Chicago’s Always Been Like This…

I’ve been a little MIA the last month.

The time away was well-needed. Many of you only know me in a certain context — you probably saw me on a show or two in the YouTube “political sphere” — but that’s really only one side of me. Speaking bluntly — there’s a whole lot more to me than just being the “quiet one.” (When I tell my family and close friends that I’ve been characterized as the “quiet one” — they laugh…a LOT). The fact is — I’m truly figuring this out as I go — and I’m not ashamed to say that. I know we’ve got a lot of journalist personalities out here trying to make their next big break on Twitch, but that’s not me. Having said that, I try to live and let live…so let the political streamers of the world do their thing — I’m not here to bash people for sport. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll call BS out when I see it. My way of doing that might not be a public bloodbath-type of thing, but don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. Truth is, most people expose themselves on their own in the long run.

Sometimes the topics I’m interested aren’t the sexiest, but I go with my heart and I go with my instincts, even if the road doesn’t always seem like the most conventional or logical one to take. I’m here to learn, to understand the world through the eyes of others as best as I can, and most importantly, continue doing what I’ve done my entire life: speak on the lessons I’ve learned from the experiences I’ve gone through — to speak on behalf of those who have given up, for the ones who fear speaking up, and for the ones who never stop trying. I’m here to encourage those people to speak up however they can — because every single person has a story to tell. I’m simply the messenger with an opinion — I’m not in the business of trying to be a savior. The best stories are the ones yet to be heard — the ones in between the cracks…the ones at the end of the dark alley…the ones hiding in plain sight. In other words, the stories that are from the heart, not for the clicks.

I don’t consider myself a writer or a journalist — I just let my thoughts flow. I don’t have political or big media aspirations (but all love to my friends who do). I go down rabbit holes for fun — and share the information with anyone who is willing to listen when I resurface. When I’m not out and about, a “fun night” for me is sitting down with a stack of whitepapers and articles to parse through. Don’t get me wrong — I love people, but I take comfort in being alone with my own thoughts (and a few good friends who get excited about reading through bills, documents, and whitepapers, of course). I get that this isn’t for everyone, by the way, but please believe that if I discover information — no matter how inconvenient to a narrative it might be, I feel that it needs to be shared with the world. Without understanding the root of the problem — the cold hard facts, we’re doomed.

Chicago’s Always Been Like This…

I’ve lived in Chicago for over ten years now — but before that, I spent much of my childhood and teenage years in this beautiful city I call home. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel many places around the world and no matter where I go, nothing feels better than driving down Lakeshore Drive late at night along Lake Michigan — the skyline is hands-down one of the best in the world. I’m biased — so what? The energy of this city is raw, it’s invigorating, it’s down-to-earth — and sometimes, just outright brutal. Yes, it’s violent here, but that’s just “how it is” to most people living here. In addition to other projects,

This has always been “a city that works” (I’m not kidding — that was once a slogan for the city during the Daley era) — Chicagoans are some of the most hardworking people you’ll ever meet. To summarize: in Chicago, you just deal with it. Whatever comes your way — you just keep grinding. Most of the people I know from Chicago don’t really complain, because they always know it ‘“could be worse.” Plus, a city that works this hard, not surprisingly, also has a dive bar on almost every corner — so there’s always a way to blow off some steam. Yet with anything else in life, sometimes — things reach a breaking point. The thing is — things have been at a breaking point here for a long, long time — it’s just taken some people a little bit longer to notice because they’ve never had to.

Chicago’s history of gangs dates back to the era of Al Capone and the Chicago Outfit — but there’s a lot that’s happened between then and now. We’re a city of organized AND unorganized crime — in the streets and in political offices. Frankly, it’s all intertwined. Like I always say, most of these backdoor games that are played usually just start out as “friends helping friends.” Unfortunately, whether it’s war on the streets or war in City Hall, the casualties of war can’t stay hidden forever. From the days of Larry Hoover and David Barksdale, one might say that the streets should’ve been safer after the feds took the big guys to prison. Ha. I wholeheartedly disagree. There’s so much nuance here — but I’d be lying if I said the streets of Chicago were better off without Larry Hoover. I‘ll get into that another time.

Being Honest versus “Fear Mongering”

Someone once told me that my focus on this side of Chicago could be likened to “fear mongering” and “pushing the mainstream narrative about Chicago.” Ha. Tell that to the mother who lost five kids to the streets. Tell that to the father facing life in prison after a bogus felony charge. Tell that to every single Chicagoan who has experienced some type of trauma — then get back to me. I get that some people want to pretend that Chicago’s all pizza and smiles — but it’s not. Doesn’t mean it’s all hell — but if we’re not being blunt here, what the hell is the point? Ignoring reality doesn’t work with me. The streets aren’t safer now — there’s no “code” — it’s “kill to survive” in some neighborhoods. It doesn’t mean that everyone living in “dangerous neighborhoods” (I hate saying that because these days, it’s block to block) is interested in that life — most people are just like you and I. They want to go to work, go to school, go hang out with friends…and it just so happens that their homes are located directly in the middle of another era of street wars. When you don’t have a code to live by because you’ve not been exposed to what that really means, what do you expect? I can tell you that many people here believe that voting will solve this problem — but that’s just it: voting for people who continue to advocate for the structure of this system are partially the reason we’re here in the first place. The problem is trauma — decades on decades of trauma. There’s a haunting — almost demonic — energy hanging over Chicago right now, and you can feel it when you’re driving through all of the neighborhoods late at night. Anyone trying to sell you a one-size-fits-all solution is full of shit. Period.

Time after time, no matter how focused I get on other things going on in the world, the things I feel most passionate about are in my own backyard. From Roseland to Rogers Park and everywhere in between, this city is more than just “Chiraq” — it’s home. My friends who grew up in neighborhoods like Englewood, located on the South Side of Chicago or in North Lawndale on the West Side of Chicago, many of whom come from families with heavy gang affiliations, are some of the kindest people I know. They’re everyday people who found themselves in tough situations — after all, they’re human. I’ve found that many people who report on Chicago without actually understanding the full picture to the best of their ability just need a little guidance. Having said that, my personal experiences don’t make me “more qualified” to talk about any of these issues. I’m just here — sharing what I have learned, witnessed, and come to understand. Since I have the opportunity to share experiences that I’ve lived along with the stories from people who I’ve met along the way — so it’s only natural for me to want to talk about it. This isn’t some article about me “discovering” the violence in Chicago with a bunch of contrived solutions that I made up with academics in a classroom (no offense to the academics out there…) — I’m just tired of seeing the issues in this city get so mischaracterized.

Sidenote —

One way to understand the “other” side of Chicago is to hear it from the people out there living it every day. Check out this interview — one of my all-time favorites — with Zack Stoner aka ZackTV and Fred Hampton Jr. Zack was gunned down a few years ago while driving downtown late one evening and Chicago’s not been the same since. Losing Zack was a huge blow to the entire city of Chicago; his ability to float between neighborhoods and give the world a glimpse into the side of Chicago you don’t see was unheard of when he first started over ten years ago. Now you have people trying to replicate what he once did, but that’s going to be tough to beat. Not only did he put some of the most talented musicians on for the world to see (many of which, sadly, are no longer with us today) — he let them tell their stories — both the beautiful and ugly. The story behind his death still hasn’t been solved, but his absence is felt and I can’t help but wonder what he’d think about how bad this endless war has gotten here. Fun fact: I’ve arranged to meet with Fred Hampton Jr. at the Hampton HQ in the very near future — stay tuned.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJkBxHK4RO4

In Closing —

We’re dealing with human beings, not figments of our imagination. These are real people. I know too many friends who have lost someone in their family to the streets — but it doesn’t mean they wanted to go out that way, or that they didn’t want to leave — they just didn’t know any other way out. Every individual has the choice to make a change in their life, but at what cost? What do you do when your success doesn’t allow you to bring everyone else along with you? You think it’s that easy to just leave the streets, but when it’s all you’ve ever known, it’s not as easy to just pack up and leave like one might assume. Yet more often than not, most of the people living in the hood are just trying to get by like the rest of us, no matter how much money you make.

No matter how much money goes into the police budget, one thing never seems to change: some neighborhoods in Chicago matter to the powers that be — and some neighborhoods don’t. The wealthiest in this city proudly hang their “Black Lives Matter” signs from their million dollar mansions (I’m serious — drive down Sheridan Road up into the North Shore, and you’ll see what I’m talking about), yet I’ve rarely, if ever, seen a “Black Lives Matter” sign hanging from a window in the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Interesting, isn’t it? Most of the people hanging those signs likely mean well…I’m not doubting that. Intent matters — but the outcome of those well-intended efforts matters too.

We’ve got lots to talk about, my friends.

Til next time,

-Aly

I’ve been meaning to start writing things that are a little closer to home for quite some time now. If you’re still reading — from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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312 • chicago, il

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Aly Alexandra

Aly Alexandra

312 • chicago, il

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