Newsmaker Making A Difference: Tonika Johnson, Folded Map Project

Keith Johnson
August 30, 2018 - 7:19 am

Tonika Lewis Johnson/Facebook

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- An Englewood photographer and activist uses multimedia to stimulate conversation about economic and racial segregation in Chicago.

As a high school student, Englewood resident, Tonika Johnson said she recognized that the only things her community and the North Side of Chicago had in common were street names.

"It was the coincidence and irony, that it's the same named streets because, I went to Lane Tech which is on Addison and Western," she said. "I was literally passing streets that were very familiar to me in Englewood. Once I recognized the streets were the same, like Paulina, Damen, I was just amazed at how different they looked. And then, of course, the natural next question was, why? Why is it so different?"

That curiosity followed Johnson through college.

Johnson, an activist and photo journalist, decided to document the city's economic and racial disparities through the lens of her camera, but something unexpected happened.

"It evolved into me interviewing residents," Johnson said.

Then she thought, "well, let's see if they want to meet each other."

Her "Folded Map" project introduces Englewood residents to residents on corresponding North Side blocks.

"Once my first resident pair met each other, I knew that this was the goal. This was the most important aspect. Two individuals from two completely different sides of town, talking to each other and navigating that conversation, that difficult conversation of why things are different and observations that they had."

Johnson said it was an eye-opening moment for North Side residents who traveled to Englewood to chat with members of her community.

"They talked about what they observed. A lot of vacant land. Not a lot of stores. It was really eye-opening for them," Johnson said.

Tonika Johnson

It was eye-opening for Englewood residents, too.

"To have a North Sider actually be a part of the project, to want to hear what they want and how they feel about their neighborhood," she said.

Johnson's Folded Map multimedia exhibit is on display ay Loyola University Museum of Art.

As WBBM celebrates its 50th anniversary as Newsradio, this year we’ll be honoring 50 Newsmakers making a difference in the community.  Listen for reports each Tuesday.

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