The South Side of Chicago is brimming with hidden talent eager to share their voices with the world around them. One Chicago State University graduate has made it his personal mission to bring that talent into the spotlight – or, rather, the streetlight.

Charles Preston, 27, is transforming the corner of 79th and Cottage Grove into Church on the 9, an open-mic where poets, musicians and artists gather and take turns flexing their creative skills. Meanwhile, they’re surrounded by a circle of onlookers, which grows with each curious passerby.

This is Preston’s second summer hosting Church on the 9. He says he felt the need to organize on the street corner, right in the heart of the Chatham community, to provide a platform for South Side artists who don’t have access to larger open-mic opportunities.

“I know in our [Black] communities, it’s hard for artists to find a free platform for resources and networks to even make it in these music industries and the media industry,” Preston adds.

Local wordsmiths – such as Authentik and Bella Bahhs – have blessed the Church on the 9 stage, and brought out large crowds to 79th. Community activists are welcome, too. Assata’s Daughters, a group of young Black women continuing the radical liberatory activism of Assata Shakur, are alums of Church on the 9. During their set, the women provide political education and workshops on topics ranging from local legislation to cop-watch training.

Preston is thankful for Church on the 9’s faithful following. He never struggles to find performers or an audience, he says, because so many people are willing to promote community fellowship through their art.

“I just put out a call and these activists and artists come out,” Preston says, “because they know how important it is for 79th and Cottage Grove to see people do something beautiful.”

Preston hopes his format for Church on the 9 will be replicated in other neighborhoods across Chicago. But, for now, you can catch the next Church on the 9 service on June 18 from 7-10PM on the corner of 79th and Cottage Grove.

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