Born on the South Side and having grown up on the West Side, Austin Branch teen librarian Roy Kinsey now practices his passions — reading and rap. His rap CD albums include “Blackie: A Story,” and an EP, “More Roy.” Rap is the street version of storytelling, so Roy looks for ways to draw youth into examining their own lives and roles in history: open mics, podcasting and technology.

My mother is a librarian. She works downtown at Harold Washington. Growing up, she took me to library story time. The woman leading it turned out to be my professor when I earned my Master of Library and Information Science at Dominican University.  I’ve been with Chicago Public Libraries since 2009. I started as a volunteer, then a tech navigator, and then an assistant. Now I’m a librarian. 

I learned how important storytelling is to humanity. During slavery, when black people were kept from reading, we told our stories — in words and music. In Africa and other places, people celebrate an elder’s passing for many days; a library has just left the earth. In this age, we have to sift through all the information around us, take what we need and leave the rest. The media might tell us one story of ourselves, but there are many more. Each one of us must discover our own story. 

When I was small, my auntie, dark-skinned like me, called me Blackie. I tried to understand this colorism and self-hate. My grandmother in Mississippi was brown skinned, but some family members mistreated her, wouldn’t give her food. She vowed to never treat her own children that way and grew to be a kind person. I dedicated my album “Blackie” to her. Sometimes deep pain brings wisdom. I have certain privileges now because of sacrifices she made. 

“Millennials are the last generation to remember a pre-internet world. Those after us will inherit our libraries. Empathy in our profession is just as important as the information. When young black boys walk in, it helps them to see a young black male librarian, who raps!  Libraries can help you be you in your highest form. If I’m going through a change in my body or life, I can find a book or video that shows others have been through the same thing.

Bonni McKeown 

"Barrelhouse Bonni" McKeown, the author of "West Side Blues Blog," has played piano and written about blues music for over 15 years.  She has led classes for young and old on...