South Side Stories Spotlight, January 2015: Loss

Each month, Ci3’s South Side Stories project features digital stories that spotlight the lives of adolescents and young adults from the South Side of Chicago. This January, we reflect on loss. Personal loss challenges, forms, and transforms us. Grief and bereavement are particularly poignant for adolescents. In this month’s spotlight, we feature stories by Charles, Nailah and Jajuan, in which each youth grapples with family loss. Through these stories, we experience death after a long life, death after a brief life, and finally a story of premature loss due to incarceration. South Side Stories highlights the bravery of storytellers and the power of stories. As we welcome the New Year, we salute these youth, their courage, and their stories of loss and of hope.

South Side Stories January 1

In All I Have, Charles presents his perspective on the death of two family members. Charles opens with an emphasis on how important family is to him, juxtaposing images of his family against words about his struggle with his peers and community. His narration has a clear rhyme and rhythm, though peppered with sudden interruptions and pauses, not unlike those brought on by the loss of his loved ones. He fondly remembers times with his grandfather and cousin, then tells of the shock and hurt of his grandfather passing and his cousin’s suicide. Charles incessantly questions, “Why? … I just kept wondering: why?” While he clearly appreciates and loves the family he currently has, he still wonders, “Sometimes, I wish he would just bring them back.”

In In Memory Of, Nailah brings us into the intimate moment of her grandmother’s death. Nailah’s story begins at a festive time — her graduation from grammar school — before quickly turning to the hospitalization of her grandmother.  As “things got really crazy,” she jumps forward two months, when her grandmother’s health has declined. Throughout her piece, Nailah contrasts actual events with ideal events. She tells us how her grandmother felt sick and looked beautiful. She describes her grandmother’s sickness as a blur, but paints a finely detailed scene: the coldness in her grandmother’s hand, the hospital bed, and her own body on a hot day in August. Nailah struggles with the doctors and nurses coming to “help save” her grandmother in those last few moments, as “people of no significance” block Nailah’s view of someone so significant to her. The contrasts in Nailah’s story illustrate the conflict that arises when letting someone go – someone who was so lively, yet passes away quietly.

Finally, in Searching, Jajuan reminds us that loss is not only due to death. Instead, Jajuan struggles when his father is incarcerated. When his father is sent to jail, he struggles with his father’s absence, and with comprehending what his father had done. He starts us just where he started, not knowing why his father was taken away, before slowly revealing the truth he learned. “The day you went away I sat and wondered, ‘What did he do?’ They would never tell me. I guess I was too young to understand…” Despite his father’s absence, Jajuan asks his father pointed questions, and challenges his father to reflect on his actions. However, when his dad returns, Jajuan’s words and description soften dramatically, as he recognizes he is searching not only to  understand his father’s actions and imprisonment, but also for a connection to someone who he had lost.

Click here for the full January spotlight, which includes broader implications and a resource guide.

South Side Stories is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation.

South Side Spotlight, July 2014: Betrayal, Bullying and Resilience

SSS July

Each month South Side Stories will feature digital stories that spotlight the lives of adolescents and young adults from the South Side of Chicago.

This month, we feature digital stories by four young women who convey tales of betrayal, bullying, and inner resourcefulness.

The first story, Rumors, voices the story of Alexia and her feelings about being pressured into having sex by her boyfriend—convinced that this was the only way to prove her love to him. Later, Alexia feels betrayed when her boyfriend loses interest in her and the rumors begin to circulate. This story highlights the complex decisions young women face when learning how to develop healthy romantic relationships, including the decision to have sex. The betrayal Alexia expresses is common and highlights the gendered stereotypes that many adolescent girls confront when becoming sexually active, as well as the importance of having trusted friends and adults to make sense of such experiences.

“Hearing the story from an outsider’s perspective sounded so naïve and stupid…What made me feel even lower was not having anyone to talk to.”

In the second story, Overcome, a young girl confronts the realities of substance abuse by people in her life when she discovers some unsettling evidence in her boyfriend’s room: “I don’t speak; I just show.” Her denial that her boyfriend is using drugs gives way to anger and then, sadness. The images of cracks in the sidewalk, empty parking lots, a gated entrance, and discarded trash are potent symbols of her loneliness and despair. The story captures the hope, sadness, disillusionment, and longing that touch many youth who have witnessed the pain of drug abuse.

“My heart was shattered, and I no longer believed in the saying ‘Love can conquer anything.’” 

Bullying can have a profoundly negative impact on young people’s health and well-being and our third story, Bloodhounds, tells Priya’s story of being bullied by a former close friend. Her story captures the essence of a great friendship—“from the sleepovers to lunch outings to sitting next to each other on every trip. How we grew together from children to teens”—that is interrupted by the transition to adolescence, as “middle school brings change.”  The reoccurring motif of moving along a lonely path is a powerful symbol of the haunted pursuit of name calling. Along the way she becomes stronger.

“I will keep running as your words seem to find me like bloodhounds.”

The final story, Confidence, illustrates the inner strength of Najm as she describes her experience of being taunted and teased by people in her life. . Her struggle to fight against her insecurities and be “fearless, courageous, brave and very bold” is a common experience for adolescent girls, especially those who are bullied or teased by their peers. The repeated image of a young woman flexing her muscles is symbolic of Najm increasing self-esteem and exercising her will to believe in herself in spite of adversity.

“All my life people have been telling me what I’m not: not pretty, not cool enough…. Most of all that I don’t belong.

Together, these stories highlight the challenges and difficult transitions young women face during adolescence. Their collective voices demonstrate the need for safe emotional spaces and representations of healthy relationships in their social environment. Further, these stories demonstrate the resiliency of these young women.

We thank the storytellers for sharing their stories and honor their inner strength and courage.

South Side Stories aims to raise the voices of African American youth living on the South Side of Chicago, and to create an innovative body of social science research and education to better inform community members who work with youth. South Side Stories is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation. For more about the project, visit southsidestories.org.

South Side Spotlight: Pride (June 2014)

SSS Larry

Each month, Ci3’s South Side Stories project will feature different digital stories in the South Side Spotlight.

In honor of Gay Pride Month, here is a rare glimpse into the lives of two young men living in Chicago.

First we feature Aaron’s story, “Black Rainbows”, in which he talks about the North Side gay community and the South Side African American community. The motif of the train is a powerful symbol of moving between separate worlds.  A number of issues arise through his words—Gay Pride, Black Pride, segregation, discrimination, belonging—as he asks “Why isn’t Black a color on the rainbow?”

The second is Larry’s story, “Inside/Out”, in which he talks about the relief and anxiety of disclosing one’s sexual orientation to parents and family. “Anticipation haunts me.” Sounds— long pauses, a phone ringing, a warm voice, a sigh of relief—illustrate how uneasiness and happiness coexist. Despite her kind reaction, Larry still states “no mother wants a gay son.”

Together, the stories highlight the importance of identity, resilience, and acceptance among African American gay youth and the larger LGBT community. We thank the authors for sharing their stories and honor their pride.

South Side Stories aims to raise the voices of African American youth ages 13-24 living on the South Side of Chicago, and create an innovative body of social science research and education to better inform community members who work with youth. South Side Stories is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation.

For more about the project, visit http://southsidestories.org.