Tuesday, June 8, 2010


It's about time for me to start talking about what's up in Chi-town.

Basically, I'm here on a fellowship, working on a congressional campaign to elect Dan Seals as the Representive for the 10th District of Illinois (or the area just north of Chicago). He's seriously awesome, and my love for him falls just below that of Obama. Sadly, though, I'm not sure how much I can write about the specific work that I'm doing in the campaign - I feel pretty badass saying that - because I signed a release in the beginning saying I wouldn't blog about it. So, while I'm still able to blog about life in general (I think), I can't say much about what I'm doing at work. (Plus, I don't want to be the one that tips off the opponent's campaign about anything really important.) But, it's not like I would want to go into great detail about that stuff anyway, given the hours-long monotony of it all. Some of it is really cool - and some of it just...isn't. That's the way it goes, I guess.

I'm living in Wilmette, which is an upper-class neighborhood that boasts its proximity to both the city of Chicago, and Lake Michigan. While I neither completely fit in with, nor understand the ridiculously wealthy lifestyle around here, I must admit that it is beautiful. Mary, the woman with whom I'm living, took us (Sammy, my housemate, and me) on a drive around the village of Wilmette and Kenilworth in the first couple of days, and showed us some beautiful houses, and the gorgeous lake about 5 minutes down the road. Frank Lloyd Wright has designed some houses in this area, and Chris Kennedy, son of Robert, lives here too.

I really am impressed by it all, and if I'm honest, a little part of me feels drawn to the path in life that would lead to the wealth and 'success' that surrounds me as I type. Who wouldn't? 

I don't think I could have experienced a much more different atmosphere to Wilmette than the area I went to with some friends over the weekend. This past Saturday, my fellow fellows and I took a trip to the west side of Chicago to help out at a food give-away in Humboldt Park. As we were riding on the bus, there was a very clear moment when we crossed the boundary from beautiful downtown, tourist-laden Chicago to the degraded, poverty-stricken neighborhoods just outside. I mean, really, the differences are stark. And shocking. And upsetting.

Even though we were an hour and a half late for the food give-away, we were still of some custodial use, and we helped sweep, mop and wipe down the cafeteria. While we were cleaning, a little girl came over and was standing by the door, just watching us. She was only seven,  her name was Jakhiya and she was beautiful. I don't really know much about her story (although I did ask the typical 7 year old questions - "what school do you go to?", "what's your teacher's name?", "is she nice?", etc.), except that she spends everyday at that YMCA. Every. Day. 

Her other friend, Toniyah, probably does, too. They go to school, and from there, go straight to the Y. They get help on their homework, play sports, do activities, etc. I guess that's a good thing in many ways. At least they're there and being taken care of, rather than somewhere where they're not being looked after. It's not like you can blame their parents (maybe you can - like I said, I don't know the story) who probably have to work double shifts and multiple jobs just to feed Jakhiya and her five siblings. 

It took all of about 30 seconds for Jakhiya to come out of her shell and walk me around the building, and ask to help with the cleaning. A little part of me thinks she just appreciated that somebody appreciated her. It's not like I even did anything. I just talked and joked and listened for a whole 30 minutes. I would hate to think that I played a part in "rescuing" her that day, I'm certainly not that conceited. But it really was rewarding just to be there to talk and joke and listen. 

In only an hour and a half of time spent in Humboldt Park, I had my eyes opened to some of the poverty that exists a mere train ride away from the exceedingly wealthy North Shore. It was a very grounding experience. I would just *love* to hear, one more time, how we're all given the same chance at birth to succeed. "It's all about education and hard work. If you want it badly enough, you'll make it happen. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps!" 

A lot of the people in Humboldt Park probably don't even have any bootstraps, damnit. 

Ok, rant over. It just seems very surreal to me that such disparate worlds can exist in such close proximity to each other. I'm trying not to build up any super-idealistic notions about the whole situation, but I feel like, while I'm here, I have a really good opportunity to help, in a very practical way. It's kind of a relief to know that my summer doesn't need to be spent floating around one of the wealthiest zip codes in America (which, I might add, isn't wholly wrong in itself). I love what I'm doing in the campaign, really, I do. I also think that it's a worthy campaign, for an overly worthy candidate. But if I'm honest with myself, on some levels it's a selfish endeavor, and I know I can do more. Just, more.


  1. I think wealth and success are probably overrated. Psalm 39:6