Chance the Rapper presented Hyde Park Art Center’s Teen Programs manager Alex Herrera with the 2021 Brother Mike Award. The third annual award ceremony was held on Saturday, March 14 at the Harold Washington Library.
“Being in this position [of being a mentor] is a job, but it’s a lifestyle, and it’s an ever-evolving place to be in,” Herrera said on stage after receiving the award on Saturday.
The Hyde Park Art Center offers free art classes and connects youth to resident artists. Herrera oversees teen programs for high school students in South Side communities such as Hyde Park, South Shore and Woodlawn. She also partners with teen councils to organize meetings to address racial equity and develop practices for a more transparent institution at the Hyde Park Art Center.
“I’d like to think of myself as a collaborator alongside young people and not just an adult that’s there to be an adult, but to step aside when needed and to step with when needed. That’s helped me in my journey, and I hope that it continues to evolve even greater,” Herrera added.
Before presenting the Brother Mike Award to Herrera, Chance the Rapper spoke about Herrera’s commitment to social justice, working in and with marginalized communities, how she’s uplifted youth voices and connected youth to opportunities through her work at the Hyde Park Art Center.
“As Brother Mike says, we can turn moments into movements, which is exactly what this year’s winner Alex Herrera did at the Hyde Park Art Center,” Chance the Rapper said.
The award was created in 2019, the Brother Mike award honors outstanding adult mentors and their role in shaping positive outcomes for young people in Chicago. The award itself is named after — and a tribute to — Mike “Brother Mike” Hawkins. He was a Chicago poet, activist, digital media educator and mentor who passed away from heart failure in 2014 at the age of 38.
Brother Mike was a member of the Chicago Learning Exchange (CLX), which later collaborated with the Digital Youth Network at Northwestern University’s Office of Community Education Partnership and the Chicago Public Library (CPL) to create the Brother Mike Award.
During Saturday’s ceremony, CLX executive director Sana Jafri spoke about the importance of youth mentors and said their work is as essential as the work of doctors and nurses.
“We talked about the pandemic, which was one pandemic, but there was the racial reckoning, and Alex’s application stood out. She was not just talking about it, she was making change, and she institutionalized that change,” Jafri said.
Brother Mike was a mentor to many Chicago artists, including Chance the Rapper, Noname, Saba, Mick Jenkins, Vic Mensa and countless other young people in Chicago that crossed paths with him at the Harold Washington Library’s YOUMedia Center, a teen digital learning space for graphic design, photography, video, music, 2D/3D design, and more.
Born Chancelor Bennett, Chance the Rapper met Brother Mike in 2009 as a high school student. Today, his own nonprofit, SocialWorks, is one of the supporters of the Brother Mike Award.
In an interview with The TRiiBE backstage at the ceremony, Chance recalled Brother Mike being one of the first adults outside of his family to believe in him and his talent. Brother Mike, organized a bi-monthly open mic night for youth at the Harold Washington Library, called Lyricist Loft.
It’s at Lyricist Loft that Chance started performing in front of audiences.
“Some people would come in and rap or do poetry, some people would do stand up [comedy], people would dance, and some people would just talk about how they felt. There was no other experience like that around the city at that time for people our age,” Chance told The TRiiBE.
In describing his mentor, Chance said Brother Mike possessed a genuine spirit and disposition. He was gentle in his approach with young people, affirming, and never treated mentorship like a job. That is something Chance cherishes and applies through youth programming at SocialWorks.
On the day of his passing in 2014, Chance remembered meeting Noname and others at a friend’s house.
There, the idea for SocialWorks was born.
Brother Mike also had a creative way to ease tension. He’d raise his fist in the air and say: “Power to the people” and youth in the room would say “right on.” Then, everyone in the room would fall in line, Chance added. They’ve adopted Brother Mike’s hand signal at SocialWorks.
“To be proud and Black and recognize you’re a part of this diaspora and that your culture is what it is that stuff did not exist when I was in high school,” Chance said. Brother Mike showed Chance and other Black youth what it meant to be unapologetically Black.
Brother Mike has had a lasting impact on Chance. A year before Brother Mike’s passing, Chance dropped his second mixtape, Acid Rap. Then in 2016, he took home three Grammy Awards after releasing his third mixtape, Coloring Book.
Of all the things that he learned from Brother Mike, Chance said he will always remember him stressing the importance of stage presence and showing up for people in your life.
Asked what he would say to Brother Mike today, Chance said, “I would say thank you a million times over. I feel like I would spend a lot of time saying thank you. And this shit is hard. Things were a lot more simple when we were just in the library.”