Charisse Arrington served four years in the U.S. Air Force before eventually landing a recording deal with MCA Records in the late 1990s. Arrington’s talent held sway with two tracks, “Down With This” and “Ain't No Way,” landing on Billboard’s Hot 100, with “Down With This” included in the top five of Billboard’s Dance breakout chart.
The artist who found her voice as a child, honing it at her grandmother’s behest, then later in the Air Force, was living the dream. “I always heard money is a woman,” Charisse Arrington said, “and her energy is that if you don’t pay attention to her, she doesn’t pay attention to you.”
When her contract with MCA Records was severed, so too was her confidence. “They were the end all be all. They were the power to my life,” she said about MCA. She left New York in 2004. Onto new beginnings, the next act.
Arrington returned to her family home in Maywood, Illinois. She had inherited the mortgage-free home after her mother died. Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which sideswiped her business prospects and income. The aftereffect, left Arrington precipitously close to foreclosure on her home.
On government assistance since the pandemic hit, notices she received from the Cook County assessor’s office about missed payments on her property taxes piled up, the letters stacked one on top of the other. According to county records, between 2015 and 2020, the property taxes on Arrington’s home increased from $2,915.11 to $8,011.81. The spike in Maywood’s property taxes in recent years, one of the highest in Illinois, she said, “are off the rails”.
Keeping pace with each installment was impossible for Arrington, especially with her sporadic income as a certified life coach and public speaker coming to halt in the face of the pandemic. In August, the assessor sent her an ultimatum: if $42,000 in unpaid property taxes were not paid in full by January 7, 2021, her home would be foreclosed.
From September 2020 until the first week of January, donations poured in from family, friends, strangers, and even a GoFundMe campaign. In total, over $28,000 was raised. “I supported Charisse so much because of her track record,” said Nola Lucas, who has known Arrington for over a decade and who donated to the fundraiser.
Lucas lives in England and, despite their geographic separation, became a sounding board for Arrington on ways to get her message out and draw attention to the devastating spike in her property taxes, and what they saw as consequences of gentrification.
“Even when she was asking for support, she was still encouraging people, which I found quite amazing,” Lucas said. “If anyone was going to pull herself out of it, it would have been Charisse.”
Early in the morning on January 7, the day her home was scheduled for foreclosure, Arrington’s phone rang. A concerned friend was calling. “I just wanted to see how you were doing,” they said. “I’m doing a bankruptcy,” Arrington told her friend, about filing for Chapter 13. The last-ditch effort to save her home.
She told her about the fundraiser and how, after raising $28,000, she was still far short of meeting the county’s terms. “Can you meet me down at the bank?” her friend asked. Puzzled, Arrington asked why. “I’m going to pay the balance.”
With her home out of foreclosure, Arrington applied for financial assistance from the Gary Sinise Foundation. A little more than a month later, the Foundation covered a portion of her 2021 property taxes and provided $4,000 toward vehicle repairs on her car that had sat idle since December.
With the assistance provided by the Gary Sinise Foundation, Arrington was able to focus on her future. She has since enrolled in financial management classes. She sees a therapist who is helping her confront trauma from her past. And she continues to work as a life coach and public speaker. “Every day is a surprise of goodness,” the Air Force veteran said. “I want to be the best self I can be while I’m here to be able to share all my gifts.”
“I just want to show up.”