As Roykcopp Pandora station blasts in the background, I look into the mirror and go over my pre-gala check list: shoes shined -- check; wrinkle- and lent-free tux -- check; straightened tie -- check; business cards -- check, non-offensive breath -- check. I receive a text alerting me that my taxi is downstairs waiting. I cringe at the thought of how much a taxi will cost from 79th street and Ashland to the Hilton in the Loop. However, I cringe even more of the thought of riding the 79th street bus to only transfer at the 79th state red line stop -- all in my tux.
As my taxi makes its way to the Hilton from my apartment, I notice the change. Shady corner stores and liquor stores are replaced by Trader Joe's and trendy cafes, while dilapidated buildings transition into newly-erected condominiums in the South Loop. I think to myself that it wasn't that long ago when the South Loop wasn't such the fast growing glamorous real estate treasure it is today. But I also notice similar mundane activities throughout neighborhoods during my taxi ride: People commuting from work, high school kids hanging out, people packing up groceries in their car and other day-to-day things.
I pay my taxi the usual $25 ride to the Hilton, as well as thank and tip him for picking me up; this isn't and won't be my last taxi to and from the Hilton for an event. I enter the grand ballroom of the Hilton and I'm immediately greeted with friendly, familiar faces from past events. As I make my way through conversations and the crowd, there are luncheon ladies adorned in at least $20,000, budding philanthropists sharing how they are auctioning off their parents' lake houses for the charity's silent auction, all while we wait to be seated to a $750 plate dinner.
I've never had any sort of insecurity about class, and never felt that people should apologize for their moneyed backgrounds or non-moneyed ones, but I couldn't help but think, "Damn, does everyone come from money? Does everyone have these highbrow social backgrounds?" And it was then that I thought to myself; I wasn't suppose to make it this far. According to statistics, stereotypes and maybe even some people in the room, I'm not suppose to be here because I wasn't suppose to make it this far.
I grew up in a stable, loving middle-class family that made a home in Auburn Gresham on the South Side in Chicago. My parents invested in my sister and me. They sent us to good, private schools, study abroad programs, great colleges, and overall, made sure we had the necessary resources and access to build a solid foundation for success. This was practiced not only by my parents, but also by my extended family for their kids as well as my grandparents for my parents. Even with my family's support -- statistically, I'm living on borrowed time.
According to The Black Star Project, murders of Black males between the ages of 14 to 17 years of age rose 40 percent between 2000 and 2007. I was just starting high school in 2000. In 2001, the chances of going to prison were highest among Black males (32.2 percent). I was just entering my sophomore year of high school in 2001. In 2003, 1,172 Black children and teenagers in the United States died from gunfire. I was just graduating from high school in 2003.
I don't live life by statistics, nor do I navigate through life over selling my identity as some brand. However, my identity as a black man from the South Side of Chicago is a part of who I am. Because of this, I do have to deal with outside perceptions and at times stereotypes about that part of my identity. Whether it was with fellow students in the classroom at my private, Catholic all-boys high school, or with other Auburn Gresham neighborhood kids I grew up with on my block, parties at my fraternity's house in college, to even now at some of the galas and benefits I cover for my job, I have always had the personal, upheaval battle of balancing my identity and background with the perceptions and stereotypes of my identity from outsiders.
This balancing act can seep into the most innocuous of conversations. For instance, at an event I'm covering for my job when I'm asked where I'm from in the city, I have reservations and hesitate to reveal the answer. Will they have these assumptions? Will they stereotype me? Will they question my presence at such an event? I answer the question but almost always follow-up with a, "But I went to Brother Rice," the Catholic, private all-boys high school I attended, or I mention my undergraduate at the Missouri School of Journalism as if my academic background somehow makes up for being from the wrong side of the tracks. I stop myself from going deeper by mentioning that I have family who own and maintain rental properties in the area or that my sister bought my grandparent's house to keep in the family. I want to mention this not out of arrogance or to impress people, but to show that I belong, that my family invested in just as much in my pedigree and that Auburn Gresham is just where they decided to make a home. The same applies when I'm in conversation and interacting with people from my neighborhood or similar ones. I feel a need to prove that I haven't forgotten where I come from because of my education and my job. Even though I cover and attend these high-profile events in the city and travel to other cities for my job, I still ride that 79th street bus back to my apartment at the end of the day. I'm one of you.
As I grow older and more comfortable with myself, I apologize less and less about where I'm from in the city. I'm slowly realizing the great disservice I'm doing with my hesitation to reveal my neighborhood because I'm not the only one with such a background from the South Side of Chicago. Being from Auburn Gresham, matched with my schooling and family's influence, is exactly what enables me to relate and write to a varied audience, from 79th street to Michigan Ave. downtown. I'm certainly not a stereotype, and I don't care to think of myself as an anomaly or a unicorn. I'm from the South Side. I'm from Clint and Marilyn Chappell (my parents). And even independent from all where I'm from, I'm here now. So, I belong.