On Tuesday, April 16th, after weeks of prototyping and fine tuning, the long awaited Dimensions of Citizenship : Ain't You Heard - What Happens to a Dream Deferred? finally happened.
Before the official start at 6pm, the Dream Team consisting of Valerie Wong, Julia Lopes, Pu Pu, and myself with help from our wonderful friend, Lily Hernandez, arrived at Woods Academy in Englewood early on to set up.
At Woods, the performers, photographer Tonika Johnson and musical/ performance artist Roy Kinsey, MC Anton Seals, as well as the event organizer Aysha Butler of R.A.G.E, welcomed us as they got ready for the main performance event. There were also other booths with food, candles, information about the event partners, Dimensions of Citizenship and R.A.G.E.
Valerie, Julia, and Lily spray painted the event title on the ground, made final edits for their video, and checked up with Tonika and the projector crew to see when and how they would show their videos.
Pu and I set up the memory station panels outside, since the weather was nicer than expected. We also made outlines with tape along the school fence that read "WE ARE ENGLEWOOD," which were later filled with ribbons.
As we all finished setting up, friends and neighbors passing by filled the once neglected and empty space with music by Antoine "DJ Dap" Butler, laughter, and warmth.
Before the big event with Tonika and Roy, our guests wondered around the different stations including the memory station that Pu and I have made. While some were very enthusiastic to participate, writing responses to our questions on ribbons and drawing on clear sheets to reminisce about their school memories, others shied away from answering or speaking about their experience.
Looking back, we realize we weren't friendly enough with the cues to lead them into our activities and we had too many steps for how people could participate.
After an hour or so of engaging with the different booths, people started sitting down to enjoy their sandwiches and socialize. The sun also started to set just in time for Valerie and Julia to project their animated video on closed schools and interview with Memphis on the large brick wall.
It was very impactful to see community members and neighbors engaging with the content and visuals about their neighborhood and reflecting upon the history of the building. While including data on the closed schools and uncertainty about the future, there were also valuable moments of inspiration, such as learning about the accomplishments of Granville T. Woods, who the school is named after.
Another important feature was an interview with Memphis Tate, a former student of John Hope College Prep, which was one of the high schools closed in Englewood in 2018, and listening about his experience as a student and his current aspirations. Having Valerie and Julia's work projected full-scale on the gym wall of Woods Academy, and hearing Memphis' deep voice reverberate throughout the open space, offered a creative way to practice listening as a form of radical inclusion.
As soon as Valerie and Julia's video finished, Tonika Johnson stepped up to begin her grandmother's migration story as a video montage of her and her grandmother flashed before our eyes.
Tonika's soft yet firm voice gently carried us through the story of her grandmother and herself going through different forms of migration and journey - from South and within Chicago. The images that switched between Tonika, in the present time, and her Grandmother, in the past, reminded us of how migration is still a very relative issue / experience. She then stepped down to allow Roy Kinsey to perform his songs that spoke about his experience as a Black man living in Chicago.
Once the performances were over, Anton Seals invited the audience to share their stories about migration or their family roots. Some stepped up to tell us about their migration - to different cities, neighborhoods, and schools, as well as their family's origins.
Lastly, led by Anton, we collectively recited Langston Hughes' Harlem. Everyone was holding a lit candle and we stood in a circle, side by side, in a connecting moment. This project offered a setting for the community to process the closing of the school in a different way -- by providing a space for reflection (and why not mourning?) while inspiring a sense of hope through gathering.
Even for an outsider like myself, who comes from a different country with a very different culture, this program was meaningful because I realize that no matter where you're from, you'll always have an origin story, a place of beginning, that connects people despite being from a different generation, country, or identity to be part of something greater.
By Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
LIANNE AHN is a senior at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in the Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects.