Tonika Johnson. Photo Credit: Thoughtpoet
Photographer: Thoughtpoet

Testimonies from the Land: A photo essay

The world is just beginning to understand how police aren’t needed—but do we know that Black women made that possible? Any and all history leads back to how women truly care for others even when that care is not returned. Being a Black woman from the hood is a superpower many can’t comprehend. I wanted to make sure that Women’s History Month wasn’t the only moment where you can uplift amazing Black women changing how the South and West sides of Chicago operate. These words and images depict my perspective of an Afrofuturistic Chicago that honors the Black women taking huge strides to change this city every day.

 

The Goddess of Englewood 

Tonika Johnson. Photo Credit: Thoughtpoet
Tonika Johnson. Photo by Thoughtpoet

My light has made disparity more visible while illuminating a path towards healing our city and the four corners of the universe folks and ‘nem know as 63rd and Halsted. I take the knowledge my ancestors gave to me through my grandmothers and momma to manifest the beauty that comes from a community you can believe in and cherish. My art helps freshen the air in this city of wind. My home, Englewood is the foundation of that.

Tonika Johnson. Photo Credit: Thoughtpoet
Tonika Johnson. Photo by Thoughtpoet

Tonika Johnson is a photographer, a social justice artist, a lifelong resident of Englewood, and co-founder of two community-based organizations, Englewood Arts Collective and Resident Association of Greater Englewood, that seek to reframe the narrative of South Side communities and mobilize people and resources for positive change. Within her artistic practice, Tonika often explores urban segregation and documents the nuance and richness of the Black community, countering pervasive media depictions of Chicago’s violence and crime.

Since 2018 she has used her ongoing Folded Map project to investigate disparities among Chicago residents who are “map twins” living on opposite ends of streets that span the city’s racial and economic divides, and has transformed Folded Map into an advocacy and policy-influencing tool that invites audiences to open a dialogue and question how we are all socially impacted by racial and institutional conditions that segregate the city. In 2019, she was named one of Field Foundation’s Leaders for a New Chicago and was appointed as a member of the Cultural Advisory Council of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events by the Chicago City Council. Most recently, she was selected to be the National Public Housing Museum’s 2021 Artist as Instigator to work on her next project “Inequity for Sale,” highlighting the living history of Greater Englewood homes sold on land sale contracts in the 50’s and 60’s. 

Tonika Johnson. Photo Credit: Thoughtpoet
Tonika Johnson. Photo by Thoughtpoet

Model: Tonika Lewis Johnson
Makeup artist: Jade Landon
Stylist: Ariana Fuana Michaella 

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Memories from Tuley Park

Ceiara Herbert. Photo Credit: Thoughtpoet
Ceiara Herbert. Photo by Thoughtpoet

I’m awaiting golden skies while I also ponder on what God thinks is the best way for me to say I love myself and all of my faults. The answer hasn’t come just yet. So I’ll just hold your hand and keep guiding us through the darkness. Away from the hurt and towards the peace we both want.

Ceaira Herbert holds a BA in sociology from Lane College and works by day as a customer service representative at AT&T. A Tuley Park native and a second-generation graduate of Burnside Scholastic Academy, Ceaira now has a son continuing the tradition, the third generation of her family attending this historic school. Ceaira is deeply rooted in her community, which has over the years suffered from disinvestment and neglect, making it vulnerable to violence and gang activity.  By doing food drives, volunteering at the school, and helping to keep the grounds of the school and the church clean and safe, Ceaira and others like her are on the ground helping keep the old neighborhood alive. Living and working on the South Side of Chicago, Ceaira is an example of how tradition builds stronger generations. 

Ceiara Herbert. Photo Credit: Thoughtpoet
Ceiara Herbert. Photo by Thoughtpoet

Model: Ceiara Herbert 

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What’s Your Thot Juice

E’mon Lauren. Photo Credit: Thoughtpoet
E’mon Lauren. Photo by Thoughtpoet

I have imperfections. I have the most doubts you’ll ever see in anyone, and my darkness often times makes it hard to see my own clouds. But don’t mistake my vulnerability through my art as weakness. I’m a soul from the land that’s as strong as the angels God herself created. Respect my ability to inspire. Respect my ability to create. Respect my pain. Embrace my love. It’s not deserving to everyone.

E’mon Lauren is a Black, queer Scorpio from the West and South sides of Chicago, whose work unpacks her coined philosophy of “hood-womanism.” She was named Chicago’s first Youth Poet Laureate. She has been featured in Chicago magazine, the Tribune, and Vogue, while her work has appeared in The ​BreakBeat Poets anthology​ series, volumes 1 & 2, Poetry magazine, and elsewhere. She is the host of the hit podcast “The Real Hoodwives of Chicago.” Her first book of poems, ​Commando​, was published by Haymarket Books in 2017.

E’mon Lauren. Photo Credit: Thoughtpoet
E’mon Lauren. Photo by Thoughtpoet

Model: E’mon Lauren 

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Shut Up When Black Women Are Speaking

Naira Ikoro. Photo Credit: Thoughtoet
Naira Ikoro. Photo by Thoughtoet

A gift and curse I’ve been holding for most of my life. I don’t mind it though, I just want it to bring me the blessings I know I deserve. I pray about it. I dream about it with every fabric of strength I carry. I just want that light to show itself.

Naira Ikoro. Photo Credit: Thoughtoet
Naira Ikoro. Photo by Thoughtoet

Naira is a first-generation Nigerian from the South Side, a poet and a student at Columbia College with a major in film and a minor in environmental studies. Naira is also an activist, and co-founder of a four-person collective called Blck Rising, focused on organizing, abolition work, and mutual aid. Naira recently created a clothing brand and shop, KOBO, where she shares items designed around her passions and humor.

Naira Ikoro. Photo Credit: Thoughtoet
Naira Ikoro. Photo by Thoughtoet

Creative direction, styling, and model: Naira Ikoro

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The Essentials of (Her) 

Inez White. Photo Credit: Thoughtpoet
Inez White. Photo by Thoughtpoet

I was born in the arms of imaginary friends that reminded me the moment I saw the inferno that my light can persuade a generation and a world to change its heart towards those who have endured like me. I’m still fighting. I’m still here.

Inez White. Photo Credit: Thoughtpoet
Inez White. Photo by Thoughtpoet

Inez White is a doctoral student of nursing specializing in family nurse practice at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her bachelor’s degree from Illinois Wesleyan University in sociology and Hispanic studies. She received her second bachelor’s degree from Resurrection University in nursing. Inez has been a member of BYP100 for over four years, after experience as a student organizer at Illinois Wesleyan, where she worked to alter the oppressive systems there to bring awareness to the lack of inclusivity for students of color and the LGBTQIA+ community. She currently aids in the planning and execution of BYP100’s ongoing campaigns. She is passionate about expressing the importance of radical transformation of current systems to accomplish Black liberation, including joy, freedom, housing, abolition, healing, and solidarity. She is also passionate about transferring this information to generations to come, including her five-year-old son, Malachi. Her goals include acquiring an independent practice focusing on community education and healthcare in impoverished areas of Chicago.

Inez White. Photo Credit: Thoughtpoet
Inez White. Photo by Thoughtpoet

Styling: Andrea Montoya
Model: Inez White
Makeup: Tiara Dèshanè
Hair: GoToTheMo 

 

Note: This story has been edited to make it clear that the first-person statements attached to each portrait are creative interpretations crafted by the author and photographer.

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Isiah ThoughtPoet Veney is a photographer and writer from the Chatham and Burnside area, on a mission to capture and express powerful opinions and perceptions through imagery and writing of the Black experience. He currently lives in West Englewood, and previously contributed the photo essay (IKnowFolksAss) The Interlude to the Weekly.

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