(Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter) Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

Roy Kinsey, a rapper and librarian at the Richard. M. Daley branch library, 733 N. Kedzie Ave., said that one of the major reasons he started the Hidden Talents open mic back in 2017 was to give people, especially youth, a place where their talents could blossom.

“Some teens, they were so shy when they started out, and when they put on their song they became a whole different person,” he said.

As the Aug. 25 open mic got underway, 17-year-old James Evans, who performs as Tankoo the Goat, smiled sheepishly and kept looking away. But as the music played, his voice became clear and confident, and he moved around the stage without a second’s hesitation.

This was the first open mic since the pandemic. Kinsey said he revived the platform because people in the community need to express themselves and the open mic is an opportunity for them to do. The event also brings people together, he said.

Evans was the only performer but three of his friends and relatives attended to support him. Kinsey said that it was a drop compared to as many as 30 people that used to attend before the pandemic, but he hopes to build on the momentum.

While Richard M. Daley library is located in Humboldt Park, near the community’s traditionally more African-American west half, it officially serves as a branch library for East Garfield Park, too. Kinsey said the library gets patrons from all three communities and the crowd at the open mic has usually been fairly diverse.

Kinsey worked as a teen librarian at Richard M. Daley library from 2013 to 2021, when he became an adult librarian. In 2017, he was asked to do pop-up open mics at several libraries. The experience convinced Kinsey to do something more permanent at his branch.

“I wanted to come back here and take everything I learned while traveling to branches,” he said.

Kinsey reached out to East Garfield Park’s Westinghouse College Prep high school, 3323 W. Franklin Blvd., and Humboldt Park’s Chicago High School for the Arts, 2714 W. Augusta Blvd.

“I wanted the library to be a space where people felt comfortable performing and building confidence,” he said.

Kinsey said that creating a safe space was especially important for the Black, working-class communities they serve. He said that the crowd has always attracted a mix of teens, adults and even younger kids.

Since the pandemic, many library programs were either suspended or moved online. Kinsey said that, in recent months, the library has been trying to bring in or add more programs. With so many people isolated during the pandemic, he felt it was important to bring the open mic back.

“I feel like this community is longing to express themselves,” Kinsey said. “People here just kind of suffered in isolation and I wanted to them to come out and make friends. Being able to invite people back to the library after years of isolation and being shut out is one of my duties as the librarian.”

Kinsey said he was worried about how many people would attend the open mic but was excited to get it going.

Evans, who had the stage to himself, rapped for about half-an-hour. He rhymed about self-confidence, his grief for his mother and the random cruelty of gun violence. After his performance, he expressed satisfaction.

“I feel happy,” he said.

“I’m so glad people came out and I’m inspired that he had so many songs,” said Kinsey. “That was totally cool.”

Hidden Talents open mic sessions are held every fourth Thursday of the month, 6 p.m., at Richard. M. Daley branch library, 733 N. Kedzie Ave., in Humboldt Park

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...