Can we reclaim Chicago’s public narrative?

In response to comments about Chicago made by Donald Trump at the first presidential debate, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates tweeted this simple statement:
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The words resonated with many, including Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich (you can read her wonderful response here).

We were also moved. And we thought back to the Studs Terkel Award ceremony in April, 2016, when WBEZ education reporter Sarah Karp gave her acceptance speech. In it, she said:

You know, Chicago is beautiful.

Chicago is a skyline but Chicago is also heart wrenching. Sometimes it can just make you furious. But it’s also, you know, there’s poetry in places you never expected to find it.

Listen to Karp’s remarks below or read a transcript.

Sarah Karp: Chicago is Beautiful

 

I remember distinctly when I was about 8- or 9-years-old, walking around the streets of Chicago with my grandma, my grandpa and my brother Josh. I remember we were walking over the bridge from Columbus Drive to Michigan Avenue and my grandfather stopped and he turned to the skyline and he said: ‘This is Chicago.’

I remember I could feel the reverence for the city in his voice and the way that he said that to me. Today, literally today, this is how I spent my day:

The first half of my day I went to Jones Metropolitan High School and if you’ve ever been to Jones Metropolitan High School, it’s the high school in the South Loop, newly built and it is a castle. It is windows that are from the ceiling to floor. It is courtyards and light and airy. I watched a young man tell me how he writes programs so that he can print things from a 3D printer. I was in awe because I could never write something like that.

And then I left there and I got into my car and I drove to Chicago Vocational Career Academy, which most old Chicagoans know of as the Chicago Vocational Academy, CVA, on the Southeast Side of the city. That school has had some investments over the last years. Actually when I walked in I was wowed because the first thing I hear is classical musical music as the kids are changing classes. The kids are going to class and there’s a voice that comes over: ‘You have three minutes to get to class.’

I go to the office and I talk to the principal there. He tells me how he’s really struggling and striving to give these kids a really good education, but it’s up against a lot of odds. In the next year, the big grant he had from the feds is going to run out and once it runs out, then he’s back to where he was.

And I said, ‘Well, what can you take from the six million dollars that you’ve had over the last couple years?’

He was saying, ‘Well, we did professional development. But, you know, you can give kids what you can give kids, but once they money runs out, the money is gone.’

After that, I left there and I went to a social service agency in Roseland. I talked with a social worker who works with kids under the age of 6, who have been exposed to trauma, and (she) tries to help them to deal with the trauma because their behaviors are making it difficult for their lives and their families’ lives. I was talking to her about the fact that money for her program is running out because there’s no state budget and that’s how that program gets funded.

After this, I get in my car and I’m driving back. I’m driving through Roseland, through Chatham, on the way back to my house in Woodlawn.

And I’m thinking to myself: This is Chicago.

You know, Chicago is beautiful.

Chicago is a skyline but Chicago is also heart wrenching. Sometimes it can just make you furious. But it’s also, you know, there’s poetry in places you never expected to find it.

There’s wonderful things that you find in schools that you think, ‘This is not a great school.’ In all corners of the city. I cannot tell you how privileged I am to be able to cover this city, this Chicago.

 

Sarah Karp received the Studs Terkel Award on April 7, 2016. Learn more about the Studs Terkel Awards here.

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