“Moving Freely” exhibit in North Lawndale explores mobility’s connection to racial equity
This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Moving Freely exhibit opening in North Lawndale. Moving Freely is the result of a partnership between Lawndale Pop-Up Spot, a shipping container village on a vacant lot, and Equiticity. The exhibit is cosponsored by Boxing Out Negativity, North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Divvy, and Working Bikes. Moving Freely explores how mobility in its various forms can be harnessed for the fight for racial equity and collective power for Chicago’s Black and Brown communities on the West Side.
I spoke with the curator of “Moving Freely”, Mechiya (muh-kie-uh) Jamison, a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning & Public Administration (CUPPA).
Courtney Cobbs: How did you come to be involved in the exhibit?
Mechiya Jamison: My advisor, Carlos Lopez, recommended that I apply for the position. My actual title is Community Mobility Rituals Interactive Exhibit Intern. The mobility rituals are walks and bike rides across North Lawndale, Little Village, Douglas Park, and other communities in which people learn about the interconnectedness of these communities as it relates to environmental justice and racial justice. Oboi Reed, founder of Equiticity, put out the idea to explore the rides in an exhibit format. We wanted to reflect on 2020’s rides and also excite people about this year’s rides.
I was really attracted to the position due to the storytelling component. I love storytelling. As Black, Indigenous, and people of color, a lot of our traditions are oral traditions. A lot of our history has been burnt away or colonized and we keep our traditions alive through storytelling.
CC: What will be happening during the opening exhibit?
MJ: Opening today we’re going to have music, free food, free herbs and flowers to give away, tabling by our various community partners, and screen printing with William Estrada and his art cart.
The whole boulevard will be activated this summer. There’s going to be a flower shop and a coffee shop towards the end of June inside of repurposed shipping containers. I feel like there’s an element of sovereignty around them. To have those storage containers, which are often available only to rich people, in that boulevard and using them in a way that benefits the community, is really cool. We want people to feel like they can really engage in their community and not have their community stigmatized to the point where people feel like they can’t be in the space.
[On] Saturday, May 22nd, we’ll be partnering with Boxing Out Negativity for a community bike ride. We’ll be gathering around 10 a.m. at St. Agatha’s (3147 W Douglas Blvd) and riding off at 1. An afterparty will happen around 2pm.
CC: What are some things you’d like folks to take away from the exhibit?
MJ: I’d really like for people to walk away with a sense of community, knowing that their words and actions are a part of something bigger, and that they matter. A lot of times people believe that because of all the turmoil in the world that they’re powerless. There’s a big ancestral component to this exhibit. There’s a section within the exhibit called “Wading” and it explores Black people’s relationship to water. By exploring Black and Brown people’s relationship to water, we expand the narrative around mobility. Freedom and ease is an element of mobility. The exhibit explores how our relationship with the environment impacts our ability to have freedom and ease within our mobility.
CC: For folks who don’t live on the South or West Side, what would you want them to take away from this exhibit?
MJ: I would want people outside the area to understand how their individual power contributes to a large pool of collective power. I’d also like them to have solidarity with residents on the South and West side. The West side has historically been disinvested and under-resourced. It’s important to be aware of the disparities if you’re truly an advocate for change. I grounded the exhibit in a study conducted by Dr. Kate Lowe, “The conceptual mismatch: A qualitative analysis of transportation costs and stressors for low-income adults”. In that study residents on the South and West Sides talked about their experiences with public transportation. They are aware of the disparities in our city.
There’s this weird stigma on the West Side. Show up and combat it! We need solidarity networks across neighborhoods. There’s a lot of communal power already present on the West side and we need to uplift the work that folks are already doing. I’d also like people to
walk away feeling solidarity and the intention to come back.
If you’re interested in checking out Moving Freely, it will be on display at the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot located at W Douglas Blvd & South Central Park Avenue until June 15th, 2021. Hours of operation for the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot are Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.