Chance the Rapper on Parenting as a Force for Good: 'We Were Born in This Time for a Reason'
Grammy-winning musician and public-school supporter Chance the Rapper believes we are in a transformative moment to make the world a better place for our kids. But that change can occur only if parents work together to step up for justice.
It’s going to happen. Sometime in this next school year, a Chicago parent will glance over at a kindergarten dad and realize that the “C. Bennett” on his name tag is for Chancelor Bennett, also known as Chance the Rapper.
The 27-year-old dad of Kensli, 5, and Marli, turning 1, has been mixing parenting with hit making since the 2016 release of Coloring Book. The song collection, released independently, was a career-defining masterpiece combining hip-hop with jazz riffs, gospel choruses, and the kind of lyrical wordplay that instantly made him heir apparent to the generation of rap kings that include Jay-Z and Kanye West. Chance won three Grammys, headlined Lollapalooza, and even made an Emmy-nominated comedy turn on Saturday Night Live. Then he memorably canceled a tour last fall to take paternity leave after Marli’s birth.
When Chance was 8 years old, his father, Ken Bennett, ran Barack Obama’s senate campaign. Years later, Chance visited President Obama’s White House four times. Public service is a through line in Chance’s life, just as Christianity is a through line in his music. His nonprofit, SocialWorks, empowers youth through the arts and civic engagement, and he started it by giving a million dollars to Chicago’s public schools.
When Parents spoke to Chance via Zoom, the country was reeling from protests over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers. Long before he was famous, Chance rapped:
Brown boys are dying, and none of ’em
were for business
And all of ’em love they mommas, and
all of they mommas miss ’em
Between the pandemic, civic unrest, and heartbreaking tales of police brutality, this generation of parents is being tested like never before. What’s heartening is that Chance, the dad, is as thoughtful and hopeful as his music. He believes we can do better—and that if we work together, we will.
Parents: Let’s talk about this moment and Black Lives Matter.
Chance: I think freedom, or even just the lack of oppression and racism, starts with recognizing the humanity in others. And I think we’re kind of indoctrinated to look at people who aren’t in our same tier of social hierarchy as “other.” This time is calling into question everyone’s morality and everybody’s sense of complicity and the oppression of people at large. I think one thing that has helped me understand racism is realizing that people can adhere to racist systems and benefit from them without necessarily consciously doing so. And my understanding of that came from my being able to see how I could be complicit in patriarchy and sexism. When there are protests, they’re mostly for Black men. Statistics show that Black women are also brutalized at an extremely high rate or, in some cases, killed by racist police officers. So I think we’re starting to address many issues: racism, patriarchy, capitalism, colorism. Until we can recognize the stem of each problem and how we all work within the system, we can’t actually make it better.
Parents: This moment is calling all of us to grow. What is being asked of parents this year, which is so unlike any other we’ve experienced?
Chance: Well, I’m a man of faith. So I feel a lot of things that happen may not be predestined, but I believe that God has control. We’re facing the coronavirus pandemic, where everybody has lost the assistance not only of grandparents and friends and family but also of the education system. Parents are put in this weird position where we’ve had to become teachers, along with being providers and caretakers. You become the main source of information for your child. A lot of us weren’t prepared for that.
Parents: It’s a big “aha” moment of realizing how valuable teachers are.
Chance: And if we thought that teaching our kids how to read was hard, imagine teaching them that there’s an entire system of oppression that our society is built on, that they can either be complicit in or work to change. It’s a difficult task, but it’s like we were born or live in this time for a reason. I think we have a pretty crazy opportunity right now to change the trajectory of humanity.
Parents: That’s powerful. As an Afro-Latina, I’ve felt the racial divide of this moment deeply. To be super-frank, this is a tricky time to talk about race with my white friends.
Chance: The deep part about it is that for years, I would say at least 300 years, we’ve had to educate white folks on the ills of society. At this point, the common knowledge of racism just exists. There’s Black bodies upon Black bodies, lynchings, riots, there’s all these things happening. It makes everyone have to address it. My conversations with my white friends mainly deal with just how recent the most grim versions of physical white supremacy were in this country’s history. Everyone should educate themselves about those four little girls who died in the 1963 church bombing, and understand the physical violence that Black people face for the sheer fact that they’re Black.
Parents: What are you and your wife telling your daughters about this moment?
Chance: My kids are young. Mainly, we’ve been teaching Kensli to love herself, to understand that her opinion is important, to understand that Black is beautiful and that Black power is her superpower. Marli, I’ve just been trying to teach her how to walk.
Parents: How do you share faith with them?
Chance: Just being honest, I haven’t taught Kensli a prayer to memorize yet. And I’m glad that you said that, that’s probably something I need to do. She’s so young that she doesn’t fully understand even Jesus’s death yet. I’ll say the Lord’s Prayer before she goes to sleep and hold her hand, and at meals we pray real quick, “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food.” Gospel singer Fred Hammond has a song called “You Are the Living Word,” and Kensli loves to sing all the oh’s that come at the end.
Parents: During quarantine, I looked at my husband and I was like, “Okay, we have to team up.” Did you have that kind of moment with Kirsten?
Chance: Very much so. My wife and I grew up together. Kirsten was very emotionally attached to all that was happening. When the video of George Floyd’s murder came out, I was initially keeping away from it because I’ve been under so much emotional duress, missing family and friends, that I didn’t feel I could see it and be well. And I was correct on that. But by shielding ourselves, we leave ourselves more exposed. The fact that my wife was so emotionally damaged by what was going on drove me to evaluate everything.
Parents: Do you think being at home has also had unexpected benefits?
Chance: It was tough not seeing my parents for months. But for those of us who have not lost folks, and for whom the worst part is staying at the house, it’s been an opportunity to connect in a substantial way with our children and spouses. The spring was more a time of reflection than keeping the community alive. It’s been an amazing growth point for me. Kensli and I do little arts-and-crafts projects. We did a volcano experiment, and we grew some sea monkeys. I built her a bike. The tough part was putting the brakes on. Like, it’s actually one of the most difficult things I ever did, putting the brakes on the bike.
Parents: What have you learned about yourself during this crazy year?
Chance: I feel like I’m 30 now. I definitely felt like I was 26 for a while and now I just feel like I’m straight 30, which isn’t really that grown. I just feel grown as hell.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's September 2020 issue as “Chance the Dad.” Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here.