In a blog post Tuesday announcing over $4.2 billion in donations to organizations across the country, writer and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott referenced the work of a 19-year-old Chicagoan as an example of how neighbors are looking out for each other amid the coronavirus pandemic.
That woman was Alycia Kamil, a now 20-year-old activist, poet and educator who organized a program over the summer to fund and deliver groceries to Chicagoans in need.
"In March, a 19-year-old girl in Chicago sent a group text to her friends suggesting they buy supplies for people in their neighborhood who had lost their jobs," Scott, the former wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the third wealthiest woman in the world, wrote in her Medium post. "She posted two Google forms — one for people who needed help and another for people with help to give — and by two days later they’d raised $7,000."
A lot of groups were doing fundraising work around the time COVID-19 hit Chicago, Kamil said, but she knew some residents needed groceries delivered directly to their homes for safety reasons, especially because many live in food deserts – neighborhoods without access to affordable and healthy food options nearby.
"I wanted to do a more hands-on thing to be considerate of the people who, even if they get the money, they have to take the bus and then bring all these groceries on the bus," Kamil said. "It's about the importance of understanding communal living. We should all be able to resource and depend on each other."
With the $7,000 raised, Kamil said she and the volunteers were able to give 30 families $200 to $300 worth of groceries.
Kamil said she was surprised to learn that Scott had cited her initiative in the donation announcement.
"I was like, oh, that’s me. I had no clue that she even donated that amount of money, or that she saw an article from somewhere about the work that I did that inspired her. It was pretty cool," Kamil said.
It wasn't Kamil's first time organizing a food initiative. In the past, Kamil has helped host several "Feed the Block" events to pass out hot meals through the group GoodKids MadCity, a local youth-led organization fighting violence in Chicago and demanding more resources for underserved communities.
Now, Kamil said she's planning to start up a similar "Resource the Block" program to distribute PPE, water, packaged food and other essential supplies. She's also bringing back the grocery drop-off program this winter.
"The very first two grocery drop-offs and the mutual aid pop-up will be happening next week," Kamil said. "I wanted to do a holiday-themed grocery pick-up for people so that they can cook holiday meals."
Originally from Oak Park, Ill., Kamil moved to Chicago for middle school. She moved between the city's South and West sides and currently lives on the West Side. She started getting involved with organizing work at 14, when her art and academic worlds began to coalesce around issues of race, gender, sexuality, housing, policing and more.
She joined Louder Than A Bomb – the largest youth poetry festival in the world – and began to learn from fellow artists. "In that, I was able to see more people who do poetry on topics that I'm organizing for. Being able to see that in an artistic form resonated really well," she said.
Kamil said she was deeply influenced by the events of 2016 – the election of President Donald Trump and protests in the wake of the release of the police video of the Laquan McDonald shooting. She went to her first big protest that year, alone, and marched with thousands people on Lake Shore Drive.
Flash forward four years, and Kamil and other GoodKids MadCity organizers were spearheading some of the city's largest protests – from block parties at downtown intersections to a dance party outside the mayor's house – in response to the police killings of several Black men and women. In June, Kanye West made an appearance at one of the protests that Kamil co-organized in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood.
"The importance of a lot of these movements is coming to the forefront," Kamil said. "That is something that is a silver lining in all this stuff that’s happening."
Kamil said she hopes to go to school in New York once the pandemic is over. For now, she has started a podcast and has been hosting a series of workshops.
"My main focus is understanding who I am and what my purpose is. I'm calling myself an educator," she said. "While we can go to actions, education non-existent in a movement does nothing but stunt our success."
Kamil said she hopes to empower young people to "be imaginative again" and become leaders in their own communities. As the year comes to a close, Kamil said she's also trying to give herself the space to heal and reflect on the work she's done so far. She only just turned 20.
"One of the biggest things I’m taking away from this past year is humanizing myself again – really giving myself the time to be young, make mistakes, and be able to learn and grow every day," she said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MacKenzie Scott donation: Chicago teen Alycia Kamil referenced in post