Read Time: 7 minutes 25 seconds
Art Processors partnered with spoken word artist Harold Green and the Flowers for the Living Foundation in Chicago to develop the “Streets of Bronzeville” walking tour. This innovative location-aware app contains multiple guided walks through the Bronzeville neighborhood through the words and voices of the young people who call it home. To learn more about this project view the video here.
“Your writings are sometimes for an audience of one. And if others come along on that journey? Beautiful.” Harold Green keeps a measured pace to his dialogue. It’s clear he is someone who understands how language can shape the perceptions of the people around him, and that he is someone who chooses words deliberately. He traces his finger in a series of loops across the desk as he says ‘journey’, suggesting perhaps that life never quite follows a straight line.
“But as long as you explain and display, vividly, what you feel and how you connect to a space, you’ve done your job. And if you do your job well, others are joining in your world.” Harold looks at the students sitting across the table, reaching his hand out in their direction to affirm this project is about their world.
It’s a journey we’ll soon be invited to join. Springtime will see the launch of a new app featuring different outdoor walking tours of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood—researched, written, and recorded entirely by five high school students from the city’s South Side: D’Marius, Emmonie, Maasiah, Omotola, and Shanayia.
Harold is the Executive Director of the Flowers for the Living (FFTL) Foundation. While also renowned as a writer, poet, and performer, he is steadfastly committed to coaching and mentoring younger members of his community. From September to December, together with FFTL Teaching Assistant Wesley Frazier-Keys and the Art Processors creative team, Harold conducted weekly workshops to empower these students to develop their voices, reveal their strengths, and share their perspectives on their hometown.
Art Processors’ Ariel Efron, Group Director – Creative Services, and Christine Murray, Content Director are award-winning storytellers in their own right. As part of the program, they conducted skill-building workshops in writing for audio, location-aware storytelling, technical production and app-building. Because this project was envisioned as a community-created app, the students were each paid a monthly stipend for their creative work.
A new vision of Bronzeville
In designing their tours, the students walked the same city blocks they had traveled countless times before, but this time with an eye toward the unique stories that only they could tell. D’Marius’s narration celebrates beautiful moments hiding in plain sight along his route. “I remember always going to Prairie Street,” he remarks, “and on any corner smelling the flavorful scent of a snowball and corn stand by another well-known, Tony. He’ll usually stroll by on a hot summer day or warm spring evening, with his cart and red umbrella, ready to serve up the summer experience to everyone around.”
Shanayia’s tour touches on some deeply personal memories. “This is the school I graduated from in kindergarten. This is the school where I met my first boy best friend,” she recalls in her gentle voice. “His name was Emanuel Scott. He was just so genuine. And lovely. You can’t expect ‘you’ out of people, but he was the boy version of me. This school brings back memories of us graduating together and getting in trouble together. Now he’s deceased. So seeing this school brings back so many memories. There is a park behind the school that we used to play in. I always wanted to be with him, so whatever he did, I tried to do.”
The fight for Black belonging and identity is a mantle the students do not shy away from. “If you turn your head left, there are more beautiful murals that show the culture of African Americans,” says Maasiah. “It also shows pureness. And these murals were specifically made around the time of 2010 to 2015 to show African American culture in Chicago differently. Not just thinking that they were bad, or drug dealers, or running around and killing everyone we saw. It shows differentness and culture. All while protesting our life.”
Omotola tackles similar ground, her voice breezy but optimistic. “When I hear ‘first Black man to…’ or ‘first Black woman to…’ it brings me so much joy, because it shows how others paved a way for others to pave another way. New and new things Black people have to fight for that will forever be engraved in history, no matter how small or how big. It just shows that every little thing has a beginning for people.”
The tours are also full of adolescent ponderings and dreams, helping us to see the world through a youthful lens again. “To the right of you is the big field full of green grass. If I could buy this big field, I would build a glam shop to help up-and-coming stylists and teach them how to become entrepreneurs,” Emmonie muses. “Businesses such as nails, hair, and the clothing line will be accepted.” She draws us closer to dreaming big. “What would you do if you could buy this land?”
The “Streets of Bronzeville” tours will be the inaugural outing of our location-aware immersive audio technology for outdoors—an extension of our work inside museum and gallery spaces. The app uses GPS data to deliver stories along the way so users need only press “play” once and the rest is an “eyes-up” experience.
The project originates from a previous collaboration between Harold and Ariel for the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Memorial Center “Take A Stand” Center, designed to inspire young people to get involved in social activism. Since then, Ariel had wanted to work with Harold again, and was looking for new projects to create positive social change through experience design and technology.
“Harold is one of those people you meet and are constantly inspired by,” mentions Ariel. “He has an aura of poetry and wisdom, but with his feet firmly on the ground in South Side Chicago.”
Amplifying young Black voices
Being on the ground and face-to-face with students provides Harold with perspective. “I always go into youth programming with the same mindset—patience is the key to understanding,” he says, describing his principles. “I truly believe every opportunity I have to work with youth is an opportunity to grow my patience and understanding of human beings, period. I went into this program with the same mindset, and I got so much joy from watching them grow and evolve in real time.”
D’Marius, Emmonie, Maasiah, Omotola, and Shanayia came into the program with varying levels of writing skills. “You could just see them lighting up week after week. Like, ‘Oh wow, my peers like my work, these instructors enjoy my work!’”
Ariel echoes a similar belief: “The metaphor of flowers is so accurate for the students’ creative process over a semester. It starts closed. But every week those flowers open up more and more, until the flowers fully bloom.”
“Sometimes all you need is one tap on the shoulder, and you’re headed in the right direction. That’s how I see this project—to provide a little path, to open a little door of opportunity, and you never know what can happen,” Ariel concludes.
“For Chicagoans and for those who are visiting, I hope they see again. I hope they see these landmarks with youthful eyes. I think that’s the prize here. That makes it different from other neighborhood tours and experiences. We are getting a chance to see and hear through a youthful lens and voice, and that’s a special opportunity.”
Investing in future leaders
To foster creative exploration and growth, the workshop program included field trips to locations such as the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. “That was a really special aspect of the program,” mentions Christine.
“We understood that the students’ experience with museums was pretty limited. So our idea was to break through some very real barriers and dispense with the intimidation of, ‘You don’t belong here.’ We walked them into those museums boldly and then had deep discussions about what resonated and what didn’t for them. It showed them that their opinions matter, and that, yes, they do belong.”
“Another of our intentions was to expose them to museums as a potential career path,” Christine continues. “Even Harold said to the students, ‘Until I did this work as an adult, I didn’t know this work existed.’”
Christine adds, “We need their voices in these spaces. Voices of BIPOC people, LGBTQ+ people, young people. So many have been silenced for too long. At Art Processors, we’re committed to centering those voices. That’s how you make real change.”
When Harold describes watching the students evolve in real time, he mentions that he “learned all over how to be young again.” The Streets of Bronzeville project is a learning opportunity not just for the students, but for all of us.
Harold Green III is an ever-evolving artist with a skill set that defies categorization. His vibrant storytelling and passionate lyrical delivery continue to captivate audiences both domestically and internationally. SEGD was honored to have Harold write a manifesto for the organization in 2020, to view the manifesto click here.
All photos credited to Erin Morgan Taylor.