We see so many interesting people on the streets around Columbia College Chicago, but we rarely stop to ask them about themselves. For an assignment in Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin’s Intro to Journalism class, we grabbed our cameras and notepads and hit the streets. We sought out people who crossed at least two of our own fault lines to showcase a diverse set of voices, and asked them to share a bit about themselves with us and ChicagoTalks. Here is who we met and what we learned.
I’m on break, and this is my favorite spot to sit at, ‘cause I don’t have to sit in the alley with all
the rats and all the other nastiness. I’ve been working here [as a chef] for four months. It’s okay, but hey – it pays the bills and keeps a roof over my children’s heads and everything else. That’s what matters the most.
I do like cooking, but I don’t like cooking; I’ve been in the business for 26 years, but it’s like I take care of everyone else but my family because I’m almost at work every single day. It really sucks; I miss a lot of my family things because I’m at work. This ain’t no “Fast and Furious,” but that’s pretty much what it is — it’s family. And myself. I’m 41 and [working like this] has been the case since I was 15. I’ve always been taking care of myself. My mother raised me the best she could, and said, “Hey, ain’t nobody’s going to take care of you but yourself.” So that’s what I do now that I’ve brought five kids into this world — now I got to do the same thing for them, until they get to the age of me, and follow the same footsteps or make their lives better than mine.
– Dwight Martin, 41, of Chicago. Photo and interview by Sofia Oyarzun.
When I turned 21 this past year, I went to Kansas City to see my best friend. Since it was the first time we were both legally able to go do things together, like going to bars and clubs, we went to a big club spot in Kansas City. It was basically a mall for drinking in a huge football field. We went to this place called the Shark Bar, and within an hour of being there, we almost got puked on. For whatever reason, we decided to stay there.
So we started dancing, and there was this middle-aged couple dancing with us. Usually when you see a middle-aged couple at a club, you’re like, “Let me steer clear,” but we had gone outside to get air and they were super nice. They saw my birthday sash and they were like, “It’s your birthday?” and I was like, “It is,” and then he offered me a hit from his bowl that he packed with him while we were outside on the terrace at this bar. I ended up spending my 21st birthday smoking with a complete stranger that night. It was kind of the best way to fully enter my twenties.
– Vanessa Merola, 21, of Chicago. Photo and interview by Dorian Rogers.
There is this bar in the South Loop called First Draft. It’s one of the more popular bars, but I go there a lot. It’s actually where I met my boyfriend of a year now, and so just a lot of happy and meaningful memories there, lots of friendly times, and I always try to bring people there.
When I met my boyfriend, we were both just going out for drinks, so it wasn’t anything too special, but I think it’s just a really great bar to meet people at. It’s very casual and inclusive, which is why I was drawn to it. I ended up going back quite a bit because of the people and the ambiance, but let’s be honest, they also have a great beer list.
– Whitney Westphal, 39, of Chicago. Photo and interview by Zayden German.
I go to school for directing, but I’ve always been in love with everything regarding film. Cities are so alive with media and art.
I was born in New Jersey near New York. I think living in cities like New York and Chicago gives you an abundance of resources for media and arts. It’s very competitive since everybody basically has a camera that they walk around with. With their phones, it’s become more accessible, which means that there are a lot more people who see it as a chosen path and as a chosen career.
I think as a director, it’s definitely hard to get into the industry because as much as I would dream that somebody would come up to me and say, “Please direct this” or “We’ll give you all this money,” you’re not always going to be offered all of these exciting opportunities. The best thing you can do as a director and as a directing student is to listen, learn, watch and then when it’s your turn to go, you go 150%.
– Madeleine Grace Smith, 20, of Chicago. Photo and interview by Kate Julianne L. Larroder.
My childhood was kind of difficult. I felt like I was very behind from the rest of my classmates and stuff. It was always very difficult to arrange playdates because my parents were like, “Stranger danger. Don’t trust other people,” you know?
I’m not a weird person. I had plenty of friends [in school] but the strictness with my parents never stopped. I wasn’t allowed to have my phone in my room; I had to put it in the living room. They would invade my privacy and go through it and stuff.
I feel like now, I don’t really take being with people for granted because I was so isolated and alone as a child. But it kind of led to mental health issues and such. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and then COVID happened, which made things even worse because there was more regulation on technology. Shortly after COVID, my parents split, they got a divorce, which took an even bigger toll on my mental health.
Creating connections with teachers really helped me get through a lot of things. I’m majoring in cultural studies and minoring in education, because I want to be that person for other people … somebody students feel like they can depend on, you know?
I don’t think you can put a limit on how fast somebody heals, or how much help they should be allowed access to.
– Sophia Kendall, 20, of Indianapolis, Ind. Photo and interview by Izzy Smith.
I sell StreetWise. I’m a vendor. The magazine is not free, but it does offer a lot of free valuable information like the arts, culture and stuff like that. I sometimes read it while I’m selling to see what’s going on around the city.
I started this job because I felt like I needed a fresh start. I like dealing with the people and the public because I’m like a service person. I like to interact with people and just try to give something back to the community while I’m getting something at the same time, if that makes sense.
When I think about where I’m at right now versus where I was, I don’t think I have any regrets. When I think about my younger self, sometimes it’s not easy to say. If I could, I would tell my younger self a few things: “Stay on track mentally, physically, financially and spiritually.”
– Kevin Roberts, 54, of Chicago. Photo and interview by Greer Stewart.