WE THE VANGUARD (2016 -) is a continuing photographic archive of Black women/femmes shifting the contemporary culture of Chicago, primarily emerging and/or at the vanguard of arts, culture, + social justice. This project seeks to share context in regard to the creative and continuing labor of women at the vanguard of cultural innovation and expansion.
On 73rd Street and Paxton, toward Merrill, at least one hundred people marched: past cars, over puddles, into alleys and across the block. As they marched, they held bundles of herbs in the air, played percussion, danced, and waved flags. This scene was the beginning of the Back Alley Jazz Festival—and the man at the front of the crowd, who rode in a mint-green Pedicab and wore a sash that read “Grand Marshall,” was Jimmy Ellis, a saxophonist who has been playing in Chicago since 1948.
Teklife is a crew of producers and DJs known for pioneering and popularizing footwork, a genre which produces some of the most futuristic sounds and styles in electronic music even as it draws upon decades of Chicago dance history. In the late 2000s, the group emerged from the Ghettoteknitianz outfit (2004-2009), and went on to prove itself as the decisive force in footwork’s explosion onto the international scene. Between drops on experimental electronic labels Planet Mu and Hyperdub, DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn began touring abroad, bringing their frenetic beats to a growing audience. Today, Teklife is known overseas for pushing footwork forward—and known locally for maintaining the culture.
Viviana Gentry Fernandez-Pellon is a fourth-generation Chicagoan who has taken on an issue they suffer from personally: environmental racism. Co-owner of the Chicago Mushroom Company, Fernandez-Pellon lives in the Pullman neighborhood, a three minute alley-walk away from the community garden they codirect called the Cooperation Operation. It is located on a formerly toxic site that neighbors forced the EPA to remediate (remove contaminants and restore ecological balance) in 1983. That process created public records that Fernandez-Pellon could request to view through the Freedom of Information Act. They did, and used the information to learn the history of the industrial uses—and remediation efforts—within the site. Today, they are using mushrooms, a method of bioremediation—accomplishing remediation through living organisms—to heal that soil, which has suffered from decades of industrial contamination. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
If we can learn something valuable about people by looking at the “mundane, everyday objects” of their daily lives, as Rebecca Graff suggests, the assortment of items littered around her office tells us the obvious—that she is an urban archaeologist. Lanyards from academic conferences are pinned to the bulletin board in a messy gaggle, stray surveying equipment sits in the corner, and her shelves are full of glass bottles with worn-off labels, artifacts saved from digs. Even apparent signs of hobbies, like the half-shelf full of beer cans, lead back to her discipline: the cans are gifts from her students, finds from antique shows across the world.
Kevin “K-Max” Maxey is a DJ and Far South Side native. For nineteen straight years, he’s brought his passion for music to CTA Radio, the hip-hop radio show he hosts with Pugs Atomz and Aja the Cover’It’Girl on WHPK 88.5 FM in Hyde Park. In an interview with the Weekly, K-Max broke down CTA Radio and shared where his unique passion for hip-hop comes from.
Steve Badauskas is an artist, musician, and the owner of Bernice’s Tavern in Bridgeport. He’s perhaps best-known for the lively games of Stingo (Steve’s Bingo) he hosts every Wednesday. A lifelong Bridgeport resident, he inherited the bar from his parents, John and Bernice, reimagining it for a changing neighborhood.
Between her first mayoral run in 2014 and now, Dr. Amara Enyia hasn’t slowed down in her efforts to effect change in Chicago. She co-authored the book Chicago Is Not Broke and founded the Institute for Cooperative Economics and Economic Innovation, a social lab focusing on educating and assisting in the expansion of innovative economic models. On Tuesday, Enyia will launch her second mayoral bid at the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport. The thirty-five-year-old, running with the slogan “all people, all voices, one city,” draws on a legacy of activism stretching back to her great-grandmother’s village in Nigeria.
When I walk into Gabriel Piemonte’s campaign office, he’s leaning over a set of newly laminated 5th Ward maps, highlighting the South Shore blocks he plans to walk over the coming months. The office itself, in a storefront along 71st Street, is sparsely furnished—a single bookshelf, a few posters, chairs and a sofa near the door. During our interview, Piemonte notes that he’s hoping to turn it into a public art gallery, or maybe a lecture space. Still, he might be forgiven for worrying about bigger problems first, such as the fact that his opponent in the race for 5th Ward alderman, five-term incumbent Leslie Hairston, has approximately $20,000 more cash at hand than he does. (According to his last quarterly report, Piemonte’s got $750 in his campaign committee account, though he has spent about $20,000 campaigning over the last ten months.) He recently received his first endorsement, from the South Side chapter of Democracy for America, the political organization of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
This week, Chicago will host its first summit on issues of cooperative economics. Cooperatives—often called “co-ops”—are organizations that are mutually owned or operated by all those involved; decisions are reached together and resources are shared amongst those in the organization.