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These CPS Kids Can Teach Us A Lot About Resisting Chicago Segregation [Book Excerpt]

By Stephen Gossett in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 7, 2017 9:50PM

Ivan, a student at Emiliano Zapata Academy, in Little Village, featured in 'P.S. You Sound Like Someone I Can Trust'

Chicago regularly ranks among the most segregated cities in America. The racial and socioeconomic divisions ingrained within the city run deep; and they take a massive toll, both human and financial. The legacy won’t easily be reversed, but for a glimmer of hope, you might want to turn to the kids.

P.S. You Sound Like Someone I Can Trust—the new book from 826CHI, the local chapter of indispensable youth tutoring network 826—collects the correspondence between 62 teen students, one half from the North Side, the other from the South Side. Across 149 letters, tenth-grade students from Amundsen High School, up near the border between Ravenswood and Andersonville, get to know eighth-grade students in Emiliano Zapata Academy, in Little Village, in a way that might not otherwise be so free-flowing given geographical barriers and demographic differences.

It would be naïve of us and unfair to the kids to put too much fraught burden on the pen-pal back-and-forth between 15- and 13-year-olds; but there’s undoubtedly something in the pages—the easy rapports, a sense of earned trust— that feels instructive for Chicagoans of all ages. In one passage, a mutual bond over missing fathers—one dead, one absent—is particularly touching. But the excerpt provided below is a bit lighter, although no less endearing: one student's hilarious fixation on the conceptual hip-hop group Gorillaz and the other's no-joke anxiety over President Donald Trump should resonate with many people twice their age.

'PS: You Sound Like Someone I Can Trust' is available for purchase here and at storefront, the Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Co. (1276 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL). A book release at Printers Row Lit Fest (Saturday, June 10, 1:30-2:30 p.m.) is totally sold out, but a small number of standing-room-only spots will be available day of. Another release event, with student readings, takes place on Monday, June 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Ovation (2324 W. Fulton) in Fulton Market.


Dear Mauricio,

I would do a formal greeting, but I don’t really roll that way, so, what’s up? Answer: this is your letter. Also, I have bad handwriting, so you might not be able to read this. But whatever, I would like to know your interests. And:

● What games do you play?
● Are you into school? Probably not.
● Do you draw? Or do you just respect people who draw?
● Do you think you are better than me?
● What’s your favorite music?

Well, enough about you. Let’s talk about me. I’m Ivan and I’m thirteen years old, not academically achieving. I see you are a goofy guy, so I would like to ask you, are you popular for your funniness? I am.



'P.S. You Sound Like Someone I Can Trust' / 826CHI
Dear Ivan,

What’s up, bro? I’m just bored in life right now. The weather just isn’t good for anything, you feel me? By the way, I’m fifteen. My birthday is August 1—how about you? I suck at drawing, so I respect people who can do amazing drawings just from their mind. And, well, of course I think I’m better than you. What a silly question to ask. I am older and have more life experience in things or situations!

Serious question: how do you feel about Trump becoming president? I was watching the inauguration speech at school and was just surprised that this man made it far enough to actually become the President of the United States. I really don’t know why all these people would vote for a person like this. I just want him to disappear, or for something bad to happen to him. The whole classroom thought that, too. But what really blows me away is, who knows if he’s even going to do anything good as a president!? The way he was talking in his speech, I just didn’t believe a single word he was saying. He looked like someone who makes that salty face when they’ve just been exposed for telling lies. He was so unprofessional and looked like he was about to have a panic attack or something. His hands were all over the place and it just looked fake. I personally think that he’s not trustworthy, and I feel like he’s going to start another war. Anyway, that’s how I feel. Can you let me know your personal thoughts?

Well, this is all I could write for today, but next time I’ll try writing more. Deuces.



Dear Mauricio,

I haven’t talked to you since last year, ha ha ha. That last letter was pretty confusing because it was just about Trump. That’s cool, though. I don’t think that Donald Trump should be president. I think that Bernie should have been elected. He was cool. He offered better education and some other stuff.

I’ll attach a drawing to this letter, and it’s probably gonna be about my favorite band. Maybe you could check them out. They are known as the Gorillaz. Some people might find the band weird, but it has an interesting cast of characters and they are sort of like an animated band. The drawings that I make are mainly for just fun. I just started off one day, drawing something that wasn’t even appropriate for school. But then I realized I had fun with it, just making smiley faces like this.



P.S. All right, I was planning on just doing a drawing on the back, but I forgot about the assignment 826CHI told me to do. So, get ready for some fun facts about me!

Think of a person special to you.
My mother. She’s pretty cool. She feeds me, makes my bed, and just personally helps me out with things around the house. She is a major help and she’s probably the most important person in my life.

Talk about yourself!
Gorillaz! They are my favorite band. Why not? Their new album is coming out in 2017, so things are looking pretty good.

Write about the best day of your life.
I don’t really have one, so instead can you tell me about your best day?