No jeans, No gym shoes, No hoodies, No worries. Cleveland Dean, a self-taught, visual artist, invited us to his third-floor Art Gallery opening at the Union League Club of Chicago. The dress code was strict, but we made it work by creating M3 polos for the explorers. Cleveland told me that once he heard about the Explorers Program, he immediately wanted to get involved because he also hadn't been downtown until he was a teenager. He purposely picked a high-end venue because he wanted the explorers to feel uncomfortable. The teens had never experienced a coat check with ticket. His purpose was to let them know they belonged in those fancy rooms. It's hard for me not to tear up while writing this because I'm so proud to be doing something I truly believe in.
Providing teens with access to opportunities that are so close, but yet so far away, is very gratifying. I feel like we're creating a better and more interconnected Chicago with each trip.
The explorers plucked hor d’oeuvres and talked with doctors, lawyers, artists, and people who were clearly in another tax bracket. We were all Chicagoans, but it felt like we were from different worlds.
While walking around the 5th floor Bakker, we ran into Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle. One of the explorers named Josh, who is from North Lawndale said, "Oh my God, please let me have your autograph." It was probably the best moment of my year so far. The sheer enthusiasm on his face was classic. A picture wasn't enough—he took a crinkled piece of paper out of his pocket, ripped it in half and asked for Toni Preckwinkle’s autograph. I know she'll never forget this, and I'm just glad to have witnessed it.
After the gallery was over, we walked a few blocks away and had dinner at Native Foods. Nobody had been there before, either. We all ate a wide variety of vegan food. There weren't any complaints. Two of the explorers talked to the group about recently being robbed when they got off the bus on 69th and Cottage. The robbers didn't want Guthrie iPhones; they just wanted their cash--$15 total. The calm manner that they spoke about the incident wasn't calming; it’s disturbing that being robbed is so common that youngsters aren’t disturbed when it happens.
All in all, it was a great night. We immersed ourselves in a new environment. and I'm confident this type of exposure will pay dividends.