News spread quickly after Dan Sinker, the man behind the wildly popular Twitter account @MayorEmanuel, announced Young Chicago Authors as the charity of his choice to receive a $5,000 donation from Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel.
“The festival director’s mom heard it on the radio. He texted me, and then I saw it on Twitter,” said poet Kevin Coval, the group’s artistic director.
Sinker’s @MayorEmanuel became a sensation prior to the Feb. 22 election with its humorous — and anonymous — impersonation of the candidate.
Emanuel promised to donate up to $5,000 to a charity of the writer’s picking once he revealed his identity. Ultimately, Sinker, an assistant professor of journalism at Columbia College Chicago, acquiesced. The two met Wednesday in the studios of WLS-AM 890, where Sinker announced who would benefit from the donation.
For twenty years, YCA has provided area youth with an outlet and a voice through creative writing and performance.
During the interview, Emanuel talked about attending Chicago’s annual youth poetry slam, Louder Than A Bomb, a project of YCA. And Sinker said he had known about the nonprofit since the group's magazine, Say What, interviewed him several years ago.
"That put the organization on my radar, and I have quietly followed them in awe ever since," he said. "I've just kind of always felt something of a kinship. Giving kids real tools to do real things is exactly the way I approach my teaching."
Sinker’s pick is also fortuitous for young artists, four of whom performed an original rap poem for Emanuel when the mayor-elect visited their school, Chicago International Charter School Ralph Ellison last week. The students are performing the rap in the Louder Than A Bomb Teen Poetry Festival, which is ongoing through mid-March.
“Everywhere (Emanuel) goes he is hearing about us,” said Coval on Thursday from Columbia College Chicago, which has been a partner in the festival for the last eight years.
What started as a $5,000 pledge from Emanuel grew to $12,000 by the end of the day after WLS-AM 890 hosts Roe Conn and Richard Roeper threw in $1,000 each and Causes.com promised to match Emanuel’s gift.
The group has an annual budget ranging between $300,000 and $450,000. Its organizers hope that the news will inspire more people to give.
However, the publicity now swirling around YCA might lead to opportunities that go beyond dollars.
“Rahm is talking about it,” Coval said, adding that he also sees a chance to raise the organization’s profile. “If you can imagine the Indiana state basketball tournament … That’s what we envision for a city- and statewide poetry slam (competition).”
On Thursday, several young poets took the stage at Columbia College. Samantha Rivera, 19, a student at Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School in Humboldt Park, read a poem about how becoming a mother taught her the meaning of love.
She thinks the spotlight resulting from Sinker's choice of where to direct Emanuel's donation will raise awareness about YCA.
"I think it's a good thing," she said. "Young people are the future. People need to see where youth stands and where youth is going to on a daily basis."