#14 Childhoods

covers-2_better-1Edited by: Rozalinda Borcilă, Jacob Klippenstein, Mohamed Mehdi, Sarah Mendelsohn, Hannah Baptiste, Erica Meiners
Issue released on April 23, 2014 at the Read/Write Library in Chicago

“Whether it is in the emotional economy of self-making or the neoliberal economy of globalized capital, childhood is a token to be cashed for grown-up profit. In embarking on a project that sketches some of the dimensions of what it means to be growing up in Chicago today, this poses a key challenge. Can we learn to listen, even before we pose our questions, in ways that extract the idea and experience of childhood from these perilous exchanges? In writing, thinking, struggling in relation to childhood can we change our practices, our spaces, and our pace, so that we can find resources for resisting its commodification and commercialization? Several of the writers in this issue document steps in this direction, steps that can help us to be more attuned to what children can teach us about what we should be struggling for.”

Notes from a Conversation: Inheriting the Grid #14

By AREA Editors — In the language of aspiring adults, “child” can be a dis or a prop. When you are childish you are petty and irrational. When you are childlike, you are innocent and fresh. To be grown is to see the child as the other, as what you no longer are: your lost inner child, or weakness […]

Section 1: Self-Determination

By AREA Staff — This section addresses questions of agency and self-definition.

Facebook image from a Chicago Student Union Protest, August 18

Interview with Organizers from the Chicago Student Union

By Ave Rivera, Owaldo Gomez & Ross Floyd interviewed by Jacob Klippenstein & Sarah Mendelsohn — The Chicago Student Union (CSU), the first high school student–organized union in the history of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system, formed over the months following the controversial closing of 49 elementary, middle, and high schools by the city of Chicago Board of Education in spring 2013. Initiated, led, and represented by students from high […]

Resisting Infantilization, Building Change

By Carrie Kaufman —  Our society routinely treats kids unfairly. They are misunderstood, written off, and talked to as if they are younger than they are. Adults assume that kids are unable to make their own decisions and unable to think for themselves. This changes as kids get older, until at some point, many of them will ultimately treat […]

Whose Kid is She? Adoption, Culture, and the Indian Child Welfare Act

By Laura Sachiko Fugikawa —  In 2013 the politics of adoption were front and center. Melissa Harris-Perry’s “What’s So Funny About 2013?” segment that poked fun at Mitt Romney’s Black adopted grandson and the launch of Land of a Gazillion Adoptees magazine exploded the myth that adoption is a private individual or family issue. But it was the Baby Veronica […]

Gender Matters zine

You Win Some: An Excerpt from Gender Matters

By Rebecca Kling — This story is from a zine titled Gender Matters that is compiled by Carrie Colpitts. Here’s a short explanation about Gender Matters from Carrie: “It’s a collection of writings from trans/gender-fluid folks focusing on adolescence, growing up and transitioning. The idea to put it together came when one of my students asked for an extra copy […]

“mama says”

By Nate Marshall

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 10.05.32 AM

Fearless Leading by the Youth: An Interview

By Victoria "Torii" Crider — This interview transcript was edited down to about one-third the of original length. This transcript comes from an interview that Rozalinda Borcila and Jacob Klippenstein recorded with Torii Crider, an organizer with Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY) at the Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) office (at 61st and St. Lawrence) on July 31, […]

Kids Are Not Goats

By César Hernández — I recently had an argument with my English teacher because she calls us “kids.”  I told her that I didn’t like her calling me a “kid” because it means baby goat—I AM NOT AN ANIMAL—and that’s what kid means. She didn’t stop calling us kids though and instead told us we are “naïve and stupid.” […]

Section 2: Children’s Politics

By AREA Staff — This section explores struggles around institutions and structures.

A Conversation on Schools, Safety, and Poverty from a Child and Parent’s Perspective

By Chiara Galimberti with Oona & Florence Winners — Chiara Galimberti: I sat down with my 13-year-old twin daughters Oona and Florence to talk about their experience of being kids in Chicago. As a parent it was sometimes painful to hear about how the dynamics of Chicago have hurt my daughters, and at the same time I felt heartened by their ability to imagine […]


Crayola Architecture: Architecture for Humanity and Public Interest Design in the Hands of Kids

By Tom Veed — In April 2013, Charlie Branda, a long-time Old Town resident and mother of two, brought together the Near North Unity Program and Architecture for Humanity Chicago to help realize her vision of a nonprofit storefront arts center, providing sliding-scale classes for children and adults in the near North Side. The art center is intended to […]

American Families United

By Euan Hague with Kathy McGroarty-Torres — Euan Hague interviews American Families United (AFU) president Kathy McGroarty-Torres about the impact on children of having one parent trapped in immigration limbo. Euan Hague (EH): Why did you get involved with American Families United? Kathy McGroarty-Torres (KM): My husband and I got married eleven years ago. Ten years ago, the US government rejected my […]

Children as Part of Our Social Movements

By Nancy Anderson — I approach this article as a parent, comparing the drastic differences among organizing spaces and their reaction to my child’s presence, ranging from disapproval to tolerance to welcoming. Participation that once was accessible to me suddenly became elusive once my daughter was born. Parents, grandparents and caregivers may find themselves in a similar situation with […]

pencil rubbing by Jacob Klippenstein

No Children Allowed

By Jacob Klippenstein — When I was at the Cook County Criminal Courts (2650 S California Ave) I saw signs on a couple of the courtrooms. I noticed them first outside Room 307 when I heard a child reading line by line, “No children… allowed… in the… courtroom.”  Since phones and cameras are now banned from the courthouse, I […]


By The Chicago Childcare Collective — Our Story Roots The Chicago Childcare Collective, or ChiChiCo for short (pronounced CheeCheeCoe), was formed in 2007 by a group of radical activists and friends, including Lewis Wallace, Amita Lonial, Simon Strikeback, B Loewe, ChaNell Marshall, and Sam Worley. These organizers became aware of a need of many racial and economic justice–focused organizations in Chicago: […]

CPS School Closings and the Politics of Fear

By Michael Johnson — This essay was first published in 2013 on the Prison Culture blog at www.usprisonculture.com I have been closely following the latest round of school closings as a community organizer with the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE). Throughout the process, I have noticed a tendency by those arguing against the closures to rely on particular arguments […]

Still image from Pixel Puppet Playground by Chelsea Cossu

Pixel Puppet Playground

By Chelsea Cossu — See the video here While expecting their first child, Chelsea Cossu invited her partner Stefano to experiment with the playground equipment in their neighborhood play lot. She then videotaped the shadows cast by rubber balls rolling across the playground equipment  projected on the rubber turf below, creating the illusion of a pixelated screen. There is […]

Section 3: Recesses

By AREA Staff — Reflections on the spaces outside, beyond or between

Recess Postcard

A Conversation About Recess at the South Side Community Arts Center

By Tempestt Hazel — The exhibit Recess, curated by Tempestt Hazel, was at the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC) at 3831 S. Michigan Ave., from October 11 through November 9, 2013.  It included the work of contemporary artists as well as artists from the permanent collection of the SSCAC. AREA Chicago had an extended email discussion with Tempestt […]

I Used To Hang Out With My Friends: Hanging Out as Informal Learning Practice in the City

By Brenda Hernandez — I work at a youth arts organization that offers informal learning experiences to teens and young adults. Our free programs bring adult artists together with youth to foster experiential creative practices through an integration of HOMAGO values (Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out) into everything we do. Artist throughout history have always had hang out time […]

A Conversation with Sol

By Sol, Mom, Jacob Klippenstein & Mohamed Mehdi — My daughter Sol is a lively eight year old who is navigating third grade. She attends a wonderful neighborhood public school in Chicago. Two AREA editors, Jacob Klippenstein and Mohamed Mehdi, and I sat down for a conversation with her. We have changed the names of the kids and teacher mentioned in this story, and hope it […]

What Children Learn When They Are Held in from Recess. Every day.

By Wade Tillet — “Why don’t we have recess?” my students would often ask me during my six-year stint as a Chicago Public Schools teacher. “Why don’t we have recess?” my own children would often ask me during my five-year stint as a Chicago Public School parent. Well, like any teacher unable to answer a question, I asked the […]

“C is for Civil Rights” Children’s Social Justice Book Club

By Kristen Atkinson, Mariame Kaba, Jake Klippenstein, Eva Nagao & Mary Scott-Boria — Introduction In late 2012, Mariame Kaba, one of the cofounders of the Chicago Freedom School (CFS) and a board member of the organization, wrote to her Facebook friends asking if they would be interested in organizing a social justice book club for children. She’d been considering the idea since the inception of CFS six years […]

Captivity as Service? Interview About Detention Centers for Undocumented Children

By AREA — A short piece about the intersection of the detention/prison industrial complex with the nonprofit industrial complex. Undocumented children are being incarcerated in increasing numbers, and often in adult facilities where they face extreme and brutal conditions. There is an urgent need to get these children released from the grip of Homeland Security. And yet the case of children detained as "unaccompanied minors" illustrates some of the contradictions: in order to ameliorate conditions for detained children, nonprofits become funded to administer their captivity. In this and many other ways, the sphere of advocacy becomes complicit with, and financially co-interested in, the very structures it is supposedly working against.

Image by Alana Varg

Introducing… the Chicago Radical Coloring Book

By Debbie Southorn — In June 2013, Chicago Childcare Collective (ChiChiCo) volunteers were asked to participate in a Housing Justice Bus Tour of Chicago, being organized by Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction (our partner org!), the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign and Centro Autónomo. We were asked to provide activities for kids at each stop of the bus ride, and […]

Notes Based on a Story Corps Interview

By Lisa Angonese — After participating in a Story Corps interview, Lisa Angonese recounted from memory some of the questions and answers. Q: Describe your neighborhood and community. A: We live in a low-income neighborhood that is quickly being gentrified, with condos and family-owned business closing in. We feel ousted out of our own homes. The rents in Pilsen […]

"Kids by the Tree", image by Patsy Diaz

Students and Teachers as Artists: Collaboration in the Classroom

By Nicole Marroquin with Jennifer Klonsky — In fall 2013, I initiated a project in collaboration with two groups of students: with nine students from the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) of Chicago, and a group of children at the Telpochcalli Elementary School in Little Village, a small neighborhood school specializing in dual-language immersion and arts integration. Our class, Collaboration: Art […]

Shame Hurts

By Nikki Zaleski — Scared Straight Last spring, a school program provider looking to hire peer educators to lead sex education workshops for her students asked if the youth facilitators I worked with were effective at “Scaring kids straight.” When I explained that the organization I work with avoids using shame and fear tactics in our workshops, the program […]

Drawing by Rachel Washington

Reflections on Three Workshops About Incarceration

By Bianca Diaz — Since June 2013, I have been doing an internship with Project NIA’s founder, Mariame Kaba, on writing and illustrating a children’s book for kids with incarcerated parents. Project NIA’s mission is to reduce our society’s reliance on arrest, detention and incarceration when addressing youth crime by providing opportunities for all of us to see that […]


Dead or Alive? Women-and-Kids

By Erica Meiners — In November 2013, Erik Muñoz found his partner Marlise collapsed on their kitchen floor. After arriving at the John Peter Smith Hospital she was declared dead, but since she was fourteen weeks pregnant the Texas hospital refused to remove her from any “life sustaining” measures. The health of her fetus superseded her advanced life directives […]

Do it for the Children! Notes for a Counter-Narrative

By Moratorium on Deportations Campaign — Across the political spectrum, people are talking about the “illegal immigration” crisis and about Immigration Reform as the best possible “solution.” But these debates do not challenge the root causes of forced migration, and do not consider how or why migration has become so criminalized. Instead, the debates center on the supposed need for a […]

“Childhood” at the Margins

By Amanda Hope — I nearly cried when Netflix sent me an email announcing that season three of Louie was available. Louie is one of very few television series that genuinely piques my interest. In all of its offbeat, melancholic and twisted Woody Allen-esque humor, Louie speaks to the many matters of contention that lay in the American social sphere. Louis C.K., […]


WBEZ Are You Listening?

By Iván Arenas — Undoubtedly, society has changed dramatically since the days when a crowd of parents brought their all-white infants to be weighed and measured by doctors during the Illinois State Fair’s “better baby contest” in 1931. Eugenics laws and popular beliefs at that time held to the notion that mental, behavioral, and other human aptitudes were tied […]


“Am I Suspicious?” Reflections on the Death of Black Childhood

By Rachel Caidor — The February 26, 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman sparked waves of public demonstrations across the United States, creating a rupture in the myth of a post-racist United States. Millions of Black people and their allies donned hoodies to symbolize an association with a boy deemed suspicious because he was wearing one. In Chicago, […]


Protecting Children? Race and Child Welfare in the United States

By Frank Edwards — A previous version of this piece appeared on usprisonculture.com.   The American Child Welfare system is characterized by significant and durable patterns of racial disparity. While the character of these disparities has changed over time, African-American and First Nations families in particular still experience dramatically higher rates of intervention than do white families. There isn’t […]

No Fair! An Afternoon with the Social Justice in Early Childhood Study Group

By Gilad Shanan, with contributions from Delores Rita, Annie Stone, and Christine Harrell — One sunny September Saturday afternoon, I threw a few apples in my backpack and left my apartment. The crisp air seemed to wash away the worries of the week as I walked a few blocks south to meet up with a small group of friends and colleagues, the Social Justice in Early Childhood Study Group. My […]

Introducing… Chain Reaction

By Jane Hereth and Lewis Wallace — “Chain Reaction: Alternatives to Calling Police” was a grassroots effort organized in Chicago from 2011–2013 by members of Project NIA and the Chicago Prison Industrial Complex Teaching Collective. We founded this participatory research and popular education project with the goal of supporting conversations about alternatives to calling police on young people. When police intervene in situations […]

Given and Chosen: Talking to Family About Sexuality

By Nikki Zaleski with members from Illinois Caucus on Adolescent Health's Youth Leadership Council — Participatory Action Research on Family-Supported Conversations About Sexuality From October 2012 through June 2013, youth at the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH) set out to expand dominant notions of family to better address their sexuality-related needs. ICAH’s Youth Leadership Council (YLC) conducted a Participatory Action Research study focusing on family-supported conversations about sexual health, rights, and identities. ICAH […]



By Geoff Hing — The “court” is brightly lit, but not in the way that evokes excitement. The light is more of a numb, constant bright. There’s the roar of the crowd, but it’s not for you or your game. You sit across from your opponent and they start by flicking the quarter toward you. It spins on its […]