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  • Dr. Obari Cartman

23 parts of MY Chicago that Spike Lee Missed in 'Chiraq'

I thought I would hate the film. The trailer, interviews and soundtrack had me expecting the worst. The ‘self-inflicted genocide’ language was problematic at best. However, the film was careful enough not to excuse the systemic architects of violence, which allowed me to go along with Lee’s fanatical, not perfect, dramatic and often ridiculous theatrical adventure. It was such a wild ride that I forgot sometimes it was supposed to be about Chicago.

The sentiment from many Windy City residents has been “the film doesn’t feel very Chicago” - reasonable feedback for such an intimate topic. One problem with neglecting hometown accuracy is that it contributes to the false narrative that Black Chicago is a danger zone uninhabitable by the civilized. Spike got a glimpse of that when an interviewer said he didn’t want to visit. Also, Spike is getting credit for sparking dialogue about serious issues, as if we’ve just been sitting around twiddling our thumbs. An uninformed audience member might walk away with the impression that a white Catholic preacher is the only person in the city providing sound analysis and meaningful solutions.

In each of the 4 cities I’ve lived as an adult I encountered people that were unimpressed, bored, or lonely. Each time I wonder if we’re talking about the same city. My cities are always vibrant, full of culture, art, seekers, healers and builders. Chicago is no different. Spike came looking for violence, and he found it. But there’s so much to Chicago than tragedy. And I don’t even mean Navy Pier, deep dish pizza and improv. Most White people live in a whole ‘nother Chicago. My Chicago is diverse Black. My Chicago is rich in the ways that matter. My Chicago is not consumed with warfare (but is very aware of it). My Chicago was nowhere to be found in Spike Lee’s film. So for the onlookers, and unfortunately for many Chicago natives, I’d like to make some introductions:

Phenom (get his new album here) and K-Love are building an empire. Through performances, workshops, and a weekly youth open mic (on Tuesdays @the KLEO center) they teach young people to heal, fight, and love through art.

2. The Ones

Separately Yaw and Khari Lemuel are powerful and prolific artists. Together, they are magic. In a perfect world they would be the face of Chicago soul music, and R. Kelly would be a cashier at Harolds.

These African-centered schools (New Concept Development Center, Betty Shabazz International Charter School, Barbara Sizemore, which is in trouble) taught most of my family, blood and extended, that education must be designed to understand and elevate Black people.

Founded in 1961 by Dr. Margaret Burroughs, they still find new ways to educate and remain relevant.

CEO, Cassiopeia does it all, branding, marketing, public speaking, graphic design and she’s one of the country’s most effective advocates of Black economic development. Check out the Black business directory!

This group of young activists is not just attempting to continue the work but they are extending it. They are consistent, intelligent, energetic, and ask the tough questions about who is included in our vision for Black liberation.

7. Communiversity

The Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies has been a hub of scholar activists for decades. They always make opportunities to open their doors for the best intellectuals to engage with the community.

One of the oldest and premiere African drum and dance companies in the country is right here, still teaching and performing amazing work. Their intergenerational, multidisciplinary concerts must be experienced by everyone.

9. 63rd st beach

When it’s warm out there’s an open drum circle on the lake; my father used to take us there. I still crave being that feeling of family, fun, rhythm, and dancing. It always smells like jerk chicken and Blackness.

10. Nation of Islam

No can deny the impact this institution has had on transforming lives, instilling courage, and showing us what we can accomplish when we decide to organize and do for self.

11. Africa night

The first Saturday of every night, for 3 years and counting, Generations for Progress has hosted a gathering for families to fellowship, share art, eat, learn, and build bridges between Africans from across the diaspora.

Phillip Jackson is a force, a thunderstorm of passion, love and vision. His commitment to educating and protecting our babies inspires me every day.

13. Chance the rapper

I just like him. I believe him. He is immensely talented, he is doing this his own way, and is bringing his friends along.

I could eat here every day. 1966 E 73rd St.

I found it a bit disrespectful to release ‘Chiraq’ on the same day as Chairman Fred Hampton’s assassination, and then to never mention him. Thankfully we still have his son Fred Hampton Jr. and his organization Prisoners of Conscience Committee, doing the work, like our lives depend on it.

16. Oscar Brown Jr’s legacy

The verse style of Chiraq reminded me of Baba Brown. He is a one man cultural institution. And his family of artists and activists, Maggie Brown, Africa, and their brilliant children represent him well.

This crew of DJ’s and curators don’t just put on the best concerts and parties, but they all regular old fashioned good folk too. When you work hard and play hard it’s better when the music feels good.

18. Lupe Fiasco

Lyrically he is in a class of his own. His work is more literature than rap. Any he’s for real doing work in the city, not just entertainment. Any soundtrack that has to with Chicago is incomplete without him.

She was supposed to be our mayor right now, but is she much too smart, too African and too woman for the job. Maybe the voters will pay better attention next time, if she is kind of to consider letting us be led by her again.

Kwesi Ronald Harris loves us. No one have ever doubted it. He’s the director of the African American Male Resource Center, a spiritual leader, a survivor, and organizer of the best Kwanzaa celebration left in the city. And he’s so much more to so many.

Food, music, beautiful people, drums, books… literally all of my favorite things in one place. Every year is divided by before the African Fest and after the African Fest.

22. Ile Akoda

Chicago’s commitment to studying the ways of ancient African cultures is evident in several organizations I love: the Ausar Auset society, The Earth Center, The Association for the Study of Classical Civilizations, and others. The group I call home is headed by a third generation priest who’s been trained and initiated as a Babalawo, Olorisha, Hungan and Alagba since childhood. He’s crazy smart.

Kamm Howard is one of my favorite scholar activists. He fights for us on all fronts, he supports the artists, he’s in the streets, he brings his children to work, his analysis is international and dynamic. As a representative of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations he knows the actual names, dates and companies in Chicago that owe a debt to us.

~Dr. Cartman is the author a new book about family, manood, relationships and culture. You can purchase it here.

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