Jalen Kobayashi is a poet and rapper from the Northwest side of Chicago, Illinois. He is a senior at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School. Kobayashi’s musical inspirations include Andre 3000, Kanye West, and Mos Def. Some of his poetic themes focus on Chicago, the impoverishment and marginalization of minority groups, and social justice. He accredits all of his success to God, his active ancestors, and the fallen soldiers who watch over him everyday.

Kobayashi uses music as a medium to spread his message of equity for the people. His writing unpacks how he strives for social justice and shares the aspects of himself, his family, and his peoples. His writing has been published by Northwestern University and Northwest Ordinance, a chapbook published by Revolving Door Arts about life on the northwest side of Chicago and the effects of gentrification on Black and Brown neighborhoods. Kobayashi points out that institutional racism sets a ceiling that marginalized groups, especially youth of color, struggle to surpass.

Through Kobayashi’s work with Young Chicago Authors, he has opened for Nas and Pusha T at Wintrust Arena, performed at Pitchfork Music Festival, March for Our Lives Chicago, the Allstate Arena, the Arie Crown Theater, in front of public figures such as Common, Macklemore, Paula Abdul, Ciara, and many others.

Kobayashi will attend the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University in the fall of 2019, and hopes to start a nonprofit organization that works with youth of color in Chicago to establish careers in teaching and education.


Hero Or Heroin(e)

By Jalen Kobayashi

the war on drugs/

a war on minorities/

the sweat that dripped from your sugarcane-harvesting forehead

friction in your teeth as you slipped a syringe/

into a vein that popped your appeal/

your vacuum nose/

all suction cup/

took the stains from glass coffee table/


look like an IV

look like you never made it to Ivy League/

look like Wrigley Field and climbing up the ivy/

look like a fire escape/

you are cornered/

gave birth to four kids before forty/

took care of 16 kids/

started smoking when they were 16/

dropped out at 16/

before they even had a sweet 16/

you were an unbreaded McDonald’s chicken nugget/


fried yet grafted/

never grounded

maybe if you were white/

in a white picket fence/

instead of a pickaninny/

maybe if the sugar cane didn’t leak from your pores/

maybe if coils didn’t sprout from your roots/

maybe if crack didn’t smear your lips/

maybe if education branded your back like a fraternity would/

but now you’re just another burnt crayola picked from the box/

you were dull/

no more luster/

but now your casket matches the earth/

i come up with conclusions/

the school system pissed on your bare feet/

wallowing in spit/

and ash/



maybe if your eyes didn’t reek of saline/

if your mind didn’t spew inner city like a geyser no one could put their hand over/

and stop/

gorilla glue/

in your forearms/

you are leaking heroin/

you are leaking but you are my heroine/

will you die a martyr?

or a statistic?

when you died, the sugar smeared on my lips became soluble/

a tsunami rushed into - my lungs as i gasped/

i didn’t cry at your funeral/

i didn’t wallow in my own spit/

i didn’t try to escape/

i watched Richard Nixon clink glasses with confederacy/

i watched the sugar on your forehead drip down to the cross placed in your hands

your casket smelled like ash/

your casket smelled like a laundromat/

i knelt down on the pew/

i prayed that your autopsy wouldn’t be classified as


i prayed that your autopsy would say


when no one would offer you rehabilitation/

when no one would print their church shoes in the soil of Chicago’s west side

when no school could contain your education

when no god could shield you/

when no heroin could save you/

when a heroine came to save me/

when i saw your spirit leak sugar cane/

i knew that you were safe/

i knew that your cape billowed over your shoulders/

i knew that you were home.