By Zach Ainbinder-Barkley, Mitzvah Corps Chicago 2017 Participant
Last week, Mitzvah Corps Chicago went to Young Chicago Authors, a non-profit that helps young Chicago rappers, poets, and musicians express themselves through poetry. Famous Chicago artists such as Chance The Rapper, Saba, Vic Mensa, and Noname have started their careers reading their poems, verses, and songs at humble open mic events such as the one we went to. What made this place unique was that it was a safespace. When we entered the venue, the MC warned that any artist who used any racist, sexist, homophobic and/or xenophobic lines in their music would be asked to leave the stage.
During the open mic event, artists of all different walks of life told their struggles. It seems that telling your story in the form of a poem or song can help someone else better understand your struggles or feelings. There was a woman who spoke about how aborting her child was a way to relieve the feeling of being violated; another person said that it took her three suicide attempts to realize that being gone wouldn’t solve her problems; a man who spoke about how we can find the money to bring ourselves into the future, but we cannot find the money to help feed millions of starving children.
Reflecting on this event, a lot of feelings come to mind. Until that night, I never had the opportunity to take a walk in the shoes of someone who struggled, lived in poverty or fear, or has been a victim of any type of violence. While I am thankful the life I have, there is a part of me that feels guilty hearing stories of struggle. It makes me realize how fortunate I am to have loving parents, a roof above my head, and the ability to have a promising education and career.
This experience has changed me forever. It has changed the way I look at others and the way I look at my own privilege. It has changed the way I think about music and the impact it can have on your life, reminding me how you should always keep your head up, no matter what you are facing. Rabbi Hillel once asked, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?” This experience has not told me the answer, but has brought me a step closer to finding my identity in this divided world.