Tonika Johnson: Loyola University Chicago: Features

What kicked off the project in the first place? It sounds like there were a number of phases.

The concept for the project started when I was a teenager traveling from my neighborhood of Englewood all the way up north to my high school, Lane Tech. That’s when the observations of Folded Map made an impression on me. I didn’t realize what I was going to turn it into, or if I was going to turn it into anything, until I started getting more active doing community work in my neighborhood. As a parent who’s in Englewood, an adult who’s in Englewood, and as a former homeowner in Englewood, I realized that the observations I had made as a teenager were really critical to the conditions that Englewood is struggling with today. A lot of my fellow residents and community members are actively trying to resolve and work towards solutions for the very same things, so that is what propelled my urgency to do Folded Map.

Personally, I began working on Folded Map last year as a fellow with City Bureau, which is a civic journalism lab. I was finally ready to get it out of my brain, and I wanted to capitalize off of the recognition I had gotten for the Everyday Englewood exhibit and utilize that to really bring awareness to the issues raised in Folded Map. The fellowship is just about eight weeks, and of course, in eight weeks, I didn’t finish the project.

When I told Natasha about Folded Map and she offered to also have that exhibited, I was just really ecstatic. I knew that would be a great pathway to our city having a larger discussion about segregation and inequity. Working with her helped accelerate it, because I was at a point with Folded Map where I had a lot of my Englewood participants identified, but I really needed help securing the North Side “Map Twins.” What I was doing was going up north on the weekends, writing letters, dropping them in mailboxes, probably looking very creepy—and no one responded. So, I asked Natasha if she could help and she brought on board the Center for Urban Research and Learning. We created packets, and some interns in that department actually delivered those packets to the specific block that I wanted to secure a resident from. Within two weeks, people were calling. Loyola was really essential in me securing the North Side participants to Folded Map. I know for a fact that if I were just doing it by myself, it would have taken even that much longer.

Do you see this continuing to grow?

Oh yes—in my mind, I thought I was happy to be done for the exhibition. I was like, oh finally, I can take a breather. But, it has gotten so much attention. I already wanted to do more of the interviews and photos, but I just didn’t imagine how I would secure more people. Thanks to the exhibition and the attention it has received, I have so many people interested and wanting to see more. So, what I did was create an online contact form for people who were interested in participating, because if Folded Map is going to be exhibited and people are going to be learning about it at Loyola, let me capitalize off of that. That’s exactly what happened, and now it’s about 200 people who want updates and want to be a participant.

All of those things made me decide to start the Kickstarter campaign, because everything that I’ve done with Folded Map has pretty much been on my own—me asking friends to help, to donate their videography services. I was borrowing audio equipment from my friends at City Bureau. In order for me to expand it, I really need to secure some funding—not only to do more Map Twin interviews and more photos but to eventually have a curriculum and do Folded Map dinners. I’d love to invite the North Side of the city to Englewood to discuss these things. Folded Map has kind of grown beyond my equipment capacity, so I started the Kickstarter campaign just so I can continue to expand it.

After it leaves Loyola, I don’t know where it will be. My ultimate goal is not only to continue doing Folded Map but to have the exhibit actually online, to have a virtual presence, so it won’t just disappear. Because I think the conversation that we’re starting to have around segregation and people really trying to dismantle it on the individual basis is relevant and it shouldn’t leave with the exhibit.

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