Summertime Chi is officially here, and for thousands of Chicago Public School students, that means more than two months away from a place many consider a safe haven. While children across the nation welcome a seasonal vacation and the perks that come with it, those living in Chicago’s most pernicious neighborhoods understand that a reprieve from school can often mean higher exposure to violence. Chicago-born rapper Vic Mensa is now targeting these kids with an opportunity to do something highly productive with their break from the books.
Through his SaveMoneySaveLife organization, the Roc Nation artist plans to train 11,000 young people to be street medics. “We train and equip first aid responders in Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods,” Mensa says of the program. “And teach them how to not bleed out, how to stop blood flow from gunshot wounds.”
The South Side native spoke to ESSENCE about his plan while promoting his shoe collaboration with Wolverine. Proceeds from the sales of the new collection which includes combat boots decked out in premium leathers, go to the nonprofit he started to help underprivileged youth in the city. He says he got the idea from a visit to the West Bank.
“I was in the occupied West Bank in Palestine and I met a young man from Gaza who was from an organization called Build Palestine, Mensa explains. “[They] had a similar program where they trained 35 first aid responders, I think it was in Gaza.”
Mensa described Gaza as a “city under siege” before comparing it to Chicago and pointing out the two cities’ similarities. “Their ambulance situation and first response situation is actually a lot like Chicago,” Mensa says. “Like the ambulances take a long time, might not come, might not be anywhere good to get treated, and it’s a war zone.”
The 26-year-old draws inspiration for both his shoes and his community activism from the 70’s Black Panther Party. By taking a proactive step to train young people to respond to the needs of gunshot victims, Mensa hopes to drastically reduce the number of casualties these crimes produce.
This year alone, the city of Chicago has seen 250 homicides (as of Saturday, June 29). Though newly minted Mayor Lori Lightfoot is making it a point to also address the persistent crime in her city, the rapper who describes himself as “political just by nature,” insists he’s not looking to any elected official to offer solutions. Instead, he’s creating change himself.