by Alicia Poot, Bridges Program Associate and Merit flute faculty member
It’s a Tuesday night, the night of the week I am most drained and exhausted. I have a 14-hour day on Tuesdays, and Tuesday is sandwiched between a 10-hour Monday day and an 11-hour Wednesday. It’s no wonder I rarely can finish my Italian homework anymore.
Tonight I should be at a party celebrating this historic inauguration day, but rather I am spending a quiet evening at home watching the taped Obama inauguration on PBS. I am tired, but full of energy and full of hope.
I started the day excited about the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. I left my apartment at 6:30 this morning and drove south on Lake Shore Drive, continuing on 41 past the end of the Drive and through Chicago’s South Shore and South Chicago neighborhoods. I drove past the basketball courts where Obama played with Rahm Emmanuel, and past the South Shore Cultural Center where Barack and Michelle had their wedding reception. I ended my drive about 20 miles southeast of my apartment at Marsh Elementary School at 99th and Exchange. This school sits in the shadow of the Skyway Bridge and the now defunct Wisconsin Steel Works which was, in 1875, the first steel mill in the entire Calumet region. The neighborhood has been in a depression since the plant’s closing, and is about 2.5 miles from the area where Barack Obama spent time as a community organizer early in his career. I come to this school once a week to work with the flute and saxophone students who play in the band.
From here I drove to Merit in the West Loop to do administrative work, but at 10:00 Central Time, the staff members at Merit enjoyed champagne and shared tears in the library while watching Chicago’s own Barack taking the presidential oath. The musical performance immediately preceding the oath featured not only recognizable faces from the classical world, but another of Chicago’s and Merit’s own: Anthony McGill on the clarinet. Not much younger than I am, Anthony is the principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, but he is from Chicago’s South Side and is an alumnus of the Merit School, where I am proud to be a faculty member.
I drove south from Downtown again in the early afternoon, dropping off supplies at 73rd and Stony Island, another site where Merit reaches students in the community – Muhammad University of Islam, the school connected to the national headquarters of the Nation of Islam (Louis Farrakhan). Since I had time to kill between this stop and my 3:00 flute class at the Richard J. Daley Academy (51st & Wolcott) in Chicago’s Back of the Yards Neighborhood, I took the long way and drove north, then west on 51st street near Obama’s house and then through the neighborhood of Fuller Park before arriving at Daley Academy. Back of the Yards is another working class neighborhood, so named because of its proximity to the site of the former Union Stock Yards (read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle – it’s on my personal to-do list).
After this class I returned to Merit where I taught flute until 8:00pm. In spite of my fatigue, I’m more than inspired because of today’s national events.
In the three-and-a-half short years that I have called myself a resident of this great city, my love and my curiosity about this city and its people, history, and neighborhoods has grown and grown. I am thankful that my parents who met, married, lived in and loved this city brought my brothers and me to the city often enough when we were children that I entertained dreams of growing up and living here. I am thankful to be employed at Merit in the capacity that I am – I get to see corners of the city that most Northsiders never venture out to see, and get to work with the children in these neighborhoods firsthand. Even if my dishes aren’t washed, I have nothing in the fridge but sauerkraut and crackers, the mail is unopened and the laundry still hanging where I left it two days ago and I’m so tired my eyes hurt, I am tired because I have meaningful work.
My Tuesday afternoon crowd at Daley continues to crack me up with questions like “Didn’t they wear weird clothes in the 70s?” and “Did Michael Jackson used to be Black?” Or the day when they kept saying “Awesooooome!” when every time I corrected their hand position it resulted in a giant static electricity shock when my skin touched their finger. Seeing the two 7th graders (both named Luis) in the class gently help the third and fourth graders (Ernesto, Valente, Adrian, and Adriana) while I am giving someone else individual attention makes me happy that they are learning more than how to play the flute, that teaching music is also teaching community and cooperation.
All day my students were talking about the inauguration. I am so proud, hopeful, and excited at what this means to so many young people in Chicago, and hope to see the work that Barack Obama started here continue on the national level so working people all over the country can see higher wages, affordable health care, better education, and above all, hope for a peaceful and prosperous future for everybody.
Thank you for reading my ramblings. I know that not all of you share my political views or maybe you are apprehensive about this regime change, but in Barack’s words, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth… as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace,” I hear hope that our divided nation can begin healing.