Chicago’s Very Own: J. Ivy

Chicago's Very Own
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CHICAGO -- Chicago hip-hop poet J. Ivy has taken his pain of growing up without a father and turned it into something positive. He’s spreading the word of forgiveness and empowerment to Chicago elementary school students.

Students at Ashburn Community Elementary School call their poetry club a safe haven, an open forum for self-expression through written word.

"No teacher, preacher, parent, friend, nor wise man, can decide what’s right. Just listen to the voice inside," Xavier Butler said.

Celebrated hip-hop poet and Chicago native J. Ivy helped start the Ashburn Power Poets club two years ago after the school’s principal approached him about speaking to her students. It was then they formed a special bond.

“It was amazing to see some of the most talented, gifted students and children express themselves,” Ivy said.

"I feel that he’s inspirational, he’s motivational, he’s 'real' as the children say," principal Jewel Diaz said.

Ivy visits the students regularly, and he holds poetry workshops via Skype, teaching them the therapeutic power of writing. It’s a subject Ivy knows very well and feels compelled to share with others. When Ivy was a child growing up on the city’s South Side, he witnessed his parents’ troubled marriage.

"Drugs became a factor in my father’s life, and alcohol became a factor, fights began to break out, " he said

His parents divorced. His father WVON radio personality Jim Richards moved away and for 10 years was absent from Ivy’s life.

“There were times I would wake up in the middle of the night punching the walls, just mad, and I started to lose focus," he said.

In college, writing became Ivy’s creative outlet.

“Each poem I wrote was like a mirror of who I was. It was a self-reflection happening. And each poem I would write, I was trying to dig deeper and deeper,” he said.

Word of his talent spread on campus, and beyond. He got his big break on HBO's Def Poetry Jam. That appearance catapulted him to fame, and he later won a Grammy for his appearance on rapper Kanye West’s album “College Drop Out.”

Despite his success, one thing was still missing from his life: his father.

Ivy says through poetry he overcame his feelings of anger, and loss. He learned how to forgive, and even reunited with his father.

“I was so happy to be able to see him and tell him I miss him, I love him. I didn’t want to waste time being angry and upset,” he said.

Its lessons like forgiveness that Ivy brings to the students at Ashburn Elementary, lessons they may have otherwise never learned.

"I am able to express my feelings in a different type of way than others. He just made me feel comfortable writing about my feelings," Xavier said.

J. Ivy. He's one of Chicago's Very Own.

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