Chicago Mom Arionne Nettles Pays Homage to Black Chicago

Arionne Nettles, journalist and proud Black Chicagoan, celebrates her city's cultural impact in her debut book, "We Are the Culture."

It’s fair to say that Arionne Nettles, who grew up in Englewood and West Pullman, is obsessed with Chicago — its food, lakefront and world-class institutions.

But while Chicago is on the map for many things, it was important for Nettles, a journalist, pop culture commentator and lecturer at Northwestern University, to rewrite the script to pay homage to the many contributions that Black Americans have made in Chicago.

In April, she released her debut book We Are the Culture: Black Chicago’s Influence on Everything to tell the untold stories of why Chicago deserves to be called ‘the heart of Black America.’

“Black Chicagoans have contributed so much to what we now see as popular culture and they rarely get that respect and honor,” says Nettles. “It was my duty as a proud third-generation Black Chicagoan to tell the stories and celebrate some of those contributions.”

Q&A with Arionne Nettles

Arionne Nettles
Photo credit: Ajah Jolly

Why was now the right time to share this narrative and tell the untold stories we rarely hear about?

Nettles says that more so than ever, the media talks a lot about the violence in Chicago, often putting the city in a poor light.

“It’s important for people who are not from here to know how great our city is, and it’s important for us who are here to remind ourselves why we love Chicago and how it came to be,” she says. “Black Chicagoans have truly made a stamp on Chicago – and in turn – the world.”

How can we raise our kids to embrace their culture?

Nettles, mom to Jackson, 17, says she grew up with a lot of pride for her Black community, and made an effort to pass that on to her son through conversations, clothing, books and food.

“I also see my role as a parent about educating our community,” says Nettles, who is constantly educating all of the little people she plays auntie to.

How can Chicagoans reframe the conversation about the city’s history to include the many contributions of Black Americans?

“Other places do not have what we have. We are so lucky as Chicagoans to grow up with so many amazing institutions in our backyard,” Nettles says. “Hop on the train and take your children to the MCA or the DuSable – there are always exhibitions that showcase the various talents of Black Americans. All of these experiences put that knowledge into your spirit without you even realizing.”

Nettles says it’s a positive sign that parents and teachers have started to embrace an inclusive culture. 

“It’s even doing the simple things like giving Black History Month the real celebration it deserves, trying new restaurants, or seeing some of the outdoor murals in neighborhoods you may not otherwise go to,” she says. “It is hopeful to see us as adults leaning into how Chicago is a city of culture without it feeling like a chore – it’s beginning to be part of the everyday narrative.”

Fast Talk with Arionne Nettles

Arionne Nettles
Photo provided by Arionne Nettles

Your to-go coffee order:

An oak milk latte with vanilla, lavender or both.  

Your favorite place to eat out with your family?

Beggars Pizza in Blue Island. (Lots of seating for extended family and good for folks who stroll in late!) 

Your personal saying:

What’s meant for me will never miss me.

Your secret obsession:

Trying new make-up products, especially lipsticks and blushes.

If you could change anything about your life, what would it be?

I would make all of my friends and family live on a big plot of family land so we’d all be within walking distance.

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Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky is an award-winning journalist and bestselling children's book author. She is the mom of three little ladies who keep her on her toes.


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