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April 4, 2016

UChicago Alum’s Musical Charity Pareto Optimal

It is common to assume that the subject you major in will directly correspond to your career path. Chris Leamy (A.B.’10), however, is now making his name in the music industry, despite having been an economics major at UChicago—albeit in an unexpected way.

As an undergrad, Leamy was already writing original songs and playing in bands. He played acoustic covers of songs at The Pub in Ida Noyes and performed throughout Chicago at venues such as the House of Blues, Double Door, and Beat Kitchen.

Since last year, however, Leamy has taken his music-making in a new direction: raising money for the homeless by playing his guitar next to homeless people around New York City. He was inspired to do so after a homeless woman spotted him carrying his guitar case on the subway. “This would be much easier if I had one of those,” she had said, pointing to his case.

Thus began Leamy’s campaign, known by the hashtag #heplaysforme. All the money that Leamy raises in a given sitting goes to the homeless person for whom he plays. However, he takes his campaign a step further by personally donating the same amount to the Bowery Mission, a New York City–based organization providing food, medical services, and employment aid to the homeless, while challenging the public to do the same through an online fundraising page. Through such combined efforts, Leamy has raised over $6,000 since he started #heplaysforme last year.

Beyond the money he has raised, what makes the whole experience meaningful to Leamy is the interactions he has with the people he helps.

“It really taught me a lot about perspective,” says Leamy. For example, he once related a tough day at work and argument with his sister over the phone to his companion. His response: “Oh, but you have a job? Man, that is awesome! And about your sister, I haven’t talked to mine in years; I don’t even have a phone or number to call.”

Leamy says that the thing that makes the biggest impression on him is the selflessness of the homeless community. “Almost every person I sit with wants to split the money we make,” he says. “These are people with nothing, often alone without any support. Their burdens in life are much heavier than my own.”

For Leamy, witnessing their generosity is a humbling experience. When he approached a man in Union Square to ask if he could play for him, the man said, “There’s gotta be someone else who needs it more than me.”

With a new EP titled The American Man coming out later this year under SONY RED and a single, “Crime,” already available on Spotify and Apple Music, Leamy’s own musical career continues to grow. Meanwhile, he continues to raise money for the homeless and shares the inspiring conversations he has along the way on his Instagram account.

“As I try to navigate my way through the finance and music industries, I am so grateful for the problem solving skills I developed while at school,” says Leamy. “The University of Chicago taught me how to think.”

Evidently, his learning has not stopped there, for he continues to learn more about the homeless community and the compassion of people as he plays music for them. Combining social media with compassion, #heplaysforme brings a personal touch—and sound—to charity.

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