There are over 530 murders that have been committed in the city of Chicago in 2016. More than 450 of those murders came by way of shooting and oddly enough the majority of those murders occurred on Sundays more than any other day of the week. According to DNAInfo.com, more than 260 of those murders occurred during the hours of 6pm -2am. From the outside looking in, most would think murder and mayhem is just part of Chicago’s DNA just as segregation has always defined its essence. Yes, Chicago suffers from a broken school system, corrupt politics, poverty, joblessness, racism, and of course crime due to those aforementioned factors but it is a city that still manages to shine despite the hardships. When forty-seven percent of Black men 20- to 24-year-old are not in school or working you already know what will transpire as life in the city sometimes has a choke hold on those just trying to survive. As life’s constraints constrict Chicagoans often find ourselves grasping for air or a chance to breathe like those that suffer from asthma.
Even among the heavy tension in the air as well as the doom and gloom stats, I would argue that there is still a divine consciousness that still breathes throughout of the city of wind. It sometimes dissipates in the face of fear and unfortunate circumstance but it is still present. That feeling of divinity was present this past weekend as no weapon formed against the CHI could prosper on the 13.46 acres known as Union Park located in the Near West Side just south of Ashland/Lake station on the Green and Pink lines of the Chicago ‘L’.
Union Park played host to the second annual AAHH Fest brought to you by Common’s Common Ground Foundation and Kanye West’s Donda’s House. The two day extravaganza featured a Community Stage day on Saturday where local talent and community leaders came together all for the purpose of showing our youth a better way. Taylor Bennett, Tink, The Boy Illinois, Matt Muse, John the Author, John Renaissance and Ace Da Vinci were just a few of the artists on hand that blessed the Community Stage on Saturday. With several local vendors and charitable organizations on hand the scene was one of youthful vigor, unity, opportunity, enlightenment, and just plain ole fun. If you don’t know, now you know the surprise guests were Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper as Chance was hosting his own festival on the south side at Cellular Field on the that very same day. It was only right that he stopped by as Common was one of the surprise guests at his event that day. As previously stated, the love was imminent throughout the city.
If Saturday wasn’t enough, Sunday captured the epitome of the heart of Chicago. Normally as a day that has been reserved for mourning as too many have died this year in Chicago on what many consider a holy day, this Sunday was different. As thousands of soul seekers or survivors ascended on a park ironically entitled “Union,” the unity throughout the crowd was quite obvious. Black, White, Indian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Asian, young, old, stoner, hipster, hippie, yuppie, and everything in between were all there to exhale collectively.
AAHH Fest didn’t disappoint! The weatherman predicted rain but it never happened. Some were worried about violence because of the large group of people. That didn’t happen. There were even some that predicted a low turnout. That didn’t happen either. What did happen was Chicago’s amazing audacity of brilliance, love, and unity was on display. From the smell of Harold’s mild sauce floating through the air along with the herbal essence of those that chose to partake in a little brotherhood smoke, to the hint of perfume, cologne, and oils permeating from the many patrons, this was the smell of the South Side, North Side, and West Side blending harmoniously.
As the crowd inhaled the vapors the scene was set for the talent to take us to another level. Once again, they didn’t disappoint. As the Miller Lite, Coors Lite, sangria, and vodka lemonades flowed everyone was in formation and grooved to the opening sets of Sir the Baptist and the Internet. To keep the crowd engaged between sets, WGCI”s morning crew did an amazing job of doing what they do best. With help from Chicago comedian Damon Williams, who is always funny, there were no let downs from the well-respected hosts. Even the DJ Battle was lit! This was hip hop at its finest. If you know anything about Chicago, music is a huge part of the culture and the diversity of the music scene was on full display when DJ Vince Adams came on to get the crowd hype. As House, Soul, Hip Hop, and R&B blared from the speakers, Chicago responded accordingly in tune, in step, and in unison.
From the conscious raising live band performance from Vic Mensa, to Jeremih’s seasoned stage show, we understood “There is no we, without out you and I.” Let the church say “Aw Yeah, Aw Yeah, Aw Yeah!” Now back to the lecture at hand – The Roots are The Roots and they displayed their musical talents by taking the crowd on a journey through music history with a little touch of James Brown, Rakim, a few Roots classic, and much more.
As the sun started to set it was time for the man of the hour to hit the stage. You thought I was talking about Common? Nope – It was Chicago’s own Deon Cole, who served as the evening host. Doing what he does, the comedian told a few jokes but gave the man of honor an amazing introduction as Common hit the stage in a blaze of passionate energy. “I wish I could give you this feeling,” are the lyrics from his song “The Corner” and the show turned a corner as he came out to that aforementioned street anthem. Common delivered jewel after jewel and he even performed his new song, “Black America Again,” which is a beautiful song that speaks to the soul of the Black American experience. When Common told us to throw our muthaf**kin hands high, we did! On the count of three, we knew we had to “Go!” We knew “there is a light that shines special for you and me.” The light continued to shine throughout the evening as there was a special moment when Common brought out Bilal to do an amazing rendition of “Testify.” Let me testify that is was absolutely amazing as they honored Prince by blending a little bit of his classic “Darling Nikki” in the song. Common took us way back as he dropped, “I Used to Love Her” but when he said, “she broke to the West Coast she went to Compton,” out comes the legendary Ice Cube! With rousing applause, the crowd went absolutely ape sh*t! Ice Cube let us know he was coming “Straight Outta Compton.” The night was going so well, I even thought I saw the “lights of the Good Year blimp” and I’m sure you know what it said.
A good night in Chicago wouldn’t be complete if we couldn’t partake in a little stepping. Well, if you are going to do it, you have to do it right. Common dropped another surprise guest on the crowd as R. Kelly made his way to the stage to perform an impromptu rendition of “Step in the Name of Love.” As everyone took a step, step, side to side, and then a love slide the love was definitely in the air. There was also a tab bit of drizzle in the air as Common made his exit from the stage but that didn’t stop J. Cole from closing the show in epic fashion as he went masterfully executed his classics
It was a classic evening that was more than just a concert. This was a moment were Chicago was allowed to breathe. This was a moment where the city came together. This was a moment where you ran into old friends. Shout out to Kevin, Keisha, Chary, Shannon, Marilyn, and the many other friends I ran into. This was an evening where new connections were made. This was a moment that Chicago needed as the figurative foot of crime, murder, poverty, and prejudice was temporarily lifted off the neck of the city allowing us to catch a breath. This was a weekend where Chicago was able to throw away its inhaler and take a collective sigh of relief – AAHH!