A City Crying for Chino

chino2I’m a firm believer that wherever you are in life, you’re there for a purpose. In some cases even, when you think you’re somewhere for one purpose, there is another separate purpose that you have to fulfill. So when I woke up to the news that Uchenna Agina, aka OTF Chino or Chino Dollar, was shot and killed less than 48 hours after having met him. I was overtaken by sadness, anger, and confusion, like much of the hip-hop community.

Growing up in the heart of the southside of Chicago, entirely too often young black kids are made to believe by countless factors that our only way “out” is to do things that aren’t right. Or that because you aren’t in the gifted classes at the school you go to, you can’t “make it” –  leaving many of us to believe we are destined to be products of our environment. So much negativity, such little belief, and hope is almost an after thought. These are feelings that so many of our people experience, and if you’re not from these places you can only imagine such a dark cloud. Little did we know that to live through it or witness it first or second hand, and make it to see the brighter days was the beginning stage of “making it.”

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Just last Wednesday I spoke with Chino, whom I had just met for the first time. Of all the places to meet him,  I met him at Mars Gallery for a charity art exhibition, hosted by Afrika Fifty 6. Once he told me who he was, I had to ask jokingly, “Fam, what are you doing down here?” We both laughed and Chino said, “I’m just really into art. I draw myself, probably not as good as these guys, but I love coming to these types of events.” After cracking a few jokes, I had a brief conversation with him about what it  I do for VA Mag, and how we want to highlight artists in a positive light. Which was right up his alley.

“That’s what’s up, we can set something up whenever you want to,” he said. Thanking him ahead of time, I shook his hand and proceeded to try to give him a few words of advice. That being “Make sure you guys are doing something for the community, regardless of how big or how small.”

He was already ahead of me, which is why he was so willing to grant me an interview, to speak on behalf of himself and his artists’ work in the community. Going on to say they almost never get asked what they do for the community, and when they do it’s overlooked. Let me remind you that we’re having this conversation at a charity event. So in addition to getting his art gallery fix, he was also able to give a charitable donation to a worthy cause.

“We’re going down to meet with Joakim Noah tomorrow about promotion for his charity,” Chino said. I commended him for being on top of that, as well as not being bothered by the people who continuously neglected that part of their camp’s story. “That don’t really matter, at the end of the day. We do that…so that the people we do it for, are the ones who matter. Seeing them do better is what matters.” From that point I knew he was not only wise beyond his 24-year-old mind, but he was generally a good dude.

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We parted ways briefly then met up again by the bar, and got back to chopping it up. To the people that didn’t know either one of us, they couldn’t tell that we weren’t cool with each other from way back. But that’s just who Chino was, a friendly, fun, art loving, down to earth, regular dude. That’s been confirmed by some others who had met him recently.

DJ manager, Devin Jackson first met Chino just last Tuesday, and was also at the art event at Mars Gallery Wednesday. He said with the Chicago Sun-Times, “Chino was a good dude. He took care of the business. That is what he was known for.” Jackson said Chino was a “behind the scenes guy,”and called him “humble,” a perfect word to describe him.

Chicago Bulls Center and NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Joakim Noah was also saddened and shocked at the news of Chino’s murder. Noah knows that he has an irreplaceable bond with the youth of Chicago, so he felt the need to not just say something, but to say the right thing. Which is what Chino deserves at the very least.

chino3“We just need to keep up the good fight, I know that everything that I’m doing with my foundation comes from my heart,” Noah said. “Somebody that had just come to my house and we were talking about doing some work for the kids, and something positive, he got murdered.” Noticeably disturbed by the news, Noah sent his respect and heartfelt sympathy to Chino’s family and friends.

Young black men are dying at an alarming rate. It’s an extremely complex problem, so there will be no simple solution. In fact, there is no ONE solution, there’ll have to be a series of them in order to solve the issue altogether. It’s a problem that not only Chicago has, but all across the US. One of the pieces on display by an artist from the art show Chino and I attended was “We Are Royalty.” This is a message we have to continue to instill in ourselves and relay to our youth. Chino was a young king of our city who was unfortunately taken away prematurely. Two of his last gestures were in in efforts to help those that look up to him, and helping kids who are less fortunate than we are. That’s what you call a selfless king. Rest in Royalty my brother, our thoughts and prayers go out to your family and friends.

Blake Holmes