As part of The Folded Map Project, Tonika Lewis Johnson and sociologist Maria Krysan interviewed 30 people about how they first confronted — and eventually combatted — harmful narratives about Chicago’s South and West sides. Block Club Chicago is publishing five of these stories. We invite you to join us June 30 on YouTube for Making Chicago’s Segregation Personal, a live conversation about neighborhood stereotypes, segregation and how you can better understand your community by getting to know someone else’s.
RAVENSWOOD — By the time she was 17, Adrianne Hawthorne knew never to go anywhere on the South Side other than her grandma’s house in Beverly. The one time she ventured there — by accident — her family was furious.
“I had a car for the first time … and I was driving down to Beverly and I got off at the wrong exit. One too early,” Hawthorne said. “I was young and we didn’t have Google Maps or anything. I didn’t really know where I was, and I couldn’t really get back … . So I called my grandparents and told them where I was, and they lost it. They were so freaked out for me. And I then I got freaked out. … And I got there [to grandma’s], and they were like mad at me.”
Hawthorne, now 34, grew up as part of a “big Italian family” in mostly white Chicago suburbs before settling on the North Side as an adult. That repeated messaging that the South Side was off limits meant she never ventured further south than Downtown well into adulthood.
“Because it was so deeply … ingrained in me just not to go to the South Side. That it’s dangerous. You could get hurt or shot at or all of these … terrible things,” she said.
That began to change last year, amid social justice movements and broader reckonings about racism and white privilege. Hawthorne followed the Folded Map Project on social media for years and connected with Tonika Johnson. Johnson, an Englewood-based photographer, founded the Folded Map Project to explore the impacts of segregation in Chicago. She started her work by photographing people who lived on mirrored blocks in the city and interviewing them about how their lives and neighborhoods were different.
That prompted her to question her long-held assumptions about certain parts of the city, and, ultimately, challenge herself to use her business as a way to effect change.
“The segregation in Chicago really angers me, but I’ve always felt very helpless about it until I saw Tonika talk about little things you can do by visiting or making friends,” she said. “It’s how you start connecting the … three sides of the city.”
‘I Want To Change, And Change Is Uncomfortable’
Hawthorne still remembers the family car trips to her grandmother’s home.
“We would go from the suburbs to Beverly, get off at Halsted, go to 99th. We never stopped off the highway anywhere in Chicago,” she said.
Just as she did, her cousin also once got an earful for taking the wrong exit en route to Beverly.
The message became clear: “You really can’t go anywhere outside of Beverly for some reason.”
Hawthorne briefly lived in San Francisco before returning to Chicago to work remotely for a tech firm. A few years ago, she rediscovered her passion for art and opened a storefront — part boutique, part art studio — in Ravenswood.
She had little reason to revisit or question her understanding of the city until George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. His death — along with the deaths of other Black people, like Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and Ahmaud Arbery — touched off international demonstrations demanding justice for Black people routinely being killed by racist violence.
She realized she’d been free to be ignorant about racial injustice. Then she saw Johnson’s post asking people to contact her with their stories about being told never to go to the South Side.
“I debated contacting [Tonika] about this because it’s shameful to admit that I’ve been complicit —but I want to change, and change is uncomfortable,” she said.
One of the first steps was to simply “get off the highway at places I was told to never, ever, go.” Once she spent time on the South Side, she began to see how warped her perception had been. To be sure, there were differences in the resources between the North and South side, but mostly the South Side was people living life like anywhere else.
“It’s just not what I thought it was,” she said. “And I was very … angry that I just blindly believed everything I was ever taught.”
Hawthorne also began thinking about how she needed to change as a business owner.
Her store, Ponnopozz, 4824 N. Damen Ave., in predominately white Ravenswood, sells her own work as well as that of other makers that fit in with her cheerful and whimsical style. The store had been closed due to the pandemic, but when businesses began to slowly reopen in the summer, she decided to open once a week and “to dedicate that day of being open to a different Black or Brown artist … as a guest.”
“And I want to spotlight them,” she said. “I’m not charging money for it. I’m not taking a percentage of the sales. Like it’s specifically just to amplify … the artists that I never amplify.”
The plan seemed simple. But three things got in the way.
First, she didn’t know many Black artists to invite. Her social network mostly contained other white people and creators, something a recent study shows is common among white American adults.
Second, she also was uncomfortable publicly recruiting Black and Brown artists.
“I was nervous about the wording. I grew up, you know, I’m a white person. And we’re taught, truly taught that all lives matter and that color doesn’t exist,” Hawthorne said. “And so to call out specifically, ‘I’m looking for a Black artist’ felt very uncomfortable.”
She also worried about a backlash — from white and Black artists. “I could see Black artists getting offended,” she said, thinking she only wanted them because they were Black or Brown or because she was trying to be a “white savior.”
Among white artists, she was concerned her efforts would be viewed like affirmative action. Growing up in the suburbs, she knew a lot of people who thought affirmative action was unfair. For decades, NORC at University of Chicago has surveyed people to ask if, “because of past discrimination, Blacks should be given preference in hiring and promotion.” In 2018, the most recent year data were available, just 18 percent of whites “approved” or “strongly approved” of that sort of preferential consideration.
Third, she worried there would be no interest.
“Maybe Black artists … wouldn’t fit in with the vibe I’m doing in the shop or like in the neighborhood the shop’s in … maybe people wouldn’t understand the art or like, you know, relate to it. And I thought no one would be interested in coming here and doing that,” she said.
But Hawthorne realized she was making assumptions about the artists and the community. She also realized she was typecasting art from Black creators.
“The art I make is super happy and fun and bubbly and like, I feel like anyone can relate, but like maybe like deeper art or things about like cultural issues” would not fit in, she said.
Johnson stepped in to help.
She explained that not all Black artists create pieces with heavy themes or dealing with sweeping systemic issues.
Johnson also asked where she was looking for Black and Brown artists to spotlight. Hawthorne had one friend, a Latino artist, lined up for the weekend.
“But then honestly, I’m just taking whoever I know and putting them in here. Cause I don’t know that many [artists of color],” Hawthorne said.
“Well, now you know me … and I know three,” Johnson said.
Within five minutes, Johnson had shared Instagram handles, showed a sticker created by one of the artists — every bit as whimsical and colorful as Hawthorne’s store — and connected the shop owner to the artists. Soon enough, there was a year’s worth of Saturdays filled up — and makers whose work could have a permanent home on her shelves.
Johnson is what sociologists call a “bridge.” She connected one network to another, building a bridge from north to south, Black to white, Artist to artist.
Folded Map prompted two artists to connect and talk about race, space and Chicago. It started as a conversation about how social networks, lived experiences and the media create perceptions of communities as safe and not safe places. But it also revealed how the tentacles of segregation reach into other arenas.
Through this bridging of social networks, a North Side art gallery owner gained entry into a network of Black artists and a newfound appreciation for the variety of work produced by Black creators. A handful of Black artists, who often fight for inclusion in white art spaces, now have shelf space in a neighborhood that otherwise would not have been accessible to them because of social networks that perpetuate segregation.
Hawthorne’s experience reveals much about the forces that continue cycles of segregation and inequality, but it also reveals the potential to turn those forces on their head and use them as a tool for racial equity and healing.
Hawthorne has gone soul-searching to overcome assumptions and fears and read a lot of books to try to inform herself.
“I feel very powerless with a lot of the things I read,” she said. “I never know exactly what I can do to have impact.”
But she figured out how to use art as a vehicle toward anti-racism.
And something unexpected happened along the way: Her business initiative turned personal in the fall, when she was invited to the birthday party of one of the Black artists whose products she now sells in her store.
“I just thought it would be, ‘Hey, come to my store. It’ll be great.’ But I never thought anyone would invite me to their house. I don’t know. I just didn’t think it would go that deep. And it did,” she said.
To get to her new friend’s birthday party, just like when she was 17, Hawthorne took the exit before her grandmother’s. But this time, she headed intentionally and directly into grandma’s no-go zone.
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