It glitters like a jeweled crown rising out of the prairie - a towering tribute to muscle and hustle, sweat and tears. It is Chicago's Loop - the city's downtown - where buildings that emerged from the ashes of the Great Fire in the 19th century are dwarfed by the architectural accomplishments of the 20th century.
And for children who grow up in many of the neighborhoods that surround the Loop, it is as remote a place as Mars. Poverty makes it seem unobtainable. The poverty that surrounds the glittering beauty and power of the Loop is as desperate and as extreme as you'll see anywhere in the country. Each year, approximately 12,000 children drop out of Chicago public high schools.
What's the best ticket out of poverty? Education, of course. Which means that dropping out of high school makes it that much harder to rise above poverty.
Last night, Kanye West, one of Chicago's very own, a very famous and wealthy rap star, the child of an educator, gave a free concert to 3000 Chicago Public School (CPS) students who stayed in school and improved their grades. It was part of his Stay in School initiative, funded by the foundation started by Kanye's mother, Donda, before her death in 2007.
The Kanye concert was initially the brain child of a Highland Park High School student named David Abrams. Highland Park is one of the suburbs that makes up Chicago's affluent North Shore. Abrams was moved to act after hearing an NPR story on the challenges facing CPS students. He and a number of other students banded together to organize a free concert to incent students to stay in school and improve their grades.
I love this story. I love the collaboration between philanthropists, educators, students and artists. I love incenting children to learn - it works for executives on Wall Street, so why not try it with students in high risk neighborhoods?
More links follow....
Chicago Sun-Times coverage of the event
Chicago Sun-Times story about the North Shore students who organized the event
WBEZ (public radio) coverage of the event