Chance the Rapper Can Overcome Rhetoric with His Real Approach…And Change Reality for Chicago Children

It was incredibly gratifying to read in my Facebook timeline that Chance the Rapper was planning to meet with Governor Bruce Rauner about education issues facing Chicago.  It was even more gratifying to see that Chance and the Governor both actually went through with the meeting.  And then there was Chance’s press conference after the meeting…not so gratifying.  A short time with the Governor went nowhere.  But, I hope that this was the beginning of an engagement for Chance, not the end. Even though Rauner is committed to his Rhetoric, Chance is Real person with great potential to change the educational Reality for a lot of children in our city.

So here’s the REAL…  

I’m not ashamed to say it, I was a hopeful about this meeting (I’m a realist.  But, an optimistic realist).  I allowed myself to think that maybe Chance would help the Governor see the light.  I thought that maybe the super-motivated heart beneath that big 3 would emerge triumphant from his meeting with Rauner and announce that full funding would begin to flow to the district immediately.

I guess we’re always looking for something or someone to believe in.  And how could you not believe in Chance?  This is the Black kid from the Southside who is taking over the music industry by the sheer force of his will, his creativity, and the grace of God on his life.  Surely he could find a way to break the deadlock between the Governor, the legislature, and the Chicago Public Schools?

He couldn’t.  At least not in a day.

It was still great to see Chance after the meeting, though.  Not because he had made political or policy progress with the Governor.  I was glad to see that the man was visibly frustrated.  He had attached hope to the meeting just like I had…and brought an open, creative mind.  I could tell looking at Chance that he was sincere.  This was real to him.  It wasn’t politics or publicity, just a guy trying to do what he could do to help people.  His heart was there.  If not effective, Chance was real.

But, Chance ran into the buzz-saw that is political RHETORIC.

I was not in the meeting with Rauner.  But, I know pretty much what his conversation was like.  I’m sure he told this Chicago dad who happens to be a Grammy Award-winning superstar the same thing he tells dads and moms across the city.

I’m sure Rauner told Chance how much he really does want to help the school district in Chicago (a district that is almost completely comprised of Brown and Black students).  I’m sure that Rauner told Chance how it really isn’t the state government’s fault that the Chicago Public Schools are in the financial bind that they are in.  That they brought it on themselves through decades of financial mismanagement.  I’m sure he told Chance that if the Democrats in the state legislature would just agree to his “Turnaround Agenda”, that he would gladly affix his signature to legislation that would send $215 million dollars to Chicago and reverse the latest round of budget cuts.

I know that Rauner said these things because these are the talking points.  This is the rhetoric.

Artists, and dads, and activists get points for being real.  Those are the folks who score by building conversations and working toward creative solutions.  But politicians don’t score points that way.  Politicians win by staying on message.  They win by sticking to their rhetoric no matter what.  Even if one of the most creative, popular people in the country is sitting in front of you…the rules say “don’t engage”.  Just stick to the script.

That was the frustration you saw on Chance’s face after the meeting.  He was trying to talk to the Governor, but the Governor was only offering up rhetoric.

That is the difference between what is real and what is REALITY.

Chance knows about real.  It wasn’t too long ago that Chance the Rapper was Chancellor; a high school student on the Southside.  Just another brown-faced teenager being processed through a system that was not designed by or for people who look like him.  Chance teaches after school programming and works with kids in more ways than the public is privy to.  Chance is a father.  A member of the community.  A friend.

But, the reality is that the majority of Black and Brown children in the City of Chicago are trapped in a system of public education that hasn’t really worked in a long time.  The reality is that even if the Governor sent the $215 million immediately (which I think he should), it would only be a stop-gap measure.  We’ll be back to this place again next year.  And the numbers will be bigger.

The reality is that our entire education system is in need of a massive overhaul.  And that is not going to happen without Black people dreaming up a future for our children and imagining brand new ways to get us there.

Chance said that he would have some ideas starting next week.  I hope that those ideas are as revolutionary as his approach to the music business has been.  Because I still believe that REAL can overcome RHETORIC and change REALITY for all of our children.

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Chris Butler is first a husband and a dad. He has been involved across the spectrum of public engagement activities and has worked with a number of diverse constituencies in urban and suburban communities. He has also been involved in several political campaigns including his service as a youth and young adult coordinator for Barack Obama’s primary bid for U.S. Senate. Chris worked as deputy campaign manager and field director for A+ Illinois where he developed a strong, statewide field operation including over 500 organizations and 50,000 individuals around the state working to bring adequacy and equity to Illinois’ school funding system and as the director of advocacy and outreach at New Schools for Chicago, a leader in school reform in Chicago. Chris is a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute and holds a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University.