In a flash talk delivered at the 2017 Chicago Forum on Global Cities, poet Demetrius Amparan presented a poem he wrote about what he would do if he were mayor. The full text of his poem is below. Demetrius is currently a communications manager at A Better Chicago.
If I Were Mayor
(After "If I Ruled the World" by Nasir Jones and Lauryn Hill)
I love my home, but it doesn't always love kids who grew up like me.
Maybe it doesn’t know how to love.
Maybe we can teach it to love everyone, equally.
As a child, I was told that an education changes everything.
I held on to that belief even as hope faded like faces in classroom seats.
There’s a problem when remarkable young people don’t get the same chance to grow.
When 86% of our school system is poor.
and getting 89 cents on the dollar of their counterpart.
If I were mayor, my first act would be for our people to imagine the angels of access and opportunity.
To understand what it’s like to wake up with a rumbling in your belly.
To learn about food deserts while starving.
Imagine walking to school in a warzone.
The weight of the world in your backpack.
Your heart a tiny vessel on your sleeve that you don’t show.
Imagine hiding your emotions.
Having a face of stone.
Going through every problem you encounter all on your own.
Imagine the masks you would wear.
The ramifications of always acting like you’re ok.
The feeling of being prey.
and your school lunch has more additives than ragged text books.
Imagine waiting for your chance to dream.
Now imagine them festered.
Every day, I try to resuscitate grandeur in the eyes of young people who find ways to survive in the humblest of places.
Like the bottoms of our oceans or the heights of our clouds.
I try to teach them poetry as a means of escape.
Many times, with their hands shackled.
In a prison.
That’s oddly a school.
I watch as they write pages about what they’d change in their city.
They asked us to stop acting like everything is ok.
That the hardest part of facing inequities is the people who act like you’re just the same.
They asked us to acknowledge:
the school pipelines to prison
the hospitals that make you die faster
the jobs they don’t get
the hustles they do pick
the colleges that won’t accept them
the high schools that don’t prep them
the cul-de-sacs that separate our neighborhoods
the prices that gentrify them
the city blocks we don’t traverse
the trauma that comes with another day
the social workers you defund
the kids you DO fund
the feeling of having no one.
Their final ask was for me to be mayor.
All of them about 16 years old, and they thought it was too late for them.
Our kids deserve a system that isn’t built to destroy them.
No kid should feel like their god doesn’t work.
If I were mayor, I would teach all of us to give empathy a chance.
A chance to bring equity and hope to a world that so desperately needs it.
To open your heart without question, even when you don’t understand.
Of course, we’ll keep paying our bills.
And yes, city parking will continue being a universal inequity for all.
But if we’re committed to our future, then our young people should be the priority.
Even if we fail
At least our kids would know,
they were loved.