Can we Desegregate Chicago?

Posted by Sam Kirk on

I’ve been asked to create works of art that celebrate Chicago several times. Most recently, I created these pieces for Adidas, Xfinity Comcast, and Choose Chicago for SXSW. Every time my imagination takes flight throughout this city, I leave my house on the Southside and soar across every neighborhood in search of my favorite captures. I make sure to include the open fire hydrants I played in as a kid, street vendors, hand painted signs, and the train tracks that connect us.

Growing up, I didn’t really notice the segregation. As a child my home was filled with people of many colors and ethnicities. I’m mixed, so my perspective has always included many shades.

As I grew older, I realized in order to find more culture, I had to go beyond my neighborhood walls, explore this city, and build relationships with people who were different than me. I enjoyed trying a variety of dishes that weren’t served at our family events and listening to music in languages I didn’t know.

While I had no issue traveling across this city to learn about all of its cultures, the segregation started to exhaust me. I wanted to know what it felt like to live in a multi-cultural city. Over the years, I’ve traveled, lived in a few other places, but always found myself back in my home, Chicago. I still can’t shake the feeling of these boundaries.

It seems like every neighborhood has people who have been molded to feel like this segregation is normal. They stick to their “own kind” and prefer only what is in their neighbors -- so much that even communities of color are removing bridges.

This is why I am compelled to celebrate people in my work. I try to share stories about my experiences, and the experiences people share with me. I want to know how successful we would be as a city if we integrated more -- if we combined strengths and competed less -- if we built bridges and created financial sustainability amongst each other.

What would Chicago be like if it wasn’t segregated? According to a study by the Metropolitan Planning Council, if we reduced segregation to the median level for the nation’s largest metro areas, our murder rate could be cut by 30%, our economy could produce an additional $8 billion in goods and services, our African-American residents could earn an additional $3,000 per year, and 83,000 more residents could receive bachelor's degrees, which would therefore increase earnings by approximately $90 billion.

The system won’t ever change, until we do. It begins with our mindset and perspective. Let’s start the conversation. There are several organizations working towards making this change and encouraging more cross-cultural integration. Provoke Culture is one of them, and we do this with artwork and mural programs. Below is a list of other organizations that are doing amazing work in bridging communities, hosting events, or providing all-inclusive spaces in our city.

3Arts (3arts.org)

AMFM (amfm.life)

Crossroads Fund (crossroadsfund.org)

My Block, My Hood, My City (formyblock.org)

Party Noire (thepartynoire.com)

Pride Action Tank (prideactiontank.org)

Provoke Culture (provokeculture.com)

Reunion (reunionchicago.com)

Social Works (socialworkschi.org)

Slo Mo (slomoparty.com)

The Silver Room (thesilverroom.com)

Young Chicago Authors (youngchicagoauthors.org)

Please help us grow this list by sending any organizations you know about to art@provokeculture.com.

Fashion is one way we use art to deliver a message. If you want to help us spread the message, pick up a shirt on our website. 25% of all profits are donated to organizations that share similar values (see a full list on our about page).

Sam Kirk


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