Celebrating Sista Friends & Chicago’s Hidden Gem

The weekend of Valentine’s Day was not reserved for my husband this year. Interestingly enough, it was to be spent with my dearest sista friends, my line sisters. May 2014 was the last time that all seven of us occupied the same state, so we decided to embark on a trip to the Windy City for a reunion unlike any other!IMG_4297

We flocked from Texas, New York, and Ohio to join our sista friend, Mariam, in her hometown. Thankfully, Chicago did not disappoint! We frequented downtown, took pictures in front of The Bean, ate at a local brunch spot in Lincoln Park, drove past and stayed in the Obama’s neighborhood, tried authentic deep dish pizza, visited the DuSable African-American Museum, and was given a tour of the University of Chicago where Mariam is a medical student. Although we spent a lot of time exploring the city, we spent just as much time catching each other up on our lives, laughing until we cried, and dancing well into the morning. We even engaged in thoughtful and provoking conversation concerning politics, dating, social activism, our career and familial aspirations, philosophical/religious beliefs, and investing in our communities amongst a host of other hot button topics.

I know some of our desired conversations may seem a little heavy for a “fun” girls’ trip/reunion, but when we get together we always aim to inspire and challenge one another just as much as we endeavor to have a great time. On that note, Devean came up with the idea to visit a museum bank. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but we went with it anyway. This experience turned out to be one of the biggest highlights of the entire trip.

063857_TomHarris_004

The Stony Island Arts Bank, reimagined and revitalized by the Rebuild Foundation, is a building space built in the 1920s that had been vacant for decades. The foundation’s creator, Theaster Gates, Jr., is known in Chicago for reinvesting in underserved communities and transforming deserted properties into creative art spaces. As of October 2015, the Arts Bank is one of those places. There are exhibitions, a great study area, and expansive artistic collections from literature, to records, to glass slides.

We initially drove past the bank because it was discreetly nestled on the street. When we walked up to the door we thought it was closed considering that there was no significant signage to assure us that we had indeed arrived at the correct destination; but upon entering the building, we were blown away!

IMG_20160222_132646-11IMG_4222It has a warm and inviting environment that emanates Black history and Black excellence. The second floor has a well-lit, comfortable study area lined with books written about the Black community by African-American authors. We all looked like kids in a candy store as we scoured the shelves searching for our academic and leisure areas of interest. Our passion was ignited and the collection sparked intense discussions about research, pharmaceutical companies, Black health, Black women, you name it! Our excitement did not end there. We stayed for the 1 p.m. tour and was directed to the Johnson Publishing Reading Room. Our mouths instantly dropped when we saw the collection. There were three walls stacked high from the floor to the ceiling with 15,000 books including Essence and Jet magazine issues and other donated literature…all about my people!!!IMG_4241

The tour was headed by Gallery Attendant and our newfound sista friend, Brooklyn. She gave us the history behind the building, the purpose of the foundation, and educated us about the collection all with a passion and commitment that mirrored ours. THE MOST MONUMENTAL MOMENT was when Brooklyn started to talk about the reaction from the neighborhood children/teens who would come by the Arts Bank and see how it had been transformed. She mentioned that they were always completely in shock when they realized that there were thousands of books about what it means to be Black. I STARTED CRYING RIGHT THEN AND THERE. It was such a powerful moment because rarely can you go to a library, of any kind, and see that many books dedicated to a community that is often ostracized and that has been degraded and mistreated for so long. Yes, things are a lot better than they used to be, but there’s still something to be said about the fact that I, a 22-year old African-American woman with a degree in English, have never been inundated with so much Black intellect and greatness in one room. It was refreshing. It was moving. It was delightful and enriching. It was monumental. It was transformative and it was about dang time! It gave us all butterflies, teary eyes, and an appreciation for our heritage.

This adventure coincidently took place during Black History Month and our visit ended up honoring that celebration in many ways. For that reason, there is so much more that I could say about our trip, but there are no words that could fully describe the bond we shared that weekend. We were already sista friends joined by our sorority, but we departed Chicago with more than a strengthened kinship. We left there with pride, dignity, and an awareness of how simple, unknown gems have the power to leave a lasting impact.

IMG_4234
Us with our amazing tour guide, Brooklyn

**Please be sure to visit the hyperlinks for more in-depth information about both the Arts Bank and the Rebuild Foundation.

Your Sista Friend,

Bri Smocks

briheadshotBri Smocks is currently working on her Masters of Education at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX where she also received her B.A. of English in 2014. In addition, she student teaches at an all-male school during the day and tutors various students through a tutoring company in the evening. She enjoys reading Jodi Picoult novels, binge watching shows on Netflix and Hulu, and spending time with her husband of one year.

Leave a Reply