It takes a village, and Chance the Rapper is leading the charge

The Chicago rapper took a chance on a system that gave up on you a long time ago.

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“I miss the old Kanye, straight from the Go Kanye. Chop up the soul Kanye, set on his goals Kanye.”

A few months ago, I let go of hopes of ever seeing the old Kanye. I realized that in spite of how much he’s taught me about myself through hip hop, there was room for another star from Chicago: Chance The Rapper.

The irony is that, in 2009, while still in college and a newly initiated member of the Omicron Xi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., I interacted with Chance pretty often. My chapter had this program called the Alpha Gents/Gems, a mentorship program of which Chance was a part, designed to help students ultimately go to college.

I remember one day at one of our events watching Chance perform at his high school, Jones College Prep in front of 50 high-school aged students.

Back then, it was under his group Instrumentality, and he was a star already. But there was always something different about him that went beyond just music. I knew from the way that he rallied his classmates together that ultimately he would go on to influence our generation in some way. And I was right.

A couple years later, in 2011, an incident at school would cause him a 10-day suspension, birthing the project 10 Day. But what might’ve devastated many students dealing with the same scenario turned into one of the most important 10 days of Chance’s life. After that moment, he would never look back.

Yesterday, Chance announced via Facebook Live news of his non-profit Social Works Chicago donating $1 million to Chicago Public Schools.

It’s crazy to think that he’s doing this at the age of 23.

It’s the perfect example of what happens when you give a both talented and conscious artist the platform to evoke change. It’s also what happens when we decide to take matters that affect us into our own hands. Because even though Chance may be in a slightly higher tax bracket now, he’s still a young father, and he understands that many mothers and fathers don’t have the same voice and platform that he has. One he’s using to make a major difference.

In the midst of all the negative publicity Chicago gets, it shows that there is a movement for change stirring in the Windy City, and artists like Chance are at the forefront.

And although Chance’s $1 million is just a drop towards CPS’ $5.7 billion annual budget and $215 million deficit — it’s a start. A start at a movement that is helping rebuild Chicago.

But I can’t help but think that this moment feels all too familiar.

We’ve been here before.

Not too long along ago, HBCUs were created during a time when black students didn’t have access to equal education. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ comments on HBCUs as “real pioneers of school choice” reminds us of the ultimate disconnect between policy-makers and often lower-income students in communities on the South and Westside of Chicago. St. Louis. Baltimore. Detroit.

Chance the Rapper had to donate his money because the system that oversees an unjust educational system isn’t doing so. Black people in America created HBCUs for the same reason — fighting for an equal playing field in the education system. And on the eve of several prominent HBCUs bicentennial anniversary, we are reminded that history repeats itself. Often disguised in different ways.

How ironic is it that a kid who was once suspended for 10 days for smoking weed at school is now at the forefront of rebuilding the education system? The same system that caused him to commute from 79th Street to downtown Chicago to access one of Chicago’s top high schools?

How ironic is it that many of the same students in Chicago who didn’t have equal access to textbooks, after-school programs, art and music classes are often the people out advocating most for change?

Old Kanye said it best: “You know the kids gon’ act a fool. When you stop the programs for after school.”

How ironic is it that many of the same policy makers who are fighting for pushback on providing quality education for all are the ones who have the least concern about their children’s educational futures?

But I know, and you know, it’s all by design. Designed so that as early as third grade, we can detect students who may become potential dropouts. Students who were preoccupied smoking weed, some because they don’t have access to textbooks in school, with their minds pre-occupied with how to survive the walk home through a rough neighborhood. Others, simply because it was the only outlet they had to relieve stress when their arts programs were cancelled well before they matriculated into high school.

How did we get here?

When black and brown kids still can’t get equal access to quality education, quality food or jobs, but are forced to walk past an excess of food and liquor stores on every corner, this is what happens. This is what drives the rampant incarceration rates — this is what segregates the South and North sides of Chicago (sans Hyde Park). And as a father, that has to be alarming for many parents around the country who don’t have additional choices, extra bus fare money to help their kids travel across the city.

Old Kanye said it best: “Couldn’t get a job, so since he couldn’t get work, he figured he’d take work.”

And while CPS is still facing a potential school closure 3-weeks early this year because of declining funds, Chance shows us that we no longer have to wait to take matters into our own hands. A no from the Governor of Illinois is not a no from the community.

Instead of giving of up, Chance is showing us that it takes a village. And while many of us don’t have the disposable income to donate $1 million, for some, it may be a $1,000 or $100 or even $10. Collectively though, it could go a long way.

They can underfund our schools, but that doesn’t stop us from putting all our dollars and resources into building and creating our own. After all, we created over 100 historically black colleges and universities.

We no longer need to wait on a solution, because the solution is us. It’s always been us.

My bet is on the new Chance. Because he’s providing hope for a new generation of change makers, policy makers and influencers. And although he was once a former mentee in a program of mine, he inspires me. To be better. To do better. To become better. Because collectively, we are an unstoppable village. A family that no reunion could ever top.

He said it best on his song “How Great”: “My village raised ‘em a child, come through the crib and it’s bustin’/You meet anyone from my city, they gon’ say that we cousins.”

If there’s anything we’ve learned — and we’ve certainly been here before — is that it takes a village. Thanks, Chance, for taking a chance on a system that gave up on you a long time ago. But we must not let him do this great work alone.