It is a basic desire of all human beings ‘to belong:’ to a family, community, tribe or nation. Many of us claim world citizenship as a more robust form of ‘belonging,’ one that transcends borders, boundaries and cultural divides. As the esteemed Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks reminds us, “we are each other’s harvest.” So, on a fundamental level, we should all belong to one another. In reality, we are divided as a city, nation and world. The city of Chicago is notorious for its rigid neighborhood boundaries and racial and ethnic divides. Despite decades of protest, bridge-building and policy initiatives, we remain separate and apart in many ways. A 2017 study by UIC’s Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy, “A Tale of Three Cities,” revealed the troubling but real class and racial divides that exist among the Black, White, and Latinx communities. It is against this backdrop of structural inequality that we present a powerful but nuanced exhibition on “belonging” and “exclusion” by the celebrated Chicago photographer and conceptual artist, Tonika Johnson. In a series of interviews with eight Black and one Latinx teenagers, Johnson chronicles the ways in which they have been made to feel they don’t belong in their own city. Racial profiling, gentrification, and biased notions of class and crime all fuel attitudes, practices, 
and policies that create systematic inequality, marginalizing, and excluding 
young people of color in Chicago from many public spaces. Johnson’s camera captures the sites in the city where each of her nine subjects were excluded 
and made to feel like outsiders.
This exhibition is presented by the Social Justice Initiative at the University of Illinois at Chicago. We are honored to feature the work of conceptual artist and photographer, Tonika Johnson. We acknowledge the contributions of exhibition designer Lauren Meranda. The virtual exhibition team also included: KT Duffy (Virtual Map Design), Joe Nelson (Mural), David Robinson and Marcelllus Felix (Sound). Development led by SJI staff, Dr. Barbara Ransby and Essence McDowell.
She was 16 years-old when one of her 
classmates at Lane Tech High School, 
used the “N - word” in class and was 
not reprimanded by their teacher. 
A teacher criticized Auyanah as being 
 “too aggressive” when she objected 
to the racial slur being used in class.
When he was 14 years-old his next door neighbor in Lincoln Park accused him of breaking into her home, with no evidence whatsoever, and called the police. She later conceded that she may have jumped to conclusions.
He was walking down the street in Hyde Park, when a white woman walking in the opposite direction visibly clutched her purse as if he was going to snatch it.
She and her younger sister were in a Korean supermarket, H-Mart, in the West Loop when they were questioned by the security officer for no apparent reason other than that they may have looked ‘out of place.’
He was stopped and questioned for no apparent reason upon entering the Urban Outfitters clothing store on State Street in downtown Chicago. White patrons were not detained.
She was pulled over by the police on a side street a block away from her home in Englewood for not having a license plate light. It was apparent the officer viewed her with suspicion even though her “offense” was extremely minor.
When he was 12 years-old white mothers would not allow their children at a 
playground in Hyde Park to play with him 
and his brother, the only two Black 
children on the playground.
When he was 15 years-old he was standing at a bus stop near his home in the Lakeview neighborhood. An older white woman demonstrated through her body language that she was obviously afraid of him and wanted to keep her distance.
Her family was pushed out of their Logan Square home due to gentrification and skyrocketing rents. When she and her family returned for a visit, she was made to feel like an intruder because her family was having an animated conversation outdoors.
Home Portraits Interactive Activity Mural Alternative Spaces