06 Jun How Growing up on the South Side of Chicago prepared me to travel solo around the world.
Chi-Town is where I’m from! That’s what some people call Chicago. Chicago is known by many names, The Windy City, Chi-City, Chi-beria, and Chi-raq. Each one of these nicknames is attached to a historical event or characterization of the city that I call home. It’s funny because at this stage of my life I’ve become intimately familiar with “the why” behind each of these nicknames. However, today I want to focus on Chi-Town. The urban dictionary defines Chi-town as a nickname for Chicago that is used mostly by south side residents, and famous people from the city, giving props to their hometown.
After traveling solo to 33 countries and 49 cities for the past eighteen months, I’ve come to realize that the preparation for my solo journey started long before my departure. It started when I was just a girl, the eldest of four, with three younger brothers growing up on the south side of Chicago in the Auburn Gresham Neighborhood. Below are five things that I learned while growing up on the south side of Chicago that I believe prepared me for the biggest and best trip of my life.
1. It taught me that shit happens, but I have to push past my fears and keep going. In other words, Be fearless, God’s got my back!
It was January 2, 1981. I was three years old. I recalled the year but not the exact date for many years. My mother was pregnant with my brother William. That day, my mom and I were leaving our house. I got into the car first and sat on the armrest in the back seat. The car was my Granny’s Cadillac Fleetwood. My mother got into the car and closed the door.
As soon as she closed the door, a man appeared. He opened my mom’s car door and yanked her out of the car. He put a gun to her head. I hear him shouting, but I couldn’t understand what he said. He then jumped in the car and drove away. My mother screamed and held onto the car door. She held on while he drug her several feet. When she finally let go, I could see her lying in the street through the rear view mirror.
I said “Are you going to go get her? She is hurt! You can’t just leave her!” The man turned and looked at me. At first, he didn’t say anything, but then he asked me my name, I told him, “Mable.” He drove around for I don’t know how long and then he pulled over. He told me to stay in the car. He repeated, “Don’t get out of the car! I will be right back.” He got out of the car and ran away. The next thing I knew, my daddy and a police car pulled up next to the car. I said “Hey daddy!” My father got me out of the car and took me home to my mother. She was home because she refused to seek medical attention until she knew that I was safe.
The man who carjacked my mother called the police and told them where he left me and the car.
From that day or for as long as I can remember, My mother and I would remind each other to lock the door as soon as we’d get into a car. We had a saying “God always takes care of mommy and Mable!”
I wish that I could say that that was the last violent act that I experienced on the south side of Chicago, but that would not be true. However, with each violent occurrence that I witnessed or was a victim of, I became more resolute about changing my environment. I often recall the courage that my mother displayed when she was faced with difficult situations. She always said, “Shit happens, but you stay focused on what YOU are trying to do! And remember God always takes care of mommy and Mable! We roll with the punches because that’s what we do!”
2. It taught me the importance of forming relationships and the benefit of being a part of a community.
Many of the residents in Auburn Gresham have resided there for generations. In fact, the house that I grew up in was gifted to my mother by my maternal grandmother when I was four years old. It was the same house that my mother grew up in. Many of the neighbors that lived on “the block” had watched my mother mature through her late teens and into young adulthood. “The block” is what the young people who lived on 87th and Ada called our street.
My mother worked the evening and night shift, and my father worked the day shift but worked overtime for most of my childhood. So that meant that I was often “in charge” of my three younger brothers. In charge means that I was responsible for feeding and making sure that homework and chores were done before my mother got home from work. It was nothing for my mother to call home and tell me what to cook. If I didn’t have all of the ingredients, she would say, “Go across the street and ask Bessie or Mrs. Turner for….” either the ingredient or the money to buy the ingredient.
These same women that I borrowed sugar or flour from in my mother’s absence became my surrogate aunties. They would advise me and cheer for me. The other neighbors on the block, although I never stepped inside their homes, they were always welcoming and supportive of me. Whenever I had a school fundraiser, I would knock on everybody’s door on the block and ask for donations, and they happily contributed.
In fact, when I was leaving for college, many of my neighbors put money in my hand and told me how proud they were of me. My mother was adamant about making sure that I wrote thank you notes to each of them. The memories of the smiles on my neighbors’ faces when they saw me at the door left a lasting impression on me. Although I did not understand it at the time, I was a part of them, and they were apart of me. My success was a win for everybody on the block. I felt the love and support of my neighbors just from a simple inquiry about my life (mostly school stuff) and my dreams.
From those encounters, I realized that relationships and the ability to form them are an essential part of my happiness.Relationships and the ability to form them are an essential part of my happiness. Click To Tweet
3. It taught me that I had a choice of being judgmental or compassionate when interacting with people. More specifically, it taught me that how a person looks or speaks is not an indicator of their heart or their capacity to love and express compassion.
I’m a child of the 1980’s and 90’s. My neighborhood was not immune to the crack epidemic. The duality of living in a “stable community” but having exposure to drug dealings and gangs is fascinating to me. During my childhood, I knew many drug dealers and gang bangers, but I never felt unsafe or threatened in my neighborhood. I didn’t see the drug dealers/gang bangers as bad people. I saw them as my friends and family who made different choices than I did in life.
In fact, these “drug dealers and gang bangers” were very protective of me. They were my play cousins, god-brothers, and god-sisters. They braided my hair, played basketball in my backyard, and they taught me how to skate.
If we were somewhere and they perceived that I was in danger, they shielded me. As I grew older, I saw more depictions of what “thugs” looked like on the news media and in movies, but when I saw people in my community that fit those stereotypes, I did not see thugs. I saw my friends. I saw people who were always kind and genuine to me.
I learned that I have the choice and the power to treat people with love and compassion, no matter what they look like or how they speak.I have the choice and the power to treat people with love and compassion no matter what they look… Click To Tweet
4. It conditioned me to embrace traveling to unfamiliar places to get my needs met.
The neighborhood that I grew up in, Auburn Gresham, did not have a quality grocery store, nor did it have a shopping mall. Therefore, my mother would take me with her to grocery shop in the closest suburb to where we lived called Evergreen Park. The border of Evergreen Park was about 4 miles from our house. However, the neighborhoods were like night and day.
Auburn Gresham, was mostly African American and Evergreen Park was predominantly White. Auburn Gresham did not have many commercial businesses except a few lounges, gas stations, corner stores, beauty salons and fast food restaurants. Evergreen Park was home to a golf course, a shopping mall, a bowling alley, boutiques, a grocery store and several sit down restaurants.
When grocery shopping with my mom, I was always fascinated at how beautiful the fruit and vegetables looked in the produce section. I remember my mother saying “Don’t ask me for nothing when we go to this store! And don’t touch nothing!”
She wouldn’t buy produce from that grocery store because she said it was too expensive. She bought canned goods and meat from that store. We went to another grocery store in another southwest suburb to go to the produce shop. That grocery store was about 15 miles from where we lived. This was our routine. We traveled to two sometimes three neighborhoods to complete grocery shopping.
The routine of going to different parts of the city and suburbs to grocery shop or shop for anything was the norm. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that in other parts of Chicago and other cities in the United States, that people had access to all of the amenities, like grocery stores, department stores, restaurants, etc. within walking distance of their homes.
5. It showed me how to be resourceful. In other words, how to make a dollar out of fifteen cents.
I loved going to Six Flags Great America, a theme park 2 hours outside of Chicago when I was a kid. My favorite part of the park was the games. I spent hours playing the games. When I was growing up the cost of entry to Six Flags was $20, and you could get another discount if you brought a Coke can. Well if you can imagine, it got quite expensive for my parent’s as our family grew. We did not go as often as I would have liked. And after awhile, I was sad that some of my friends in the neighborhood could not afford to go, so I asked my mother if I could create a theme park in our backyard. And build a theme park I did! I made five game stations, Bobbing for Apples, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Bean Bag Tic-Tac-Toe, HORSE, and an egg toss. I used my old stuffed animals and change from my bank for prizes. I invited the other kids from the block. I asked my daddy to barbecue hot dogs. It was $2 to get in, and the hot dogs were free.
I don’t remember how much money I made, but I was so proud of myself. This experience lit the fire in me to create the experiences that I wanted to have and to share them with others. It gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams and not to allow the lack of money or resources stop me.
I have plenty more stories to share, but enough about me. How do you think growing up in Chicago or your hometown has prepared you to chase your dreams? Please share in the comments below.