The Youth of Chicago, A Snapshot

by Leyah Swayzer

Living in Chicago as a teen can warrant many different experiences. Our experiences can be nostalgic, chaotic, and much more. It can feel like we’re riding a big wave a lot of times. Living in the city has shaped us into the people we are today. Since we all have so many different experiences, living in Chicago has allowed many teens to have a broader outlook on life.

I’ve interviewed a few teens from Chicago and here’s what they had to say, let’s start off with some questions to get a deeper understanding of their experiences. What is the most significant experience you’ve had growing up in Chicago, how has it shaped you? and What advice would you give to young people to deal with these types of challenges?

Eric: I was enrolled in a good school with helpful, and constructive teachers, along with good opportunities. This was so significant for me because it started me on where I am now. My teacher started me on social activism. I learned from that teacher that my voice matters in the world. And it opened my mind, and perspective. In return it started me on the work I’m doing now. If it weren’t for that start,I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. What I would say to young people is always move forward, it may suck now but whatever it is will eventually be over.

Winter: People at my school were ruthless and got into several fights over trivial things. Being a black teen in Englewood it can be a challenge remaining different and safe. It was significant because it was surprising for others to see me standing out as different, and not falling in with my surroundings and stereotypes. It gave me confidence to know that I could stay the person I’ve always been, and go against those stereotypes of how one’s “should be” in my neighborhood. To young people I would say “try not to let your surroundings or environment affect who you are or change who you are, instead of becoming the stereotype try to be better than the stereotype.” 

Jasper: Since I live in Chicago and it’s so racially diverse, while figuring out what it means to be a person of color, I was also being exposed to different cultures. I’ve been fortunate in that sense. The internet has also exposed me to different cultures. What it means to be black is an enormous question, and having to sort it out for yourself, having people similar to you can be really helpful. It helped me feel like I wasn’t as much of an outsider as I could have felt. I’m a lot more comfortable in my skin. I’m Muslim and it helped me be more open about it. It was difficult to explain my religion to one’s of different religions. It also took me a while to find my identity, and to be more comfortable with myself and my race/culture. I would say to young ones, realizing there are more people like you, and you’re not alone. It just takes some time to find them and to find the right people. 

Summer: I’ve gotten many opportunities from Chicago, and the libraries here that I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. It’s allowed me to to gain experience and work ethic, and options in the secular world. It has helped me to learn good communication, professionalism, and definitely how to be a team player. I’d say to young ones, It’s okay to ask others for help, and relying on others a bit. Expand your social circles, and contacts. Having mentors helps a bunch.

Emily:  School was a big part of my experience growing up, my peers were really kind to me. And since I lived with my grandparents they had a big impact on my coming up and development. Living with my grandparents helped strengthen my connection with my roots and culture, and my relationship with my grandparents. It shaped my identity with how I am right now and the person I am currently. I say to young ones “Don’t trust just anyone, know who your closest friends are, and who’ll be there in your closest times and who’ll be there to stick around.”

Angelo: My first school was my most life changing experience, it formed my habits and confidence. It helped with communication, and helped me with being myself and being more comfortable around ones I didn’t really know. I was a pretty shy kid so it helped me get out of my shell. It’s significant because it helped shape the person I am today, it helped me learn from my mistakes and to listen to my conscience, and that gut feeling. Some advice I’d give to younger ones is: “Follow your gut and use common sense. If you know you’re in a situation that you know you shouldn’t be in, listen to your gut and leave. Be clear about what you want, try to use the mindset of an alpha and do you. Don’t worry about what others will think about you and just do what you know is right.”

My Take: Growing up in Chicago is a journey that will help you find yourself and your identity. I’m still on that journey. So I suppose I don’t truly know what shaped me because I can’t truly say I’m shaped completely. I know my friends are a big contributor to the person I am today. Although it’s always shifting, I always tend to see a bit of them in me. One place that is helping me to find who I am and what I want to do is YOUmedia.

What I would say to my peers is be kind, and don’t trust everyone you meet. Always keep to yourself,  when it’s not anything you should be concerned about. Due to us all undergoing such independent lives, events and/or trials, it has expanded our maturity.  We’ve had to grow up a bit faster than anticipated. But we got through it, and we’ll continue to get through the rest of this game of life. Remember to be true to yourself and don’t let others change who you are. You’re beautiful just the way you are.