A few months ago, I went back to Chicago with my daughter, now 6. We were visiting her godmother, my best friend, for the weekend. Driving north from Indiana on the Dan Ryan, we drove beneath the south side overpass I travelled across every weekday from my apartment in Hyde Park to the under-resourced Marquette Park elementary school where I taught 6th grade – one of a handful of white teachers in a Black and Latino school.
Growing up in a rural area where my neighbors struggled to maintain middle-class status, I thought I knew poverty. But I had never seen poverty up close until I lived and worked on the south side. Every day of that first week teaching, driving with my roommate from the relative safety of our Hyde Park apartment through one of the most economically disadvantaged and violent urban areas in the nation, I witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by red-lining, and the legacy of de-facto segregation and the war on drugs.
One afternoon driving home, the song “Changes” by rap artist and poet Tupac Shakur came on the radio. I had heard the song multiple times before, and even knew some of the words. I’d heard it, but I’d never listened. Driving through the streets of a neighborhood about which “Changes” could have been written, through the suffering of a people made of invisible steel, I finally heard the voice of God speaking loud and clear.
In an instant, I felt shame for in the past being entertained, rather than incensed, by the experiences his words painted.
I see no changes, wake up in the morning and I ask myself
Is life worth livin’? Should I blast myself?
I’m tired of bein’ poor and, even worse, I’m black
My stomach hurts so I’m lookin’ for a purse to snatch
Cops give a damn about a negro
Pull the trigger, kill a nigga, he’s a hero…
The powerlessness I felt in the face of this suffering and injustice choked me, the tragic irony of streets named Yale, Cornell, and Harvard populated by people whose chances of ever seeing these places were slim. I marveled at how anyone could survive in such conditions, and retain the amount of hope I saw in my students and their families.
Rather than standing in judgment of how people of color carry the burden of living with the daily insult of racism, I was awed by the heaviness of such a burden, and called to repent for times when my words and actions increased it. Every time I hear “Changes,” I think of that overpass, that neighborhood and school. I pray that Mama Mary, woman well acquainted with sorrow and injustice, will be with her children there, sowing seeds of hope among the sorrow, growing like a flower through a sidewalk crack.
Sarah Margaret Babbs is a writer, mother, fertility counselor, social justice advocate and frequent contributor to Sick Pilgrim. She blogs at Fumbling Toward Grace. Read more from Sarah at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sickpilgrim/2017/07/dark-devotional-worthy/#VedtpDR8tRRRdTUO.99