Growing up, I attended an all white private school. With the exception of 1st and 2nd grades, I  was the only black student in my class from pre-k to 6th grade. During this time my parents recognized how damaging that could be to my social development and pushed cultural pride through a rigorous curriculum of African History and Black social circles.

It was my first grade year that I met Grace, a beautiful girl in the class next to me. She was strong and sure of herself. Our otherness made us fast friends and my mother agreed she would be a good playmate for me.

Grace and I were both young participants in the Zeta Phi Beta Sorrity. Some days after meetings, my mother would allow me to spend the day at her house in Washington Shores, Orlando’s historically black community. She taught me everything; how to fight, how to ride handlebars, how to double-dutch, butterfly and tootsie roll. Most of all, she gifted me with the feeling of belonging, of love and warmth in the Black community. What it feels like to be safe and loved even among complete strangers.

Over the years we naturally grew apart. I went to college and learned about community activism in the Chocolate cities: D.C., Detroit and Chicago. I yearned to be part of those communities, to feel that warmth again. So I moved to Chicago and found it.

Now I’m worried that ethnic communities like these are becoming extinct all over the country as suburban children like myself hunt migrate to re-densify America’s oldest cities in search of an urban experience. Meanwhile, the powers-that-be continue to modify the urban experience to make it more palpable for suburbanites who want the density and convenience but not the people or the issues that come with it. In doing so, the feelings of community and family are lost, both for those who have lived in will live in these communities.

I’ve found a village and family here in Chicago and that family is becoming more and more diverse as I continue to grow. Without the proper information to protect themselves, the people of this and many other villages are at risk of being pushed put by those who have it.

This is why I build. Im creating and building so that I can help restore and preserve the village experience through a more informed people.

My hope is for others and my own future children to have experiences like I did when I was back home with Grace. These are the friendships that are born out of the village experience. They not only teach us more about others, but ourselves as well.

In loving memory of a wonderful friend and beautiful spirit, Grace Maria Miller. You will always be remembered.

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