May 29, 2024

2024 Winners of Making History Come Alive Through Words Poetry Competition

Chicago Collections Consortium, in partnership with Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Library Center and the Poetry Foundation, is proud to announce the  2024 winners of the Making History Come Alive Through Words poetry competition.  The competition was first launched in 2022 in celebration of CCC's 10th anniversary and asks Chicagoland high school students to excite their curiosity and creativity by visiting EXPLORE CHICAGO COLLECTIONS portal and writing a poem inspired by what they find. The students received their awards on May 29th at a private reception held at Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago Public Library. Chicago's Poet Laureate avery r. young was in attendance and shared a poem he had written inspired by the student's writings.

2024 jurors for the competition included: Mary Case, Co-founder Chicago Collections Consortium and Dean Emerita, University of Illinois Chicago University Library (Humanities; Information and Computing Sciences; Social Science); Katherine Litwin, Library Director, Poetry Foundation, and Kenyatta Rogers, Poet, The Chicago High School for the Arts, Faculty Member, and co-host of the Sunday Reading Series with Simone Muench.

CCC is proud to recognize the following students for their outstanding poems:

 Fernwood Park (0065) Events - parks, dedication of and community converts, undated, Chicago Public Library Special Collections and Preservation Division, cgp_spe_p00001_020_004_003                                         

Atticus Harris  Jones College Prep

family reunions

i already wanna go home, stuck next to my mamma’s glistening figure

with the sun beating down on us.

the aunties and uncles already yelling at they kids to stop running in the street

‘fore they get hit by a car but man them heathens never ever listen.

somebody talking ‘bout wanting to burst open a hydrant to get some coolness going,

but thankfully the elders gotta enough sense to tell them to pick up a drink from the cooler.

i don’t trust other people’s food, ‘specially if i don’ know them like that,

so i can only snack on chips and eat a hotdog or two. 

we not even close to these people, but mamma always says we gotta keep up appearances.

i hate this. i wanna rip off these clammy clothes from my body,

the heat making this decision even more plausible.

but then i hear the sounds of jazz float into the atmosphere.

my body comes to a stand still.

slowly, but surely, my eyes wander over to the stage

where a band is playing and my soul twitches to move.

i usually neva like instrumental songs; they need to have some lyrics for me to groove with it,

but the way the trombones and the sax and all them instruments play all nice like

makes it very unlikely for me not to vibe with it.

some of my cousins i neva really talked to start singing along

like the show-off gospel singers they are and it becomes a weird

competition of who can riff the best or adlib

and man, maybe this ain’t all that bad.


Javiyah Israel   Homewood-Flossmoor Community HS


Mayor Washington at the Englewood Auburn Summer Fun Festival, 1986-08-30, Antonio B. Dickey, Chicago Public Library Special Collections & Preservation Division, PHOTOGRAPH SPE-HWAC 1986.8.30.1

Good Times

Picture this, Englewood 1979

My momma said was the good ole times

All the kids would go out to Hamilton Park

You know: for all the barbeques, frisbee, and sparks

A fun place to chill and hang with the crew

Nothing too wrong with that when nothing was due

Zipping and zooming around the park

Playing Jacks and Hopscotch

But you had to be home before them streetlights came on

Because chile… needless to say, parents didn’t play

Sitting on the front porch waiting for truck to come by

Anticipating which flavor bomb pop and ice cream to buy

While candy house in middle of the block

Kept all the latest goodies in full stock

Momma raved about frozen Kool-Aid cups, pickles with peppermint, girl!

The thought of pickles alone made me want to hurl

On the back porch listening to her granny’s tales of old

Picking greens, snapping beans, and scaling fish like pro

Whole family dinners, godparents, neighbors and all

So betta not even think about acting up

Cause the village won’t hesitate to tighten you up

Having to get your own switch is crazy

But in Englewood, you’re everybody’s baby

With summer quickly coming to an end

Couldn’t wait for Back to School shopping to begin

Most popular strip, 63rd n’ Halsted

Education was key and so was a job

So stocking in the corner store wasn’t hard

But that was the gift of Englewood in 1979

Where everything was fine, ah yes

Good Times 


Luca Romanski         William Fremd High School

Polish Constitution Day parade, image 64, Zbigniew Bzdak , May 6, 2000
Comer Archive of Chicago in the Year 2000; University of Illinois at Chicago  Library Special Collections and University Archives

I Don’t Speak Polish

Nie mówię dobrze po polsku, ale trochę rozumiem.

This line I have parroted to many ciocie i wujekowie,

All of which say they’ve known me my whole life yet I struggle to recognize them. Sorry.

My aunts and uncles and grandparents who speak to me
in a tongue so familiar, yet so foreign to me.

I don’t speak Polish well, but I can understand a little.

I understand how to order at the deli counter;

„Poł funta krakowska i pół funta uhhhh…. ‘Colby jack’ ser. Proszę.”

I understand how to say my prayers (though I am not religious)

I understand how to say „Proszę i dziękuję”, please and thank you.

I understand how to sing the Harcerki songs,

Though in most cases I have to ask what they are about.

I understand „Ceszć!”

And „Dzień dobry!”

And „Pa pa!”

And „Do zobaczenia!”

And „Dobra noc!”

And „Kocham cię!”

I’ve been told by teachers and neighbors that when I do try,

though my grammar is questionable,

My accent sounds like I’ve been speaking Polish my whole life.

The words that I hear all around at reunions sound like songs and legends about dragons and poisoned sheep,
They spill out with accordions and polka and laughter and beer.

I am surrounded by rolling “R’s” and accented vowels that sometimes feel just so much nicer on my ears

than the harsh stops and starts of English I am used to.

 „Na zdrowie!” “Nice… driveway?” …Cheers!

As crystal glasses clink together in my babcia’s house over a table full of pierogi and sałatka and mashed

potatoes and mizeria.

Though I may not understand all the words, I do know that this is my family.

This is my culture.

Nie mówię dobrze po polsku, ale trochę rozumiem.

I do not speak Polish very well, but I understand a little.

I do not speak Polish very well, but I know exactly what it sounds like.

I do not speak Polish very well, but my family does.

I do not speak Polish very well, but I live in Chicago.

I do not speak Polish very well, but I understand what it means to be Polish.


 Brandon Wheeler     William Fremd High School


 Apartment houses, 5200 West Hutchinson Street
Brubaker, C. William, 1981, bru014_09_iF; C. William Brubaker Collection University of Illinois at Chicago

My Grandma’s Castle

My grandma lived in a castle

Made of brown and red brick

Not as grand as Versailles

But a castle nonetheless

She held no royal power

But she was a queen nonetheless

Houses lined in rows

Standing like proud palaces

Held together by strong bricks

Battlements atop the roofs

Half hexagonal walls with windows

Protruding from the house

Like a castle’s watchtower

Smaller than the queen's palace

But they served the same purpose

These castles keep those inside safe

Protecting those who reside there

Same as castles holding old monarchs

The kitchen was her throne room

Smelling of sausage and pierogies

Wafting into my nose when I entered

Filling me with warmth and love

Rooms filled with many memories

Wonderful Christmases protected

From the harsh cold by the castle walls

I knew I was safe in my grandma’s castle

Watchtower windows to spot threats

Protected by strong bricks


Estelle Wong          William Fremd High School


Elevated Loop — Randolph/Wabash, Colin Stearns, March 8, 2000
Comer Archive of Chicago in the Year 2000, 38198100114790_11 University of Illinois at Chicago Library. Special Collections and University Archives

An Ode to the L

I believe magic exists in the mundane

Stand underneath the L’s exposed structure,

Hear the rumble of a hundred years of history

Feel the wind of a steel dragon’s breath

It’s like an encounter with the mystical and divine,

A glimpse at something powerful and primordial

Consider the L as elemental,

Her colorful beams, rivets, and trusses

Made of iron, the same metal in our blood

Essential to the transport of oxygen

Essential to the transport of people

Look at a map of the L,

And you view the anatomy of Chicago

Her sprawling lines like the vessels in a body

Arteries by day, veins by night

Taking passengers, like blood cells

Through the Loop, Chicago’s beating heart,

Across the organs of O’Hare and Oak Park,

Midway and Rockwell, Chinatown and the 95th

She is the vascular system,

The internal web that holds the city intact

Yet her true magic lies within her sliding doors

Step inside, and you enter a portal

To the liminal, a twilight between then and there

Where sitting appears static,

But the L’s inner world is so dynamic

Moving pictures pass outside your window

Flashes of ornamental Italianates

Dwarfed by sleek, prismatic skyscrapers,

Clips of old, boxy buildings of common brick

Across graffiti-covered concrete walls

Thousands of strangers fill her seats,

Commuters, one-time visitors,

Pregnant mothers, sleeping students, elderly men,

Faces of beautiful shades and beautiful eyes

An untold story behind each and every one

What are the odds that two strangers

Happen to board the L

On the same day, on the same hour,

And sat next to each other,

Inhabiting this portal-like world together

To share a breath, a beating heart

An ailment, a complaint, a frustration

A story, a song, a snack

A look of quiet camaraderie

A space, a second in time together

Isn’t that magical?


Price Macon      William H. Taft High School

Apollo 11 astronaut parade crowd to celebrate landing
of first man on the moon, 1969; RJD_04_01_0052_0006_013
Richard J. Daley collection, Series 4, University of Illinois at Chicago Special Collections and University Archives

The Clock

the clock read 8:28,

i remember hearing that.

the pastor has read that before

paul wrote that.



i remember hearing that.

all things work together for the good

for the good of what?

for the good of me and you?

who makes all things work together

i remember hearing more.

and we know that God causes all things to work together

the people march,

the people celebrate

i remember seeing that

the party at my church

each and every friday night

we sing and dance together

then the pastor preaches but,

i remember hearing that

i yearn for a day when maybe

i will hear something new

at this point

it all feels like deja vu because

i remember hearing that,

after all this time

The clock strikes 8:28

but i swear

I remember hearing that.