06.12.20 Leadership Shout Out: CHAV
Born in South Bend, Indiana, CHAV made their way to New York City in 2013. CHAV, who uses ‘they/them’ pronouns, shares their steady climb towards access to safe, decent, and affordable housing as they continue to establish what home means to them. CHAV is known for their thought provoking visual art, music and community activism; and joined as a HYP NYC network member in 2019.

HYP NYC: Hi CHAV! How are you? We haven’t seen you since last year’s Built with Pride Panel. You inspired all of us with your story, thank you!

CHAV: Hello and thanks! I had a great time and am happy to reconnect.

HYP NYC: So what’s happened in the last year, what has your journey been, and how have you grown?

CHAV: Wow, those are big questions! The last year has been a lot of understanding who I am and how that impacts my spirit. I’m very aware of my own intersections, and that everyone is intersectional in their own way. So I am always working on being aware of people who don’t look like me or share my story. I want to understand them. I always look for opportunities to collect and understand those stories.

HYP NYC: That’s beautiful. You’re amazing! We remember you talking about your music and how each song has its own story. How does what you just shared play into that?

CHAV: My music is one of the biggest ways to inject that ideology. I love writing and working on a fully developed campaign for each song. When I create my art, I think about what it’s like to climb into a hue and communicate what that experience is. The whole point is to communicate the full spectrum within yourself. You’re allowed to call on all aspects of your being. When you’re at work, at home, or spending time with yourself, you’re different shades. It’s a disservice to compartmentalize yourself. So I want to inspire people to explore every color of their spectrum. And that’s hard to do, especially if you live and operate in a normative or corporate environment. You’re constantly trying to appease white culture to fit in. And, for me, and for most, that’s not appropriate. Its harmful to yourself as a human. All parts of me, and you, matter. This is the whole universe within this one story. It takes practice to discover that and live by it.

HYP NYC: Preach! In our eyes, you are a leader. When did you decide to be a leader and when did you start recognizing yourself as a leader?

CHAV: That’s a really hard question because there wasn’t a specific day I decided to be a leader. It’s been a steady climb since I was nine years old. Especially as a young black ‘boy,’ a lot of people had expectations of me but it became about chasing my curiosity. When you chase your curiosity, and don’t have a fear of falling, you find yourself running. Then you find yourself doing cartwheels because you’re occupying a space that wasn’t occupied. All these creative languages I had studied started coming into play with how I express myself. A lot of places I’ve ended up in are not places that a lot of queer POC (people of color) feel welcome in. And that really upsets because I’m not the most remarkable person I’ve met. There are so many amazing and talented people in this world and I don’t see them when I’m looking around the rooms I’m in.

HYP NYC: Wow, that’s so real.

CHAV: Yeah, then I realized my experience was so unique because of my proximity to whiteness. A lot of Black and non-Black POC peers never get these experiences because of the communities they grew up in. What I’m doing is also showing White people everything POC can be. My work serves as representation for our community.

HYP NYC: Your spirit is pure, thank you for being so raw and honest. Now let’s talk about housing. What is your housing story and how has it impacted who you are today?

CHAV: Finding what home actually means to me has been a very checkered journey. I’m originally from South Bend, Indiana and I remember this moment before moving to Chicago, shortly after my senior year in high school. I was living between my Grandma’s home and couch surfing while trying to get established in Chicago. There were a lot of moments when I was homeless and my belongings were divided between all the places I was couch surfing. It was devastating and impacted me to not have everything in one central location. Though, I know that I’m never alone because my heart is always with me. So I just kept pushing through.

Moving to New York was a whole other experience. I was older and more experienced, but always subletted from apartment to apartment. I didn’t have any credit so I couldn’t get my own place. It was really challenging, especially as an artist. So I think home is about where you’re gonna lay your head, how you’re going to eat. It’s a constant balancing act. I put a lot of work into figuring out my finances to access housing and be able to stay in one place for at least a year.

Once I accomplished that I had security. This security opened up my creative output because when you’re not stressed about your necessities you’re able to explore your passions. Especially as a POC. You’re always working to meet your basic needs, always hand to mouth, so you’re not really able to really pursue your goals. As I got older and established some stability, I was able to understand how to grow my work and be strategic, instead of being reactionary. Home is having space to breathe and to think about your next move, your relationships. Home is about having a moment of solitude.

HYP NYC: So true! And we see that with a lot of New Yorkers. Most people are spending day and night looking for access to affordable housing; and we see how lack of access impacts all other areas of their lives. Thank you so much for opening up, sharing your story, and continuing to inspire our community. We wish you the best in your next chapter and want to remind everyone to check out your new single Grow Up Together.

CHAV: Thank you! And lots of love, until next time.