WASHINGTON PARK — Donald Curry sees plenty of people along Chicago Public Schools Safe Passage Routes. And, he said, there are positive things happening along the routes taken by schoolchildren all over the city.
Which is why Curry is now trying to raise $5,000 by Jan. 9 to produce "The Safe Passage Hip Hopera!" a 45-minute musical play that would showcase the positive things youths see while walking through Safe Passage routes to and from school.
The play is tentatively set to be performed on Feb. 15 at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl. Curry's main goal, however, is to present it before Black History Month ends, he said.
"All I ever hear are the negative things that happen when kids use these routes. What about the good things on these routes? Somebody has to tell that story and I decided it might as well be me," explained Curry, who is director of the business administration and entrepreneurship program at MacCormac College Downtown. "There are plenty of good things children see and with this play I hope to show those images."
Those positive images include crossing guards, retired seniors, postal workers and even adults standing on the corner. And Curry said the goal is to capture these images and have students express them by rapping about their journeys.
"These are the images our kids see on the street. They see older guys on the corner telling them to stay in school so they do not end up like them. They see that retired couple sitting on their front porch waving at kids and telling them to have a nice day," said Curry. "And they see small business owners who know the kids from all the times they come into their stores to buy snacks."
A 43-year-old South Chicago resident, who is married with two small children, Curry grew up in the Altgeld Gardens public housing complex on the Far South Side and attended a CPS school that is now closed.
In 1978 his family moved to Omaha, Neb. He later earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from Virginia State University and a master's in taxation from the University of Denver. He moved back to Chicago in the 1990s.
He said ideally he would like to start production of the production by Dec. 30, but realistically he said it all depends on how much money he can raise through donations on the Kickstarter website.
"If enough money is raised the play could be shown several times instead of once," he said.
Donations for as little as $1 can be made, Curry said. And all money raised would go to pay for such things as the theater rental and to pay the cast and crew.
"I have reached out to a few high schools already about recruiting students. I need 15 students for the play and I would like a good mix of students from across the city and ethnically diverse," Curry said. "It's not just black and Hispanic students that use Safe Passage but all nationalities."
He said he still has to write the play based on input he gets from students about their experiences. He also needs to find a director.
Curry believes the project is a great way to engage members of the community, similar to when he ran the Negro League Cafe in Bronzeville. Before it closed in 2009, he recalled hiring three local guys who hung out all day on the corner.
"I would tell them they could not be loitering around my restaurant because it was bad for business, and one of the guys said to me, 'If you want me to get off the corner, then hire me.' So I did, and that's when I realized that the best way to help our youths is to give them something constructive to do," added Curry.