A "DREAM": Local rapper Rhymefest wrote a new track to aid A Safe Haven. | SUN-TIMES FILE PHOTO
‘3rd Annual 5K RUN!
To End Homelessness’
◆ 8 a.m. Sunday for race; 7:30-10:45 a.m., concert
◆ Race, $38 entry fee; concert, free admission
◆ Douglas Park, 1401 S.
Updated: August 11, 2013 6:41AM
When rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith began searching for the father he hadn’t seen since age 10, little did he imagine he’d discover his dad was a homeless alcoholic living on the streets in the Chatham neighborhood near his own boyhood house — which Rhymefest himself had recently purchased.
But then he took his father to A Safe Haven, Chicago’s acclaimed homeless-rehabilitation center, and the elder man’s life was promptly transformed. That was six months ago, and Rhymefest, 36 — who has been giving back ever since by collaborating musically with what he describes as the homeless center’s gifted and inspiring residents — is appearing at a free concert starting at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, in conjunction with A Safe Haven’s “3rd Annual 5K RUN! To End Homelessness” fund-raising event in Douglas Park. (The $38 entry fee benefits A Safe Haven.)
Entitled “The Music Revolution to End Homelessness,” the concert features a Chicago-centric lineup including house-music star Georgie Porgie, Marshall Thompson of ’70s-soul hitmakers the Chi-Lites, and local up-and-comers T.L. Williams, Yemi Marie, Phive 10 and DJ Fade. The event’s theme song — a new hip-hop track called “Dream,” co-written and recorded by Rhymefest and the center’s residents, along with several staffers and guest performers — will make its debut (between 8:45-9:15 a.m. Sunday). “You don’t have to go to sleep,” urges the chorus. “If you want to dream, dream with your eyes open.”
“The residents are doing most of the work,” the rapper remarked as the song’s creators were readying “Dream” for the recording studio. “All I’m doing is sitting back being amazed by it.”
The track features accomplished vocal turns by several Safe Haven individuals and supporters. Tomika S. Erby, a licensed social worker and case manager who participated in the “Dream” collaboration, said, “Never give up on yourself. Even when you feel the world has stopped loving you, you must continue to love yourself and your future. I hope this song will motivate others to believe and never stop believing.”
Rhymefest, who co-wrote longtime collaborator Kanye West’s 2004 Grammy Award-winning song “Jesus Walks,” holds A Safe Haven in high regard. He emphasizes that the nonprofit’s holistic approach to homelessness, substance addiction and incarceration rehab sets it apart from more typical homeless shelters, where his father had scratched out a near-intolerable existence in between stints on the street.
Rhymefest’s father, who quit alcohol cold-turkey once he took refuge in A Safe Haven, told his son he had been drinking only to anesthetize himself to the other shelters’ overwhelming squalor.
“The bedbugs, the screaming, the fighting, the smells,” Rhymefest said. “I went undercover as homeless myself, and stayed at a shelter to see what it was like. It’s like jail. The only thing making my father’s homelessness bearable was drinking.”
By contrast, A Safe Haven returned his dad to the humanizing rituals of “taking showers, washing clothes, getting his teeth fixed, getting medical checkups; they’re working on getting him a job and showing him how to reintegrate into society.”
Rhymefest’s father is “one of the hardest-working, most productive residents here,” observed case aide Pete Piotrowski, taking a moment to chat in the grassy courtyard at A Safe Haven’s Roosevelt Road headquarters.
And his son, added Piotrowski, was a pleasure to work with, for staff and residents alike. Throughout composing and recording “Dream,” Rhymefest “made sure everyone shared in the creative process.”
Moira McCormick is a locally based free-lance writer.