Do Chicago Public Schools Still Have A Chance?
More than raising funds, Chance is raising awareness.
It’s a simple hashtag.
It’s their eleven-character movement. Like they say: Real movements start small, die big.
On February 12th, Chance (formerly Chance The Rapper, for those who distinguish between rappers and those who MC) walked off the Staples Center stage after receiving one of his three Grammys for the evening, only to see the next day that he’d received a tweet from the Governor of his home state.
Now this Governor is in control of the school budget of the school system in which Chance, not long ago, was once a student. This Governor, let’s call him by name, Bruce Rauner, has refused to pass a budget that would allow this school system to function properly. This same school system, Chicago Public Schools, a body politic and corporate of the State of Illinois, is sitting at a $800M deficit* with a $215M budget gap for teacher’s pensions.
Chance, in the words of A. Ham, the poet, was not throwing away his shot. He requested a meet with the Gov. Eventually they did. Many “vague answers” later and with no Trump/Kanye photo op following, Chance took out his frustrations by promising to invest one million dollars of his future earnings directly to the same school system that the Illinois Governor is shitting on.
Then Chance went further and proclaimed that for every $100,000 anyone publicly donates to CPS, his not-for-profit outfit, SocialWorks, would donate another $10,000 to specific CPS schools’ art programs.
The child had gone from prodigy to political player overnight. Even with all that Chance had already been doing in the political arena (his November presidential voter rally/parade for example), nothing struck a chord like this. Because this time, there was money involved. And this time there was a direct attack against a powerful political figure, a challenge thrown out to both the local business and hip hop communities to rabbit-ear their pockets. This time, kids’ futures were directly at the center of the conversation.
“When I heard about it, I was like, ‘This is what it’s all about,” says DNAinfo Chicago community reporter Andrea V. Watson who covered the story. “People on that level, people with that platform using it for good… I mean, he just took home three Grammy Awards, but instead of going on vacation or working on some new music, [Chance] is on the Southside trying to help these schools.
“Will the million dollars make a dent?” she continued. “Some are saying not by far. But personally, I feel we have to look at the influence and the power his platform has given him.”
“Chance’s gesture appears to be widely recognized and respected by the those in the hip hop community,” says Morning Rush radio host and Vocalo senior hip hop correspondent Gabe Mendoza. “Chance is one of, if not the biggest rap star out right now and has a ton of power and juice, which explains how he landed a one-on-one with Governor Rauner. I think this will amplify the work that’s currently being done by [other] Chicago rappers like KWOE, Visual, Kanye [West] and Rhymefest as well as community activities like Jahmal Cole.”
“Chance the Rapper used his platform to help change the narrative of Chicago. A young black man gets shot? No.
A young black man from Chicago donated $1 million to CPS for arts education.“
“[Chance and I] both represent Chatham, which isn’t a specific locality. Chatham is a state of mind,” said Cole, the leader of the “My Block, My Hood, My City” initiative, via email. “And that state of mind is reflected in his donation to CPS. To truly make our City better, we need to do better. For things to really change, we need to change. Chance the Rapper used his platform to help change the narrative of Chicago. A young black man gets shot? No. A young black man from Chicago donated $1 million to CPS for arts education.”
It was a moment that forced the hip hop community and culture in Chi to get woke. A moment to recognize the overall power they can attain as opposed to the little political power they actually have. Artists from Spenzo to G Herbo to Noname to Common, all felt the Tao of Chance’s call-to-action. All knowing that while lack of funding is only a fraction of the problems that exist within CPS, the awareness Chance has brought to the overall crisis will open eyes that are usually blind to such urgent matters.
Celebs and notables from NBA star Derrick Rose to Seattle Seahawks lineman Michael Bennett to former First Lady Michelle Obama publicly praised Chance for his effort.
If nothing else Chance has taken away (some of) the fear of consequences that might happen when one person, even a famous person, goes directly against political power. More than anything, his move should be looked at as a first step.
Still there remain some who feel that move was just a stunt. A “moment” grab. They maintain that a one time $1M donation in the face of a years-long crisis—with the actual deficit hovering just south of $800M—rings hollow.
The Governor’s office responded by pointing out that “individual contributions will never be enough to address the financial challenges facing CPS.” And there were others who refused to get caught up in the symbolism of Chance’s gesture.
Truestar founder and Executive Director Na-tae’ Thompson, whose business is partners with CPS and CPS’s After School Matters program, posted a response to Chance on her FB page: “Nice gesture, but not that smart of a move. CPS students will not see that doe. This is better for star power and notoriety than the students it’s supposed to help. Everyone high-fiving, but in the big scheme of things, what will it really do?”
Chicago RedEye reporter and cultural critic Bryan Crawford also voices doubts: “I think what Chance did is admirable and his heart is certainly in the right place. But if he really wants to do something that will help these children, dumping money into a failing system that has failed our kids for decades, ain’t it.”
The Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell went a whole other direction by strategically releasing a front-page story two days after Chance’s press conference that was based on court documents involving Chance’s parenting of his own child.
But local MC and ChiArts graduate Paris Michael sees a different motive behind Chance’s public challenge: “From what I can tell of Chance wouldn’t do anything for publicity or as a stunt,” says the NYU student whose Doves Don’t Cry Anymore EP debuted last year. “He has most of the publicity he needs already just by existing. I think this donation came out of frustration with the governor for not ‘doing his job’. It also seemed like a challenge. How does it look politically that a rapper from the ‘hood’ is doing more for public schools than the actual governor? It feels like a ‘your turn’ move by Chance. Challenge? Maybe. Stunt? Absolutely not.”
FakeShoreDrive’s Andrew Barber agrees: “Monetary wise, well, not many of the artists who live in Chicago are in the same tax bracket as Chance,” the originator of Chicago’s hip hop compendium said. “But I do think Chance’s generous donation will be a call-to-action for other rappers. While they may not be able to match Chance financially, they can take action in other ways, such as donating time, and being involved on a ground level—not to mention using their platforms to spread awareness and call out the system on their BS. Yes, this is a money issue. But there are other ways artists with a voice can contribute. And I think that was Chance’s goal the whole time—to inspire the change—and make an impact any way you can, with whatever resources you have. Someone just had to shift the notion that rappers can’t make a difference. Chance proved that.”
Did the governor underestimate Chance’s public and political savvy? Did his office think a rapper’s neo-to-no political acumen had no role or no business getting in the middle of a state funded-city governed educational standoff? Or did Rauner just not care because he knows at the true end of the day Chance’s $1M won’t change a damn thing? Does he feel like his power and leverage over the educational future of an entire school system will never be diminished by what his office feels is just some former CPS kid who won a few Grammys and is now simply grandstanding?
Mendoza put the promise of Chance’s donation in big-picture perspective: “If Chance has done anything, it might mean the Chicago hip hop community begins to unite and starts tying together resources to support students, the homeless, or struggling adults to get a bigger push for support by city agencies and donations,” he said. “Imagine Chance, Kanye, Common, Twista, Keef, (Lil) Durk, (Lil) Bibby, Mick Jenkins and on and on—all working as a unit to place a spotlight on areas of need. That would be amazing!”
In 1994, in the book Last Black Mecca: Hip Hop, I went all pie-in-the-sky in a chapter entitled, “1996: Dope Fiction or Butter Politics,” where I basically spoke fictitious-futuristic truth to power by giving hip hop artists cabinet positions in the White House. Ice Cube, president; Q-Tip, Secretary of State; Queen Latifah, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. KRS-One was my Secretary of Education.
“The time has come to put better use to the African (American) buying dollar and transfer it into ‘personal priorities of political privilege,’” I wrote. “A radical analysis is a solution for a racially incorrect society… it will show a ‘holistic unity’ in politics that America has never seen before.”
When speaking to the power of hip hop and hip hop artists the rule of thumb goes like this: P”ut your money where your mouth has the most needed voice.”
For Chance, it is education. He just had to “play politics” in order to make some noise. So fuck the money. That doesn’t seem to be the mission—just the call. Chance is doing more than raising funds, he’s raising awareness.
In other words, #SUPPORTCPS… #byanymeansnecessary.
After the meeting with Rauner, Chance tweeted this: “Chicago Public Schools and I did not lose today. Please don’t let that become the narrative. Monday morning I’ll have a plan.”
Monday came. Damned if he didn’t.