Lit Issue 2018 | Photo Essay | Stage & Screen

Performers at the #BreathingRoom’s “In the Yard” create space to both educate and heal

“When you are surrounded by darkness I will be your light, say my name, Pound! Pound! Pound! That’s the sound of the time for us to wake up, don’t make my life a hashtag, say my name and make my life a legend.” – Royal

It’s another warm summer night in Back of the Yards, and people are slowly filing into the #BreathingRoom. Some hang around in the yard out front, catching up with homies or taking in the pleasant air of the evening. Others file into seats inside, practicing lines for their set. The #LetUsBreathe Collective, a Black-led art and community group, hosts a newly-launched open mic titled “In the Yard” on every third Wednesday of the month; it is one of a group of small, new open mics that have cropped up on the South and West Sides in recent years.

In an interview with the Weekly this past February, #LetUsBreathe co-founder Kristiana Rae Colón detailed the group’s genesis as a response to Michael Brown’s death and the ensuing protests in Ferguson and around the country. The group uses the #BreathingRoom, its headquarters since last year, to fulfill its mission of using “art and service as an access point for political education,” Colón said. The space is host to conversations about the deconstruction and abolition of prisons and police in communities of color, as well as a healing space for Chicagoans to practice self-expression and reinforce self-worth.

Whether connected to the space solely through social or political issues, or simply by exploration of one’s personal issues, each artist who performed that night transformed and added a little bit of themselves to the space.

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The crowd starts to file in

The crowd starts to file in

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Before the open mic starts, organizers of the #BreathingRoom read the space agreements to create a safe space for all in attendance.

Before the open mic starts, organizers of the #BreathingRoom read the space agreements to create a safe space for all in attendance.

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“Black women are like stars, dying combustible balls of flame, please say our name, what good use is having this magic if everyone is using it but me?” - Kwynn Riley

“Black women are like stars, dying combustible balls of flame, please say our name, what good use is having this magic if everyone is using it but me?” – Kwynn Riley

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 “I stuff Huffington Post in my pockets and hang my words in the closets of skeleton”- Royal

“I stuff Huffington Post in my pockets and hang my words in the closets of skeleton”- Royal

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“I am melanin-poppin’, poet-spittin’, peace-spreading caregiver for your wounds” – Amar

“I am melanin-poppin’, poet-spittin’, peace-spreading caregiver for your wounds” – Amar

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The night’s feature, Johari Noelle, performs a cover of “In Love With You” by Erykah Badu and Stephen Marley, her own song titled “Too Much of You,” and “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse

The night’s feature, Johari Noelle, performs a cover of “In Love With You” by Erykah Badu and Stephen Marley, her own song titled “Too Much of You,” and “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse

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In addition to illumination by lights, the #BreathingRoom is also decorated with collaborative murals.

In addition to illumination by lights, the #BreathingRoom is also decorated with collaborative murals.

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“In the Yard: A #LetUsBreathe Open Mic.” The #BreathingRoom, 1434 W. 51st St. Every third Wednesday, 7pm–9pm. Free. On August 18, the #BreathingRoom will host a community dialogue on how to build a police-free Freedom City, followed by a “Black Magic Kickback.” letusbreathecollective.com

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Rod Sawyer is the Weekly’s visual arts editor. He last wrote for the Weekly in May about the new “Children of the Wall” mural at the Hyde Park Art Center.

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