Ed Clemons is a “techie” and performing artist who explores expression and connection through movement and music, especially the mediums of DJing and dance. Performances and collaborations include working with multidisciplinary artists Marvin Tate for the Chicago Jazz Institute; Daniel “Bravemonk” Haywood and his hip hop theater group Bravesoul Movement for the Chicago Dancemakers Forum; Cristal Sabbagh’s “Freedom From & Freedom To” series through the Elastic Arts Foundation. He has also worked as an Assistant English Language Teacher in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program, a Japanese government sponsored cultural exchange program that accepts university graduates from over 55 countries to work in schools, boards of education, and government offices throughout Japan.
I’m Ed Clemons. I’m from the south side–I was born in Chicago and lived on the east side a bit as well as the southwest side, mostly near Marquette Park. I have had relatives throughout Gresham, West Englewood, Greater Grand Crossing, Calumet Heights, and also spent time in Austin on the west side. My immediate family still lives near Marquette Park. The park is my favorite thing about my neighborhood–it’s one of the biggest parks in Chicago. They have a golf course, an artificial turf for soccer players, hoops, a running track, a pond. It’s a nice space to have in the middle of any big city. Nature is important to be around.
On the south side, I see a lot of service-type jobs in fast food, stuff like that. We know those aren’t the types of jobs that are going to support whole families. We need more diverse economic opportunities. I would like to see more job opportunities, more access to education and resources to create businesses that can support communities.
My grandfather had a car repair business that was passed down to him from his dad. I would work down there, too. I used to work with tires. It’s very physical, so it’s not for everyone, and we would work with chemicals. I grew up in that environment. I’m used to working and not afraid to work with my hands, however now I work in tech.
I’ve always been interested in how things work. When I was a kid I used to take stuff apart. In junior high school, my godmother worked at AT&T and they had these old computers that were going obsolete, so they were giving them away. She took one and gave it to us—that was one of my first times being able to use a computer at home. It had Windows DOS on there, the 3.1 version with a floppy disk. I played games like Jeopardy on floppy, Wolfenstein. Sometimes the computer would get a virus from passing the disk around, so you would have to reinstall the operating system.
I had a friend from Hong Kong in my high school, we were in class together since freshman year. He had just moved to Chicago maybe a year or two before. He didn’t speak English that well at the time. I would help him with understanding what the assignments were. He introduced me to his friends as well. They’d speak Cantonese. We had Chinese language studies in my high school, but when I asked my counselor, “Can I take the class?” he said, “No, you have to be a native speaker.” My friend told me, “That’s not true, there’s another guy there, he’s not a native speaker!” But they wouldn’t let me change my schedule, so I ended up taking Spanish. I tried to pick it up in different ways–I bought this cassette deal from Borders. My friends were teaching me phrases. I tried learning by listening to music. At the time, Japanese animation was becoming more popular in the U.S.–we would talk about it and exchange. He would send me soundtracks, I would find stuff on the internet. We were trading this music, that was my first exposure. That led me to all these gateways to pop music across Asia, mainly the Japanese, Chinese and Korean scenes. I got into the music and started following some artists and it has led me to many other artists I admire.
For my family particularly, diabetes is a huge issue. Everybody gets it, it seems. My mom has it, my stepdad has it, my biological dad has it, my grandfather had it, my maternal grandmother had it, her sister, too, my other aunt. Seeing that and seeing so many people suffering–there has to be some solution. I don’t understand why we allow this to happen. I think these lifestyle choices are encouraged by our environment. People not having positive outlets for issues that are unresolved, it comes out, whether we pay attention or not. We don’t realize it’s affecting us until it’s too late. Even if I mention it, it’s met with silence. The bad diet choices that lead to diabetes are connected to community stress and unresolved issues. That energy is not being channeled in a positive way. We’re all so used to living the way we live, it gets passed down. People find comfort in the things that hurt us sometimes.
The food supply, too. It’s not that quality food doesn’t exist, it’s what’s put in the vicinity of the people. The neighborhood [on the north side] I live in now, not only is there a Whole Foods, there’s a Jewel, there’s a Target, there’s an Aldi–all within a ten minute walk. Most south side neighborhoods are not like that. There may be a burger joint, a chicken joint, a fish joint, all these other unhealthy options. Here and there there’ll be a nice supermarket that’ll come, but for whatever reason they don’t end up staying in the neighborhood so people constantly have to figure out new places to go.
We shouldn’t have to worry about being poisoned by our own city. Like if there’s lead in the water, if the issue is money, then let’s figure out a way the city can split the cost with the people, or how both sides can benefit. If the city doesn’t have the money, then teach the people how to fix it so they can fix it themselves. Give them the tools. Then the city can save money, and it creates jobs. Stuff like that I feel might help. But whose interest is being protected?