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Darius Parker Says Chicago is a Beautiful Place to Live, Learn and Thrive …

Written by on February 18, 2020


Darius Parker is a spoken word artist, creator, visionary, playwright, scholar and activist for Chicago youth.

Darius is the Operations Director and Resource Coordinator for Kuumba Lynx, an organization committed to the lives of youth using urban art and performance to cultivate strong communities built on a foundation of love.

We sat down with Darius to discuss the gentrification he’s witnessed in his own neighborhood, his work with Kuumba Lynx, and how art can be infused with activism.



Where in Chicago did you grow up?

I grew up in Uptown. I went to my Uptown elementary [and] middle schools. I went to Lincoln Park High School for drama. Uptown is a really beautiful neighborhood. I remember coming up, it hosted a vast variety of different people from different types of cultures and backgrounds.

Uptown now looks very different than it did, due to gentrification. There are a lot of condos, there are a lot of Starbucks, and it’s definitely shifted into a community with a specific target of folks. There’s a specific group that they’re kind of targeting.

Seeing and witnessing that does make me – and I feel like a few of my other friends who are homegrown in Uptown – it does make us feel a little way just because it’s definitely not the neighborhood that we knew growing up. Then just thinking about what that kind of means for folks who have been pushed out, what that means for folks who still stay – thinking about how are we creating this form of resistance amongst the muck of gentrification, amongst the muck of racism, and other income marginalized folks.


What do you love about Chicago?

Chicago is a beautiful place to really live, learn and thrive. I love our pizza! I love our people! I love our art! I think Chicago has such a high level of art and the way we infuse arts through theatre, and poetry and dance and visual elements – like the way that Chicago weaves art – is beautiful. I don’t feel like there’s any place in the world that’s able to do it like Chicago – I’m biased! And our youth, right?! We have such a beautiful batch of forward thinking youth who are really challenging things in this city.


Tell us about your work with Kuumba Lynx as well as your other initiatives in the community. 

I joined Kuumba Lynx in 2005 – it was my 15th birthday. I went to audition with one of the co-executive directors, Jaquanda [Saulter-] Villegas, who’s my mother, mentor, everything to me. Myself and one of my good friends were like, “Yeah, we want to be a part of Kuumba Lynx because we want a chance to perform!” That’s all we kinda knew, right? [laughs] Like Kuumba Lynx was an organization that talked about social justice and [was] a way for us to perform. And at that time, we were just like, “We wanna go perform.” So we went, we performed for Jaquanda, and she was like, “Yo, y’all are amazing!”

At this time, it was just myself and one of my other friends, but we came from a core of like, ten of us that always used to convene at Clarendon Park. We were downstairs and Kuumba was upstairs, but we never intersected the two. So we brought us two first and then we brought all of our collective to Kuumba Lynx, then it’s kind of gone from there.

Kuumba Lynx has changed my framework of thinking about the world in which I exist – the world in which I take up space. It’s taught me different things about racism and gentrification and justices and environmental justice and just really thinking about these concepts that plague our community that we don’t always have conversations about.

And then it really had me bring together art infused in that. So how do you have a conversation about environmental racism through the arts? That’s kind of been my trajectory since I joined: having art with a purpose.

And then after that I kind of graduated to Operations Director. So seeing through all the programs and activities, performance opportunities and workshops, to come Kuumba Lynx. So it’s been a full circle journey for me. And that’s just been me – thinking about how I’m giving back to the organization that’s given so much to me.


At the end of the day, what would you like to give back to the community?​

I would like to give back a sense of hope – a sense of resilience – that no matter the vices that affect us in these communities, as folks of color, as marginalized folks, that there’s always a tomorrow.

I think I just read this quote – I think it was Maya Angelou – that said, “The storm will run out of rain.” And so I’m just thinking about what that means in terms of the fight and struggle…the rain will stop at some point. And no matter what, even what we’re going through – we feel frustrated, we feel like, “Man, when is it gonna get better? When is it going to change?” – we just continue to be vigilant and continue to come together and organize and really understand that the rain will stop one day.

And I’m down to be on the ground with folks to really see that through and to give that sense of hope back to the people in my community, to the young folks at Kuumba Lynx, to my amazing founders of Kuumba Lynx – Jacinda [Bullie], Jaquanda [Saulter-Villegas] and Leida [Garcia-Mukwacha] – and really help see their dream come into fruition. And also add my own dreams into it and just always thinking about that constant circle of give/get love, liberation, freedom, expression…all that.


Listen to What Darius Parker’s Chicago Sounds Like:


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Shot by Tom Gavin

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