8 Amazing BIPOC-Led Chicago Education and Arts Orgs
It’s no secret to anyone that Chicago is a historically segregated city with a legacy of wildly disproportionate municipal funding. For decades, the city government has been over-investing in white communities and disinvesting in black and brown communities. Communities of color are over policed and under resourced, creating starkly different economic and social realities in communities that are spatially quite near each other.
The current pandemic has only exacerbated the segregation inherent in Chicago’s structure, as black and brown Chicagoans are 2+ times more likely to contract coronavirus, 5 times more likely to be hospitalized, and twice as likely to die from the disease. At the same time, non-white Chicago Public Schools students are much more likely to be partially or totally unable to access remote learning classes, leaving a growing digital divide that often falls along racial lines.
This summer’s uprising and racial reckoning forced Chicagoans all over to confront this reality. We can’t go back to ignoring the wildly disparate experiences of folks on different sides of the city. We can’t turn our back on the push for equity and equal funding. The events of the summer must continue everyday through individual action and intention.
It’s more important than ever to support and invest in organizations committed to equity and anti-racist action, especially in the realm of the arts and education. Below are 8 amazing BIPOC-led Chicago Education and Arts Organizations who are doing important work in the City of Chicago.
If you have a few bucks to spare, consider donating to support some of these BIPOC-led organizations. If money is tight, there are other ways you can get involved, like volunteering with any of these fantastic orgs.
This is a BIPOC-led nonprofit program that develops entrepreneurial know-how amongst black high-schoolers, preparing them to go out and start their own businesses. They’ve helped over 300 students in the last five years, and sponsored five teen-led businesses. Gray Matter believes in the self-determination and liberation of black youth though unlocking imagination and economic opportunity. Participants learn many skills necessary for solopreneurship, and are placed in relevant internships and professional positions. Gray Matter provides resources and material assistance to help teens get their business ideas off of the ground.
This BIPOC-led organization is a multi-focused one, but aims to fill the gaps in under-resourced communities, particularly through providing educational experiences. Their Explorer’s Program takes teens on educational explorations, either focusing on Arts Education, Culinary Experiences, Recreation, or Education and Vocation. These explorations connect teens with new areas of the city, sights, experiences, and opportunities. This program combats isolation and trauma, and prioritizes interconnectivity and empathy. Chicago is an incredible city, and a huge one, and this program aims to bring teens to corners of the city they might never have seen. Participants get to go on eight Explorations and are first in line to receive internship opportunities.
This Englewood-based organization focuses on professional development, community service projects, and treating trauma amongst young people. Their programming includes art programs, athletic activities, teaching first-aid skills, creating safe hangout spaces, and operating a food pantry. They are also partnered with Southwest Employment Collaborative and help teens search for jobs, apply confidently, and get certifications for different types of professions. Good Kids Mad City kind of does it all, providing teens with safe spaces to do basically anything they dream of. Finally, they have a BIPOC-led police accountability program focused on creating a better experience with policing through de-escalation training and introducing legislation.
Young Chicago Authors is a nationally influential BIPOC-led organization, as the first to start a major slam poetry competition. It’s a writing-based nonprofit that focuses on poetry and spoken word, while building intercity community. They believe that by providing space for young people to express themselves through poetry, they encourage the healing of trauma, critical discussion, and youth leadership. YCA encourages the expression of lived experience, rooting their pedagogy in a rich legacy of Chicago writers and hip-hop culture. They host workshops, open mics, competitions, and development programs and are based in Wicker Park.
HPAC is the oldest continually operated independent art space in Chicago, home to a roster of innovative contemporary art installations and exhibitions. Equity and inclusion is central to their mission, as they break down the race and class barriers that still plague the art world. They also provide a variety of educational arts programming to youth and teens. They offer youth art classes year-round, as well as a summer Creativity Camp. For teens, they offer the ArtShop, a free project-based independent learning program for Southside high-schoolers to dive into high-level art projects. HPAC also has a Youth Board of Artists, which allows teens from the community to take a leadership role in the kinds of programming that they want to see. Check out their website for a full roster of classes and programming.
CFS is proof of Chicago’s unique legacy of radical activism, and part of the larger Freedom School movement, a legacy of the Civil RIghts activism of the 1960s. They focus on teaching civic engagement, leadership, and community organizing, working from a philosophy of liberation. They train folks in anti-oppression practices that name, analyze, and disrupt actions that enforce white supremacy, empowering their students to change their interactions with the world around them.They offer a Freedom Fellowship for young activists of color, training them in the Freedom Schools practices and engaging them with the events of the current moment. Project HealUs is a 10 week journey through the history of reproductive justice, dealing with the intersections of racism and misogyny. Finally, they have a Youth Leadership Board and Youth Evaluation Team so that past Freedom Fellows can have a hand in CFS’s future development.
Yollocalli Arts Reach is the National Museum of Mexican Art’s youth initiative, whose focus spans everything from art to music production to literature. Their mission is to provide equitable access to art and culture for youth ages 13-24. They cater to a largely LatinX and Indigenous community of teens and young adults, offering a wide range of programming that is alway free. One of their signature programs is the mural program, where teens get a chance to work on murals across the city of Chicago. Since 1997, they’ve worked on almost 50 murals! They also offer radio and journalism training, hosting a weekly show on WLPN 105.5 FM. They host tons of classes, provide a wealth of free health and safety resources, and have a Leadership Council that empowers teens to take leadership positions.
Affinity Community Services is an amazing BIPOC-led organization working to serve the Chicago black LGBTQ+ community with a focus on black women. Affinity Community is a multi-focused organization, but specializes in education, health and wellness, and community organizing. They have peer-led Affinity groups that create safe spaces for discussion and healing for many different groups. They train advocates who are ready to educate folks about HIV/AIDs, seeking to center black women and femmes in the conversation. They facilitate outreach events dealing with a variety of topics, from marriage equality to immigrant justice, seeking to interrupt cycles of inequality.
IPaintMyMind has created an exclusive t-shirt in collaboration with artist Sam Kirk, and 50% of the profits will benefit Affinity Community Services. The other 50% of the profits will help us continue our work to make arts education more accessible and equitable.
Creating An Ecosystem
At IPMM, we don’t look at our programming in a vacuum. Chicago is a huge city, and we’re part of an ecosystem of nonprofits and organizations solving problems based in education and the arts. We believe that by supporting other nonprofits and organizations, we help the ecosystem flourish. Together, we get more done and we reach more people.
We’re simply a catalyst for action, impact, and change, and we want to share the power of our community, which is our driving force, with our fellow nonprofits.
We also want to do all we can to amplify the voices of BIPOC leaders and educators in the current moment. They have been doing the hard work for generations and deserve as much support as we can give them!
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