I was raised in Chatham at my grandma’s place. From there, my mom and sisters and I moved to South Shore. It was very mixed. I interacted with Japanese Americans and European Americans and African Americans and Mexican Americans. Then we moved further southeast–we call it Over East. As you get even further east, they call it the Bush.

I’m a nature boy. I was fascinated by everything crawling around me, and it kept me out of trouble. My favorite places were around natural environments, and the lakefront provided that. That was one of the best things for a Black kid to be living near the lake on the south side. My cousins, my sisters, and I–we loved to hang out at the lake.

Our young people need a lot of mentoring and emotional help. I’ve been working through the years on projects that help young people see the value in themselves, my own projects and school programs at Epic Academy and the SkyART Center. In the coming months I’ll be working with youth in my studio on sketching and designing collaborative projects to develop their skills so they can help with art projects this spring and summer. I’d like to see south side youth have access to activities that challenge them and give them a sense of purpose and a place to feel they belong and can have a direction as far as their everyday struggle.

Mental health is a serious problem. It’s not about getting more cops. It’s about getting more human relationships built so there isn’t so much need for cops. I’m so frustrated hearing we need more cops and patrols. It’s not about military, guns, putting people in fear to get them to behave. It’s about families and communities being given opportunities to voice their feelings and concerns and build community. People need opportunities to communicate about what’s bothering them and what can heal. It is not rocket science, I have seen it actually work.

African American artist Derric Clemmons studied fine arts and photography at Columbia College and undertook a residency in Lucca, Italy, in 1984. He focuses on his South Chicago birthplace, producing murals and public sculptures that address culture and ideology alongside racial, social, and political flux. His current work includes mentoring youth and stresses the need for communities to engage in positive acts of artistic expression. His public art project, Urban Trees, can be seen on the 8900 block of Commercial Avenue