Crossing the Street Bring Positivity & Creativity to Chicago’s Youth

Written by Marlena Wadley, Nick Dimas, Tanya Munoz and Tommy Brannigan
photos via YCA

Maurice Swinney, the principal of Tilden High School on the South Side, decided to move to Chicago after he heard the poem “Lost Count” by Nate Marshall, Demetrius Amparan, and Deja Taylor.

That poem—written by three then-high school students—focuses on corruption in the school system, police misconduct, and violence. Swinney wanted to be a part of the solution, explaining why it’s so surreal to be leading the high school that serves as the starting point for the Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB) festival each year.

“To have LTAB start here, and knowing I was inspired to move here because of HBO’s Brave New Voices special, seeing Demetrius and Nathaniel, it was really good; it was so rich. It was inspiring and painful,” Swinney said. “They had to have started somewhere, so recognizing that there is a hub where all the beginnings of greatness happens, feels really good to be a part of.”

On an early Saturday morning, February 11, more than a thousand kids traveled from all over the city—even Indiana—to Chicago’s Southside to attend Louder Than a Bomb’s first event, Crossing the Street at Tilden. Crossing the Street has served as the kick off to Louder than a Bomb and has been held at Tilden high school since the very beginning.

The event is the signal that yells to Chicago youth that the festival and competition has begun, and is the place where hundreds of children gather and celebrate next to people they’ve never met before. Every year at Crossing the Street, new poems are birthed and shared among friends and strangers, helping a segregated city come together and collaborate. Competitors are allowed to shake away nerves before LTAB bouts begin, and gain encouragement from peers to share their story.

And this Crossing the Street could not have come at a more important time.

With all the political tension in the country and the violence within our city, Crossing the Street was an example of the positivity and creativity that can and will continue to come from Chicago’s youth. After Swinney addressed the crowd, Columbia College’s president Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim spoke to the students about the importance of LTAB.

“I am a great believer that one of the reasons we are in the situation we are in now is because there is not enough creative people in the world that are bringing that perspective that’s different. So we are seeing the same thing over and over again instead of new perspectives. So to me this is the moment when the arts and all other creative practices have to be pushed out.”

The LTAB press corps asked a handful of participants and coaches about Crossing the Street, and why they think art is important in America right now.


Patricia Frazier, Gwendolyn Brooks High School

What are you looking forward to?

I am excited to meet new people, the energy, the good vibes.

Why is being an artist important right now?

I think it’s very important for me because there’s a lot of solidarity between poets, and I think that this is where we can come to heal. Especially because this year’s theme is Gwendolyn Brooks, a woman who has had to be so strong in the foundations of a lot of communities. I just want there to be a lot of love this year. Most of all, before competition… love and coming together now more than anything.

Whitney Whitehead, Thornwood High School

What are you looking forward to?

This is my first year at Crossing the Street. I’m looking forward to the overall experience. I want to learn from everyone and soak up all the creativity.

Why is being an artist important right now?

It gives you a voice. With the idiot in office, it’s hard to express our opinions and thoughts, and it shouldn’t be that way. Our problems are so often overlooked.


Victor Musoni, Kuumba Lynx

What’s your favorite memory?

It was my first year, because everyone was just like “Oh my God, what’s your name?”, like “What team you from?” It’s like that feeling of being so welcomed. I mean it’s always welcoming every year, but it’s that first year feeling like, “Wow ya’ll really care.” It’s everyone welcoming you into this new community—it just feels so good.

Why is being an artist important right now?

I think what’s really important for us is being able to tell the stories of those who can’t or just feel like their story isn’t wanted. And I feel like our job as artists, specifically Kuumba Lynx, is to let those stories go through all these art forms that we show and just let them know that they are always heard and always wanted.

Defcee, teaching artist and coach at Oak Park/River Forest High School

What are you looking forward to this year at Crossing the Street?

I have the same hopes for every year, which is that my students meet people they wouldn’t normally meet—people they wouldn’t normally meet in the suburbs where they live, because even with Oak Park’s proximity to the city, it is still very much a bubble.


Charles Donalson, Oak Park River Forest

What’s your favorite memory?

The first year coming here and actually seeing people I know. It was just so fun considering we—LTAB competitors—were all the same age. Even the people I didn’t know, we all T’ing up with each other.

Why is being an artist important right now?

I think the most important part about it is the community. As long as you do art, you know that you’re not alone. The times we’re living in, it’s really easy to forget you’re not the only one going through it with your struggles. That’s coming from like a racial standpoint, a gender standpoint, a sexuality standpoint. It let’s you know that whatever is going on there is still going to be people who can relate to what you’re going through.


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