A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.
“I was born and raised on the south side, in Auburn-Gresham. I went to high school, however, at Francis Parker in Lincoln Park. I was offered a scholarship, I visited the school and shadowed a freshman, and I was in love with the place.
“I was completely accepted at Parker. I think they were as intrigued by me as I was by them. One of the things that bound a lot of us, white and black, was hip-hop culture. When I walked in the door, looking like and maybe talking and dressing a certain way, that shock was completely neutralized because of this music and culture that was becoming more dominant. Hip-hop soothed a lot of differences.
“I went on to study urban planning at Cornell, and I went to graduate school at Harvard and worked in Boston for a little while. After that, I worked in Santa Monica for an urban-planning consulting firm, and then I had the opportunity to submit my resumé for a position in Mayor Daley’s office, and the rest is history. My title was assistant to the mayor.
“I was always in meetings. Always on the phone. You’re making sure that whatever vision the mayor has for the project you’re assigned to can be realized. Sometimes you’re a headache to people because you’re coming in with a change at the eleventh hour. Say the mayor was on a plane and he read in a magazine that Berlin was doing green roofs, so suddenly everyone has to plant gardens on their rooftops.
“Was he intimidating? Not to staff. He was certainly intimidating to outsiders and political opponents. Was he intimidating like a guy-beating-on-a-table, in-your-face kind of /thing? No. I think he understood how to get things accomplished through his network of people. Now, did I see some of them pounding on the table? Yes.
“I was in the mayor’s office for about three and a half years. At the time I wanted to start my own company. I went back to Cambridge and took a course at the Harvard extension school, an applied entrepreneurship class taught by an investor. If he liked your concept, he would invest himself and help you get going. We ended up becoming good friends and going into business together; it was an Internet-based jewelry store. In the process, he suddenly died of a heart attack. That did not help the plan at all.
“I still had a passion for music and hip-hop, and DJing had been something I had always done at parties. I wanted to do it as a business, where it could be lucrative. It’s mostly weddings. I do clubs every now and then. Last summer I did the wedding for Bears cornerback Sherrick McManis.
“I’m not afraid to step out at a wedding where there are hundreds of people and be relentless until they’re all on the dance floor, you know what I mean? The same way at the mayor’s office I had to call meetings with several commissioners and say, ‘The mayor needs this done. How are you guys gonna accomplish it?'”