I was given my first teaching opportunity by a very hard-working mama named Patrese McClain. She founded a non-profit (PureART) that provided art education to underserved schools in Chicago. I began in 2012 as the organization's photographer, and teaching assistant. I worked my way up to Lead Teaching Artist for the after-school art program at Harper High School, in Chicago's South Side neighborhood of Englewood.
The year I was there, Harper had a spotlight on it. Not only did First Lady Michelle Obama visit the school, but This American Life also did a two-part episode on it, which I highly recommend listening to. It is not easy to hear what you will hear, but if you want to know the voices of students, the faculty, and support staff, this is the real deal.
In the episode, it talks about one particular Homecoming, and how a 16 year-old former student was shot near the end of the school day (although not on the actual school grounds), and how that impacted the weekend's events. It was also my first day on the job.
From there on, our teaching team and students collaborated on multiple art installations around the school. The year-end project was a collaboration between our program, City Year, and the alderman's office. We were given access to a boarded up home directly across the street from the school, and painted the windows and doors with hopeful messages of encouragement. It felt like we were doing something special and lasting.
I recently researched Harper, and found out that it is scheduled to be closed down. Enrollment is down to less than 200. Students will be dispersed to other schools, meaning they will have to commute through multiple gang territories. Here is an article on the subject:
Conclusion: We did our best, but it was just a band-aid on a deep gash. Thank you to all of our brothers and sisters who are continuing to work at the root causes of these communities not having the sustained love and resources they need. I will do my best to be a part of the remedy... with my foot on the gas.