The Rapper and The Governor, it’s all eyes on the actual public servant.