Magnetic force for reflection through rap
By Jonathan Black — UIC Alumni magazine
It’s impossible not to be struck by a first impression of Pinqy Ring. There’s the hair, bright pink. There are the abundant piercings. There’s the bright sparkle and warmth she exudes. Even strangers get a hug.
This is all the more remarkable given what she’s been through. The day we met at UIC, for instance, Ring was returning for a session at the College of Dentistry dental clinic. It was the most economical way to fix the teeth she had broken in a near-fatal car accident.
The accident marked a watershed moment in her life. Ring had graduated from Lane Tech High School and was in her first year at UIC, excited but struggling. She cut classes and took a semester off.
“I was on a very bad track,” Ring says. “I was destroying myself. Hanging out with the wrong people. The night of the accident, I was in a car with people who were drinking. Next thing I remember, I was waking up in [John H. Stroger Jr.] Hospital. They showed me my reflection, and I didn’t recognize myself.”
The experience inspired Ring to get her life together. It took awhile to return to UIC, but she was more determined than ever, finishing her degree from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2010.
Ring had started out as a biology major, but switched to English because she loved writing fiction and poetry. She also loved music. When a professor asked who she was, Ring answered, “I’m a rapper.” “Okay,” the instructor replied, “then rap something!”
In many ways, it’s what Ring has been doing ever since. She performs in clubs. She visits schools where she tells her story and raps. She comes back to UIC as a guest lecturer and performer in the “Music Cultures of the World” class she once took with Ruth Rosenberg, assistant professor of music.
“Pinqy is an amazing teacher,” Rosenberg says. “She’s really magnetic, and she’s such a positive, optimistic person. She’s very inspiring for students who hear her story.”
That story goes back to Ring’s childhood. Her given name is Marisol Velez. She hated her tomboy nickname “Pinky,” but switched the spelling and added the last name Ring “because so many rappers have lines about their pinky rings.”
She grew up in the projects on West Division Street and moved several times with her family. It was a tough upbringing, in large part because her parents were active members of the Pentecostal church. “It was very restrictive, very strict,” Ring says. “I couldn’t listen to my kind of music or dress the way I wanted to. I wasn’t able to express myself in any way.”
That inhibition was especially debilitating because of what had happened years before. At a very early age, as young as 8, Ring was sexually abused by a church member. It wasn’t until Ring sought out therapy while a student at UIC that she was able to fully come to terms with that abuse. “All my childhood years, I rebelled,” she says, “and now I realize it was because of that.”
Accepting her “story” freed Ring to transcend that experience and make something special of her life.
Last year, she wrote a song called “Little Heart,” which deals with her sexual abuse. “I needed to talk about this,” Ring says, “because so many young girls and boys don’t have an advocate, especially in hip-hop. No one in rap is writing about sexual abuse — being vulnerable is not rapper-like.”
Before Ring released the song, she told her family what it was about — they had no idea of her experience at the church. Ring has considered prosecuting the abuser and is working with Life Span, a support organization for victims of sexual abuse, to inspire others to follow her model.
“You’re not a product of your past,” Ring says. “It’s what you do with what happened to you that counts.”