Possession Of Melanin: Black Youth In Chicago


    Possession Of Melanin:

    Black Youth In Chicago

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By Rina Chavez


Twenty-three year old raptivist, best known as Bella Bahhs, was born, raised, and currently resides in the Austin Park neighborhood of Chicago, Il. Bella first started reciting her poems and performing her raps at Young Chicago Authors; a non-profit organization located in Wicker Park whose mission is to help transform the lives of young individuals by cultivating their voices through several avenues including writing, publication, and performance education. There, Bella discovered political consciousness in her peers. "Young people from across the city are welcomed into this safe space just to share their stories...their voices; to reclaim ownership of their bodies and their lives. I needed YCA," she explains, "I needed to be reminded of what a community feels like because that's what I had been missing: the affirmation of my community." Bella attended Lane Technical College Prep High School and went on to earn her bachelor's degree in corporate communications from Dominican University in 2014. Neither of these institutions felt communal to her and the family cultivated at YCA reminded her that it is the people's duty to create safe spaces for each other to grow in. "It is irresponsible to leave that duty to the state, in the hands of our oppressors," Bella clarifies. Bella has been focused on her role as a public relations specialist, dedicated to fostering a healthy, safe, and empowering relationship between the producers of popular culture and the global Black population. She fights against social injustice because as she puts it, "To be a Black youth in Chicago is to be criminalized...assumed guilty of something...always guilty of possession of melanin." Bella speaks out against unjust treatment because she believes her silence would be a betrayal of her people, heritage, morals, and ethics. She views speaking out as a survival strategy and references an Audre Lorde quote from her poem, A Litany for Survival: "When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." Bella has partaken in many of the protests and marches that have occurred in Chicago just in the past few months resulting from numerous tragedies involving members of the Chicago Police Department. "Protesting poses many obstacles and threats. CPD always shows up and their mere presence is enough to make me cringe with discomfort," she recounts. "They tend to escalate situations that are already emotionally intense. The night the video of Laquan McDonald's murder was released, an officer by the last name Trendle, called me a bitch and threatened to physically assault me if I touched his bike. I've seen several of my friends (activists, organizers, youth mentors, and teaching artists) kidnapped, framed, harassed, and physically assaulted by the same officers who claim to protect and serve us." On January 1, 2016, Bella joined the Black Youth Project 100 for their first action of the new year which they called Black Brunch. During brunch hours, a group of approximately 30 individuals made their presence known in white dominant neighborhoods such as Lincoln Park and Wicker Park. They were there to demand accountability for the murders of Bettie Jones and Quintonio Legrier, who were killed in their own home by Chicago police on December 26, 2015. The group's presentation was roughly 6 minutes long; 6 minutes  to inform the public of the sociopolitical plight of Black people in Chicago's less privileged, more tyrannically occupied neighborhoods. Responses varied but an overwhelming majority of the people were furious. "A white man was overheard telling his date he wanted to punch us all in the face ," Bella explains. "Right before she called the police, a white woman told me that no one cares we're dying. The police in Lincoln Park went up the street to nearby businesses advising employers to lock their doors. White people have to speculate about what it feels like to be oppressed based on race so they make stuff up like 'reverse racism' to explain or validate their discomfort with addressing racial issues. We disrupted their brunch for 6 minutes; anti-blackness disrupts our lives all day, every day." Bella has taken it upon herself, like many brave others, to continue the fight her ancestors began. "They're watching," she says, "and we would and should be ashamed if we let them die in vain." She refers back to the historic Middle Passage where millions of Africans were shipped to the New World as part of the Atlantic slave trade. Many of them died and even after 500 years of white supremacy, their descendants still stand and will continue to fight for justice. "Our resolve to keep fighting is a testament to the resilience of our ancestors, who we are proud descendants of," she explains. "We continue the fight because we can't afford to lose. If we give up, we lose. And the morally righteous cannot lose."    

Photo by Bob Simpson

Photo by Xavier Paul

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