Chance the Rapper to Politicians: This Is What it Looks Like to Care About Black and Brown Kids

You know those folks who like to complain about an artist's social activism? The ones who say that actors, singers, or dancers need to shut up and stick to performing? On Monday, Chicago native Chance the Rapper essentially told all those complainers to have a seat.

The hip hop star, born Chancelor Bennett, showed up at Westcott Elementary, a campus in the South Side neighborhood he grew up in, and announced that he's donating $1 million to support arts programs in the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools.

"Our kids should not be held hostage because of political positioning," Chance said during a classroom press conference, which he livestreamed on Twitter via the Periscope app. If Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner doesn't agree to provide $215 million to the district, "CPS will be forced to end school 13 days early, which means over 380,000 kids will not have adult supervised activities in June and could possibly be put in harms way," Chance said. Summer school might be canceled, too.

Of course, if folks in power don't really care about black and brown kids, they won't worry about what happens if those youth are out of school on June 1. Perhaps it's more politically expedient for some elected officials to stoke white folks' fear of black and brown kids who live in highly segregated neighborhoods in Chicago. And maybe the underfunding of Chicago Public Schools is deliberate.
Indeed, a suit the Board of Education of the City of Chicago filed in February against the Illinois State Board of Education and Rauner alleges that racism is at the crux of the fight over unequal school funding.

"The state treats CPS's schoolchildren, who are predominantly African American and Hispanic, as second-class children, relegated to the back of the state's education funding school bus," says the lawsuit.

Kids living in the suburbs around Chicago are reaping the rewards of inequality. "In Fiscal Year 2016, the State spent 74 cents to educate Chicago's children for every dollar the State spent to educate the predominantly white children outside Chicago," says the suit.

But don't think that just because the Chicago Board of Education is suing over funding inequities, that its hands are clean. In 2013, the board, which is appointed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, made the controversial decision to shutter roughly 50 schools that it said were underutilized due to low enrollment.

These schools were mostly located in low income neighborhoods of color on the South and West sides of the city. A couple of months later, however, the board encouraged charter school operators to apply to open campuses in some of the same neighborhoods where schools had been closed.
An analysis released in July 2016 by WBEZ found that when it comes time to improve old campuses or build new ones in wealthier, whiter parts of the city, the district has plenty of cash to spend. Since Rahm Emanuel took office, "$475 million or 73 percent of all money went to schools where white students make up more than a quarter of the student body. That’s in a school system in which only 12 percent of Chicago’s schools have more than 25 percent white students," according to WBEZ.

It's no wonder then that in a post on its blog, the Chicago Teachers Union wrote that the district's "'civil rights' lawsuit against the state is a cynical political ploy designed to divert attention from the failed leadership and flawed decision-making of Mayor Emanuel, who has failed to adequately pursue progressive revenue for the city’s schools."

Draconian funding cuts have made it difficult or impossible for schools to "provide wrap-around supports for students dealing with unprecedented levels of trauma as a result of the threats of deportations and violence in their neighborhoods and the severe cuts to special education services for some of our most vulnerable students," wrote the union. "By our count, Chicago school communities have suffered over $2 billion worth of cuts under this Mayor’s 'leadership.'"
With his donation, Chance is calling out all the hypocrisy of politicians who engage in handwringing and buck-passing about the city's murder rate while making decisions that allow the schools to be defunded.

"Everybody and their momma knows about what's going on in Chicago, it's constantly talked about. But we're about to enhance the conversation," Chance said at the press conference.

The rapper explained that he met with Governor Rauner last Friday "to urge him to do his job." According to Chance, Rauner can use his executive power to allocate the money to the district, which would "give Chicago's children the resources they need to fulfill their God-given right to learn."

In response to Chance's plea for action, Rauner "gave me a lot of vague answers at our meeting," Chance said.

Rauner made a follow up phone call to Chance over the weekend but he,"still won't commit to giving Chicago's kids a chance without caveats or ultimatums," Chance said. This was probably Chance's face while he was on the phone with Rauner:

But the Grammy award-winning artist said his frustration and disappointment with the situation "will not stop me from continuing to do all I can to support Chicago's most valuable resource: It's children."

He challenged other local and national corporations to offer their financial support—and he hopes individuals will help him close the rest of the school district's $215 million budget gap by contributing to a fundraising drive on the website of SocialWorks, his Chicago-based nonprofit. At the same time, he explicitly cautioned against relying on the generosity of the public to fix Chicago's education inequities.

"Charitable donations certainly help fill gaps to provide enrichment opportunities inside and outside of the classroom, but can't make up for less-than-adequate state funding of our schools," he wrote on his website. "The state of Chicago Public Schools needs to be remedied, and it's the Governor's job to lead that effort."


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