I've always known that our arts scene was unique. It's close-knit, it's supportive, it's real. This story, though, has made that notion so real for me. It's a story of a bright kid from Indy named Casey Bridgeford who was raised in a very low-income household. He struggled in school, not really motivated to study or think about anything other than his music. He dreamed of becoming an artist and he pursued music with all he had for ten years. Music was an escape for him. Hip-Hop was more important, at the time, than an education.
Casey, now an adult and known as "ILL Holiday" started a rap group in Indy called Dafilled with two other artists. They made a name for themselves, performed at different universities and even had a tour. It was happening. Casey was an artist.
But, a family and a house later, ILL realized that music can't be a replacement for an education. "If artistry fails you, what is there to fall back on?" he says. ILL broke off the group and started performing solo gigs. Nowadays you'll find him at festivals rapping alongside folk artist Luke Austin Daugherty. He realized his music career couldn't carry him. At least pursuing music in Indy full time couldn't carry him. He then knew school was important but "basic needs: rent, food, gas, and diapers, etc., meant that school was not an option unless it was bringing money into the home," the artist explains.
Fortunately, the Nina Mason Pulliam Trust made it possible for ILL to attend Ivy Tech. And now, he's been invited to study at the University of Philadelphia. ILL will have the opportunity to encourage other kids in another state about the importance of an education. He'll also be an ambassador for Indianapolis and can speak on music not being an "or" versus school.
Unfortunately, attending the University of Pennsylvania still costs money: tuition, moving his family, rent and food. What is inspiring, though, is that Indy's artists are coming alongside Casey, not only in moral support but they are opening their pocket books, too.
Casey has raised over $6,000 in a couple of short months just by word of mouth, social media and via his FundMe website. On the site, he tells the story of his childhood to his journey throughout the music scene. He's also gotten some locals to create short videos on why it's important to support Casey's efforts. Congressman Andre Carson is among them. Ivy Tech has featured Casey in their internal school magazine as he talks about how he was so adamantly opposed to school because his learning style was different.
This month, other artists in Indy are rallying around ILL for an artist send off. It's like they're saying one of their own has grown up and is being sent out into the world. From Ivy Tech to Ivy League. This is an example of someone who gave art a real shot. This is someone who was resilient and is passionate about the possibilities of Indy's arts and culture scene. Did it work? Sure it did, for a time. But ILL will leave Indy now for another city and a completely different artistic swagger. It's wonderful to see him being sent off by his comrades, those who continue to fight for what they know they were born to do.
It seems the city has rallied around Casey's efforts to follow his dreams and seize opportunities. It's a true story of how it takes a village to raise a child. That's what makes Indianapolis unique, especially our art scene. Artists have given their own dollars, their time and their skill to send Casey off to an Ivy League school. Next week, bands will play, poets will be in the building and his friends from the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center will offer Casey verbal roses as he leaves Indy just one week later.