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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

People Of New York, Meet Residents Of Rogers Park: Instagram Page Connects North Side Neighbors Through Stories, Photos

Two best friends teamed up with a photographer to help Rogers Park residents get to know their neighbors through an Instagram page that showcases the neighborhood's diversity.

Saeed Durojaiye, Leah Schiffman and Iman Music are showing the sights and people of Rogers Park through their Instagram page.
Hunter McNeeley/Provided
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ROGERS PARK — Many people felt alone as the pandemic forced them to isolate — but Leah Schiffman and Iman Music, two friends born and raised in Rogers Park, wanted to change that.

Schiffman and Music created an Instagram page, @residentsofrogerspark, so Rogers Park residents could get to know each other — even when they couldn’t physically be in the same place. The page’s photos document the lives of residents, from everyday people sitting at the park to the figures behind Rogers Park’s iconic spots, such as Archie’s Cafe and Clark and Devon Hardware. 

“Everyone has their different perspective they give to this project,” said Schiffman, 22. “You could walk up to someone that looks like they’re having an average day and they can tell you such an interesting story that you never thought could have come out with them.”

The page, which has more than 1,300 followers, alternates between picturesque scenes of Rogers Park and portraits of the residents. Their responses to interviews are in the photos’ captions.

Schiffman and Music said the stories on the page are so unique because the neighborhood is diverse.

“I think Rogers Park has a really positive reputation as being a safe landing pad for immigrants,” said Music, whose parents settled in Rogers Park after emigrating from Bosnia.

Rogers Park is regarded as one of Chicago’s most diverse neighborhoods. A 2021 report shows more than half of the area’s residents identify as Hispanic, Black or Asian, and 27 percent of residents are from another country.

“People’s differences, whether they’re religious or economic, usually divide people — but in Rogers Park, it’s the exact opposite,” Schiffman said.

The two friends had talked about starting something like the Instagram page since they were in high school, but they didn’t make concrete steps toward that until July 2020. They’d spent an afternoon in a local park, observing how people were finding ways to connect even during the pandemic.

“It was just such a diverse group of people,” said Music, 22. “Especially in such a challenging time, it was really nice to see strangers interacting.”

Taking a cue from the man-on-the-street style of Humans of New York, a similar story-telling project, the two started walking up to strangers right away to talk to them and take their photos.

“… It felt so natural,” Music said. “People were really open to it.”

After conducting interviews and taking photographs throughout the summer, the two launched the page in October with a three-post series featuring two resident stories and a tableau-like image of people wading in the lake at Albion Beach. 

While Schiffman and Music do most of the writing — with help from friends in the beginning — Saeed Durojaiye, 22, is the man behind the idyllic photography. 

Durojaiye, who is also from Rogers Park, graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in spring 2020. Being invited to work on the project was a “saving gace” during the stress of the pandemic, he said.

Durojaiye said he hopes people who come across the Instagram page can relate to other people’s stories and learn something. 

“Rogers Park is a really storied neighborhood,” Durojaiye said. “People have such powerful stories,​​ especially the people who have lived here for a while.”

The group had to pivot away from spontaneous street interviews around November — when the weather got cold and COVID-19 cases were spiking again — and turn toward Zoom interviews and scheduled photography sessions.

“We love Zoom interviews, but I think the street interviews come with a lot of unexpected stories and it’s a lot more natural and organic and fluid,” Schiffman said. “We want to get back into doing that again.”

Durojaiye also said the spontaneity of walking up to people on the street makes the pictures more natural.  

“At first, it was a little awkward to get candid photos, but now I have different ways to ease people into it,” Durojaiye said. 

In the coming months, the back-end of the project is going to look a bit different, as Schiffman and Durojaiye are moving to New York soon — Schiffman for a job, Durojaiye for law school. 

Though they’ll be in different places, Schiffman and Music, who is set to graduate from Columbia College Chicago this fall, have no plans to stop running the page anytime soon.

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