Updated: Mar 11
One of the most enriching aspects of my February was discovering the work of Tonika Lewis Johnson, who presented The Folded Map Project as part of Breakthrough Technologies’ Lunch and Learn series. Johnson is a social justice artist in Chicago whose work seeks to bridge the gap between the South Side Englewood community and the “twin” North Side residents who live at similar addresses on the same Chicago street. Growing up in Chicago as a Lane Tech High School student, Johnson traveled daily from Englewood to Roscoe Village and observed the differences between the neighborhoods. She wondered why the South Side looked different from the North Side. Why do some neighborhoods have vacant lots and buildings while others do not? Why are some neighborhoods flourishing while others fail to thrive?
When talking about Chicago, its history is such an important part of the discussion; specifically the intersection of race, geography, and segregation. In an area with six aldermen and where change is often slow, many Englewood residents are frustrated with the conditions of their neighborhood. The Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E), started by Asiaha Butler and co-founded by Johnson, aims to address the needs and concerns of Englewood as a whole community. A main goal of the resident-funded and resident-led association is to help redraw the boundaries of Greater Englewood and push for at least one ward office in the neighborhood.
The Folded Map project is a community-led, citizenship engagement opportunity that connects seemingly different people through real conversation. The project created “Map Twins” who live at corresponding addresses on the North and South sides of Chicago. These residents work together to create awareness of the issues impacting the Englewood neighborhood and discuss how each person can contribute to a solution. Johnson’s film interviews Map Twins and asks them to visit each other and share what change they would like to see in their communities.
Educating ourselves about the work behind this project is a first step in dismantling systemic racism in Chicago due to redlining districts, disinvestment in Black communities, and inconsistent aldermanic leadership. Visit www.foldedmapproject.com to learn more about how social justice artistry can change our minds about Chicago neighborhoods, get an Action Kit to find ways you can participate, and purchase Johnson’s moving film that explores the struggles that Englewood homeowners face and their desire to create a vibrant and meaningful community.