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Over a hundred West Side residents convened in the alley on the corner of Lawndale Avenue and 16th Street in the North Lawndale area Friday afternoon. Social media comedians Darrin Brown and Jermaine Banks — Uncle Hank and Big Lowdown — were giving away bikes for free to youth of all sizes.
Families gathered for a chance to mingle with the comedians they watched on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. The comics are West Side residents and have enjoyed meteoric success for the past couple of months, with increased views and followers.
The turnout was higher than expected; the demand for bikes quickly outpaced the supply. The only advertisement for the giveaway was a flyer the duo posted on their shared social media page with almost half a million followers.
The event was a group effort as the entertainers teamed up with North Lawndale-based organizations Equiticity and Boxing Out Negativity to make the giveaway possible. Smiles 4 Miles, a nonprofit out of New York, sent representatives who drove a box truck for over 20 hours to drop off and assemble the bikes.
It is rare to see Chicago’s prominent social media stars give back to the community, but Brown and Banks’ life stories make them very different than others. Both men grew up facing housing instability and drug addiction in their families. Childhood struggles led to decisions that resulted in prison sentences. Then, they turned their lives around. Comedy played a prominent role in their transitions. Within a month, Banks and Brown made comedy their full-time careers.
Brown, who worked with the youth for nonprofit organizations in the North Lawndale area, told The News School staff he plans to use his influence and money to help solve the problems he faced as a youth and witnessed through his community work.
They co-hosted a bike giveaway with Boxing Out Negativity in May on Brown’s birthday. The latest bike giveaway occurred as part of Banks’ birthday celebration.
The turnout showed the power of these West Siders’ positive movement in both the number of people who showed up and the high-profile people who made appearances. For example, Illinois Gubernatorial candidate Beverly Miles and Chicago Mayoral hopeful Ja’Mal Green attended the event to canvass and connect with some of the hardest-to-reach residents in the city.
With elections slated for 2023, candidates’ interest in nontraditional avenues of campaigning is growing. Ja’Mal is a 27-year-old activist who lived on Chicago’s South and West sides of Chicago during his childhood; he will need a large turnout of young voters for him to compete with incumbent Lori Lightfoot and other older and more politically experienced candidates.
Drawing from his experience working on former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaign, Green understands the value of organic and viral social media movements.
For social media savvy politicians like Green, the comedic duo’s platform is a no-brainer. Many of Chicago’s Black population follow them on social media, particularly younger people. This demographic is hard to reach through traditional campaign marketing strategies, such as TV and print advertising.
With just under half a million people following and tuning into their Facebook page, the duo is a rare outlet to communicate directly with the city’s Black youth. Besides the organic reach, the price point is optimal for anybody wishing to market to Black Chicago.
Banks and Brown sometimes charge as low as $250 for a post, despite averaging well over a hundred thousand views per video. Other forms of marketing, such as print or television advertisements, can cost companies well into the tens of thousands and higher.
Green faces an uphill battle in his mayoral bid facing opponents with more experience and funding behind them at a time when many Chicago residents are expressing disdain toward progressive policies and politicians. However, with the potential for innovation through social media campaigning and new alliances, next year’s mayoral race will be one to watch.
Written by Justin Connor
Edited by Sheena Robertson
Bike giveaway: 7/29/2022
Images Courtesy of Justin Connor