Building Bridges, Not Walls (With Tonika Johnson)

Show Description

Baratunde ignores the headlines about Chicago and heeds a listener’s advice to learn more about the southside from a local artist who is building bridges in her community and literally helping people find common ground. Tonika Johnson helps us understand the pride that comes from being a Chicagoan and the root causes of today’s community struggles through her Folded Map Project. It is a perfect example of using art as a way to citizen.

Show Notes & Actions

Show Transcript

Baratunde Thurston  0:07  

Welcome to How to Citizen with Baratunde, a show where we reimagine the word citizen as a verb, reclaim it from those who have weaponized it and remind ourselves how to wield our collective power. I'm Baratunde.

I want to thank you, you in general for listening, but some use in particular, for the actions you've taken or the messages you've shared. Or just the way you've talked about the show, to the group of American teachers in Casa Blanca, it's an honor to have made it to your book club. And I'm glad we're helping you feel more close to home. Thanks for hitting us up at our email action at how to to a studios, the viola on i G. Thank you for turning our principles of what it means to citizen into amazing and beautiful art. And using that hashtag how to citizen we see you and to Phoebe, let at the New York Times. Thank you for including us in your piece. podcast to inform your vote. Phoebe wrote, and I quote, in each episode Thurston That's me. And his guests show that the care American show for one another every day, his reason for optimism, and the show's format practices, what the content preaches. Yo, we just got recommended by the New York Times that feels good, and just a moment of celebration. All right, back to work. We recorded the episode you're about to hear with our live zoom audience, which you can join by visiting and signing up for the emails, or text in order to get the link. Now I'm gonna pass the mic to myself as we learn to build bridges, not walls. So far in this series, we have grounded ourselves in love and power. We've explored how to citizen with COVID with public safety, and with worker rights. In this episode, we're going to citizen a little closer to home, literally closer to home. Part of how to citizen requires us to care about the collective and not just our individual selves, to be concerned with our actions or the actions of our government, impact our neighbors, our communities, and our regions. Another part of how to citizen citizens showing up and participating being in relationship to others in our immediate proximity, not just our online friends. We are proud to have a guest today who embodies through her art, how to citizen in her community. And she's created a profound project that can build bridges and communities around the world. Let me set the scene for you on the south side of Chicago. What images words phrases occur to you when you hear that? Probably possibly at least something along the lines of criminal headlines and gun violence and maybe Michelle Obama mixed in there. But the image that the media paints is of a community constantly in strife, struggle, maybe even words like carnage. And yet, this is also a community of people living and working together to make lives better. No matter what else you see, read or hear about this place. There is another story of this place. I know the story of this person. Thanks to you, literally thanks to one of you who heard our first two episodes, hit me up on it. I really do read them and said you need to know about this photo journalist as visual artists out of the Southside of Chicago. So I want to thank Chris new router for putting me on. Our guest for this episode was born and raised in Inglewood and neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. She's a visual artist and photographer, and in 2010, she helped co found resident association of greater Englewood. She's also the co founder of angle Woods Arts Collective. In 2017. She was featured in Chicago magazine as a Chicago win of the year. And in 2019, she was named one of the field Foundation's leaders for a new Chicago. That's not enough. Most recently, she was appointed as a member of the cultural Advisory Council to the Department of Cultural Affairs and special events by the Chicago City Council. If you can't tell, she is Chicago. And she's here with us today to talk more about her project folded map, which visually connects residents who live at corresponding addresses on the north and south sides of one of America's greatest cities. We hope she's going to spark your creativity and imagination. Please welcome Tonika Johnson.

Tonika Johnson  4:55  


Baratunde Thurston  4:57  

welcome to How to Citizen with Baratunde thank you for making time to be here with us Tonika, you started this project as a visual investigation of Chicago's neighborhoods, you were using the grid system in this beautiful space time Star trekky. Like, let's fold it way to directly compare photographs and videos of North and South Side blocks, and residence. For those who are unfamiliar, the South Side, being predominantly black, lower income on the north side being much more white, and having many more resources. Why did you start doing this? What was your motivation as an artist for this work?

Tonika Johnson  5:40  

So there's the inspiration of the idea that started while I was in high school, and then there is the motivation to do the idea.

Baratunde Thurston  5:53  

Well, I want it all. So let's go back to high school.

Tonika Johnson  5:55  

So in high school, I grew up in Inglewood. And when I was 13 years old, I was commuting all the way to the north side from Inglewood to my high school, which is 15 miles north of Inglewood. And it is a selective enrollment School, which basically means that it has students from all over Chicago, and in the 90s, specifically, selective enrollment schools because they had students from all over Chicago, they were able to curate the racial demographic of their student body to reflect the percentage of the racial demographic in Chicago. So there was an equal percentage of each race. But you can imagine, you know, being immersed in new friendships from all over Chicago. But alongside of that, every day, while I was traveling from Inglewood, 15 miles north to the predominantly white neighborhood that my high school is in, I noticed so many things on that commute. And one was how different my neighborhood look from the neighborhood that my high school was in, I noticed that my neighborhood definitely looked disinvested in I noticed that we have vacant lots of fast food restaurants, no franchise restaurants, no cafes. And the neighborhood that my high school was in literally was the opposite. It had so many cool things, boutiques, cafes, flowers, tree lined streets. And I also recognize that the streets were named the same on this everyday commute. I was like, oh, wow, Ashlyn in my neighborhood definitely doesn't look like this, you know, the same way that it does on the north side. And so every day for four years, this is what I saw on my commute. And so I just listened to music and looked out the window and noticed the disparity between my neighborhood and the neighborhood my high school was in, but going to school, is when I really felt like I was introduced to Chicago, because our friendships are allowing us to explore each other's neighborhoods. So by the end of senior year in high school, you could have a black boy from Chicago's West Side tell you that his favorite Filipino dishes Ponce, you know, so this was the kind of diversity that we experienced. And I knew then that although our city was segregated, that relationship could be built across those racial lines. So that stuck with me, and didn't matter to me as I got older, and how many people talked about segregation, I experienced what diversity and integration looks like, it feels like in Chicago, and I just carried that with me. So when I got older, and started to do community work, and then the 2016 presidential election year came about. And you know, our current President was talking about Chicago, very horribly, primarily focusing on the gun violence. And I just felt like that was such a cheap way to talk about the larger systemic issues that created an environment for gun violence to become an issue. And I said, You know what, people just only want to focus on gun violence and not the root issue. Gun Violence has not always been in neighborhoods like Inglewood. It had a very clear beginning. And what happened before gun violence became an issue is something a lot of people don't know about. And I wanted to do a project that clearly so what the present day impact of the historic segregation and discriminatory housing policies what that made our neighborhoods look like today. And that's what prompted me to start working on folded map

Baratunde Thurston  9:59  

your attempt to help recreate connection is only possible or necessary because there was a policy to create disconnection in the past. And you alluded to this already talking about the present. We're living in these decisions that were made a long time ago. And you experienced that as a high schooler. Can you explain more about the other maps before you came in folded them? that defines Chicago and what families could live were these redlining maps?

Tonika Johnson  10:27  

Yes. So you know, as people in this day and time are learning about systemic racism, a huge part of how that was able to sustain in our country, as metropolitan cities became more populated is the federal maps that essentially outline the neighborhoods and locations and growing cities, where the black population was starting to move to, and where the white population were living at and will move to, and those maps the whole maps, h LLC, they basically determined which neighborhoods banks should approve mortgages or business loans. And that ultimately affected how different white and black neighborhoods were resourced. So in addition to creating the segregation, basically, not approving alone to a black family who were interested in moving into this neighborhood that was defined as a white neighborhood. They also had experienced experience discriminatory lending practices by banks in the neighborhoods that were defined as black. So those distinctions, ultimately, over the course of those next 60 years, has resulted in this disparity in how investment is in these neighborhoods. And so those were the maps that ultimately determined the segregation that we continue to see today, replicated in so many different Metropolitan neighborhoods. So not only did they define the race of neighborhoods, but they also determine where banks should and should not approve loans, not just mortgages, but businesses that wanted to get started. And due to the racist climate of that time, a lot of the black neighborhoods didn't receive loans of any kind to invest in their neighborhood. So those are the maps that I definitely was thinking of, in reference to creating and using Chicago's map as a point of healing, because we had those maps that created and exacerbated fear, not only for black families, but also white families, white families, were told that, oh, black people are moving to your neighborhood, it's going to turn into a neighborhood that doesn't get loans, your housing values are going to go down. So there were white families who could possibly would have stayed in the neighborhoods to live with black people had they not been scared, you know, to the fact that their housing, the homes that they've invested in, were going to lose value. And you know, those maps really cemented segregation into our country. And that's why it was important for me to use a map as healing.

Baratunde Thurston  13:49  

I really like this idea of a map twin. It's one thing to conceptually and analytically think about. Okay, this coordinate has a corresponding coordinate, it takes me back to a geometry class. But there are people that those coordinates who have a story and an experience. And so you have created these really interesting possibilities for pairings of people that you call map twins. Can you explain more about this concept and how that's an entry point to participate in the fold of map?

Tonika Johnson  14:23  

Yes. So in Chicago, we have normalized segregation to the point of us joking about it, which you know, that's what happens when you normalize stuff, you end up having weird, unusual jokes about it. And so every Chicago in jokes about the fact that when you take our red line train, you notice the color shift, it goes from black on the south side, to white on the north side. And so I really wanted us to like as Chicagoans interrupt how we've normalized it, you know, for them to answer Understand how it impacts our social networks. So I want it to really utilize Chicago's grid map something that is uniquely Chicago, and the fact that you have those coordinates that, you know, not in a lot of different places. And so I wanted to use our grid map to reveal to people exactly what you said that these addresses that we mistakenly go to sometimes, these addresses that feel like they reveal so much about people's lived experience. But we don't really know, to use those addresses as a way to connect us all. And to let people know that you do have a very distant neighbor 15 miles away from you on the same street, because we have so many streets in Chicago that run the full north and south of Chicago, and I wanted people to start thinking about their distant neighbors, regardless of the neighborhood, as family. And so I wanted people to connect using the addresses, or the neighborhoods that would touch each other if you were to fo Chicago in the middle of but then also to view them as as family. Because we are whether we like it or not, we are a family in this city in this world. And it's best that we start to get to know each other. And so that was the way that I wanted to create maps wins, for people to feel some kind of connection to someone who they share a street name with.

Baratunde Thurston  16:52  

There's something that strikes me about the fear that the government planted in white residents to say, you know, black people gonna bring your property values down, they're gonna bring their neighborhood problems with them. It's like those are neighborhood problems because of what you did to them. You don't get to blame people for the thing that you did to make the situation be that way. A map as a tool of healing, as opposed to just a tool of division is a really powerful idea. And these pairings that you've helped facilitate, are powerful and occasionally awkward. And can you talk through when you get to map twins together? What are you going for what happens? I mean, I can tell you, I watched a video clip where I didn't know you're going to ask people how much they paid for their houses. And when you see people react to each other, but somebody was like, I was glad to get a deal for $500,000. And the black person was like, Oh, no, like, we might have paid $30,000. But it's so talk about the interaction amongst the twins and what has happened there.

Tonika Johnson  18:06  

I just always uplift them, because these are people who self selected to participate. I did a mass solicitation to people on blocks that I was going to include in the project. So the maps wins are the people who said, I want to try this weird thing out. And regardless, if awkward moments happen, all of them were connected in the fact that they thought it was important enough for them to even participate. And so I think them knowing that with each other, created a sense of trust, and a sense of I know that this person wants to improve the very thing that will reveal itself in this conversation as being awkward. So a lot of the maps wins, you know, hadn't experienced each other's neighborhoods, just on a peer resident level. You know, a few of the residents who lived on the north side had come to the south side before but primarily through volunteering. So they had met someone as just a neighbor. And so a lot of them started to understand who has benefited from the segregation that exists in Chicago. And it is uncomfortable. You know, when you meet someone who yours learn to be interested in, and then you all answer the question of what's missing in your neighborhood. And one person says, basic stuff like oh, better schools, community set center for children, restaurants, grocery store, just the best basic needs, and you can't even come up with anything in your neighborhood, you start to develop empathy. And then the person who is saying the things that they don't have in their neighborhood feels as if Oh, someone cares, like the people who actually have the very thing that I'm saying we need in my neighborhood, who I possibly thought didn't care, they're actually listening. So it was reciprocal, listening and learning. So all of them had that. Even if the there were varying degrees of awkward mouth. All of them were rooted in that. And I think there are great examples of how to model those kind of conversations, we haven't talked about that with each other before, especially in such a place specific project like Chicago, and it's going to be weird, it's going to be awkward and unusual. And we need to just get okay with that. We need to start being okay with saying the prices of stuff because that is what reveals the true impact of inequity, and how it is a barrier to people progressing, not only in their life, but you know, generations from now. And we have to start being okay with saying words like black, white, Latino, Asian, and then also being corrected, you know, so I think the maps man's conversations reveal all that.

Baratunde Thurston  21:33  

How did you learn to facilitate that sort of necessary but uncomfortable series of conversations?

Tonika Johnson  21:41  

Well, I would say formally, and just creating the questions that is rooted in the fact the I went to college for journalism. And prior to that in high school, I was, you know, one of them weirdo, our kids, but my interest was in poetry, and writing articles. So I've always been interested in interviewing people, which really comes down to me just being nosy. You know, I'm just nosy. People are so interesting to me. And going to high school with so many different people, you just like, start to ask questions like, Oh, my gosh, where do you live? Where are you from? What do you like to do? Wow. So all of that was carried over into? Oh, that, Matt. But what was difficult for me to do that I really hadn't learned in journalism school was how to not interrupt people answering your questions that are ultimately in conversation with each other. So I would start, you know, by asking them both the same question questions that I had asked them separately, just to get them used to it. So no one was really going to be surprised by what they were thinking of, or how they were thinking of answering the question, you were only going to be surprised by what you heard someone else answering. So for me, I had to learn how to just shut up. Like, after you ask the question, let people talk. And then when the awkward moments happen, don't interrupt, like see how they fix it and see what they resort to in order to fix it. And that was really the goal of the project is seeing how two strangers interact around these seemingly simple questions, but that clearly reveal a different lived experience. And so I I had to learn how to shut up and stay out of the way there was so many times where I understood both point of views and I was and I wanted to explain it like know what she really means is, but I couldn't. So that was a learning lesson. For me.

Baratunde Thurston  23:53  

It's an act of journalism and active community building an act of art. All in one How do you see yourself?

Tonika Johnson  24:02  

Well, now I changed the title of my artist website. So often, at first it was photographer didn't was social justice activists, then I was like social justice artists, then it was transdisciplinary artists. So I don't know I change it, you know, according to what people tell me. I am. But I just say artists, and the medium that I use is photography. But even that's changing because, you know, I've included video, I've included so many other things like you know, public installations. So just artists, I think that's what I've grown to accept, partly because my neighborhood, like bestowed that title on me I was trying to avoid it for so long, because I felt like in order to really claim yourself as artists, you have to have had produced something and they were calling me artists way before I have my first exhibition. Way before I thought a folded map, and so once they told me no, you are you are just accept it. I was like, Okay, I am and me taking on that title, because they uplifted me enough to say no, you're artists and we're proud of you, that allowed me to open my mind up to think of projects, you know, like actually doing folded math,

Baratunde Thurston  25:26  

I would add to an Ico that your medium is far greater than photography, your medium is your city and your medium are these people would you treat with such respect, you create a space for them to have dialogue, and then you trust them enough to let them have it. That's art. That is not facilitation. That is not a lawyer ring. That is not conflict resolution that is creating. And it's very powerful. So I just want to observe that as an outsider to tell you what you do. You are an artist, but your your medium is also us. And I appreciate it. Thank you, I'm gonna use that you should use that we're recording so you can get it. Perfect. There's a quote that we found about you I want to share with you and then ask your thoughts about how this connects to your work. Since then, she has transformed this project into an advocacy and policy influencing tool that invites audiences to open a dialogue and question how we are all socially impacted by racial and institutional conditions that segregate the city. So can you tell me more about how this project is being used as an advocacy tool and how it's affecting policy,

Tonika Johnson  26:42  

when you create a piece of work, like you have no idea how people are going to respond. And so you can't ever force see what that response will make you do or feel as artists what it will influence you to create after that. So I had only seen folded map as an art project like this project that was in my head that I finally got out. And once people started responding and connecting to the idea of a map twin the idea of saying yes, the city is segregated, and it has contributed to maybe some racist thoughts I have, or Yes, it's unfair that this Northside neighborhood has exactly what my neighborhood needs. So it was more of an affirmation that Chicagoans started to use to say, you know, look, this is what it is. And because the response was so great, and people wanted to participate, find out if I was going to do more maps wins, it really started to generate a larger city wide conversation, primarily through my social media that started to grow, and people that wanted to see what I was sharing, and then comment on it. And eventually, you know, it led to policy influencing organizations becoming aware of it like Metropolitan Planning Council, most recently, our president Toni preckwinkle, who ran for mayor, she saw my folded map, animated film and quickly identified the fact that it could prove certain policies that she wanted to introduce that it's a clear visual example using our grid map to demonstrate the neglect and the unfairness of what our city has experienced 5060 years ago. And so a lot of organizations and individuals who are working hard and tirelessly to kind of resolve this inequity began to refer to folded math. And so they didn't have to refer to a report primarily with just statistics, they were able to say, this report reveals this, but look at this project. These are people who met each other who are clearly talking about the inequity between home ownership amenities. So they started to use folded map as evidence of something that reports just weren't able to translate. And also having the photographs you know, I definitely have started to accept the pioneering impact of photographing Chicago's two different sides and comparing them because I think in Brooklyn, ports, that hasn't been done before, no one really thought of, oh, let's just photograph these streets that are the same and just show the difference. So you know, that is my contribution to understanding the present day impact of segregation in Chicago. And I think all of the reports that have been done is really just missing the, the visual and the human aspect to it. And so that's what a lot of policymakers have been using folded map to push their efforts forward. But then also, the fotomat family, as I call him, a lot of them are educators. And a lot of them are people who want to learn more. So they're also learning about different issues and policies through folded math. So that is how it just transformed into a tool that educators and policymakers are using to push their work forward.

Baratunde Thurston  31:00  

Are there any other outcomes that you hope to see from this project?

Tonika Johnson  31:05  

Yes, one in particular that I'm holding up actually, is the photomath action kids, so many people told me they wanted to participate in folding map, I had to let people know like, I'm not gonna do this forever, I can't pair people up, maybe I can create something where you all can do it yourself. So I created the folder map action kit, which is a literal kit that we're mailing to some of the Select people on photomask contact list. But that will be available for download on photomath website, where it's a self guided invite to run errands in your map Twain neighborhood and share back your experience. I wanted people to be able to contribute to the expansion of folded map but in a more personalized way that would allow them to not enter into a neighborhood with the preconceived ideas or the stereotypes because as a photographer, I know very well that what you're told about a location and a group of people will be reflected in what you pay attention to. So it's kind of like a self fulfilling prophecy. So if you're told that England is horrible, you're going to pay attention to things that look horrible to you, you know, you won't notice other things. And so I wanted to create a project or an activity where it allowed you to meet regular residents, you know, and so that's when I came up with the idea to have people run errands in your map to a neighborhood, and errands that are associated to the very specific inequities. So, go buy organic apple, in your maps, when neighborhood, go take out $20 at an ATM, go buy lotion, that's a very different experience in neighborhoods people wouldn't think it is but it is go to your local post office local library. So people can as close as possible feel what it is to walk in their distant neighbor's shoes. But that is something that I am excited for. Chicagoans to do. And for people in other cities as well, it's activity that can be applied to so many cities in our country. And I really just view Chicago as a microcosm of what is really going on in our nation, because segregation in equities, that is just what it is, and a lot of metropolitan cities. And so that's what I'm hoping with the expansion of folded map into this action kit that people will enter neighborhoods, and a way that isn't just gazing, you know that they can actually create some empathy to the neighborhoods that they visit that don't have the resources. And then for the people who visit neighborhoods that are over resource for them to think about, wow, this neighborhood has things that I'm entitled to. Some people don't know how over resource other neighborhoods are. And unfortunately, they can start to think that that's the norm that my neighborhood being disinvested in is how it's supposed to be. And so that's my goal with the activity kid is to have this conversation become more personalized.

Baratunde Thurston  34:49  

I want you to dream with me for a second Tonika. I love Chicago, and I've never been a full time resident visited a lot spent a summer there. I like to claim my little piece But as you said, Our whole nation is segregated, and has been pulled apart by various maps of division rather than maps of healing. What other elements? Could you see emerging from this? Maybe you've got a hint of it. Maybe you just had some advice for the non Chicagoans out there about principles they could apply to proceed on their own down this path. What do you say to that

Tonika Johnson  35:25  

you can connect with people through your passion. And I think that's something our country has not had the opportunity for individuals to experience, you know, we, we've associated our, where we should live based on class, you know, the amount of money we make now just imagine if people determined where they live based off of the community of people they shared a passion with. And I just hope that people take away from folded math, if they can apply to where they live, is just meeting people, through your interest and your passions, not focusing on people who have the same lived experience is you because passions cross the racial divide the geographic divide, and it allows you an opportunity to see someone from a different lived experience as your equal because you have a shared passion. And so I just hope that people really start to think about how and why we're divided racially, because I know that there's a huge population of us who don't want to interact that way. We don't want to be divided, we see the value in the benefit of connecting with people from different lived experiences, and it's fine. It is so fun to learn other people's culture, and to see what's different, to see what you view is weird, or what you don't like, it's fun. And it also expands your worldview. And we're in a place in time where it's global. You know, we're not living in places where it's just people who look like us. And so that's what I would hope people would take away just the curiosity, of getting to know history, the curiosity of wanting to get to know other people.

Baratunde Thurston  37:24  

I've got one more for you. And then we're going to go open up the floodgates of questions and comments. The strong foundation of this show was that we see the word citizen as a verb, rather than strictly as a legal status. If you interpret citizen as a verb, how do you define what it means to citizen,

Tonika Johnson  37:44  

I would say, to learn about your life and your family's history, and how that connects to our larger history. Because sometimes, when you learn history in school, you don't feel the immediate connection to your present day life. And sometimes we go and look for stories of how to humanize history, in books and other people. And really, it's just already within your family. You know, so I would say one easy way to citizen is to learn your family history. And learn how that has impacted, maybe decisions you've made in your life, and beliefs that you have or that you disagree with now, but really your family history.

Baratunde Thurston  38:45  

Yes, that was great. I feel so vindicated to because I told somebody something like that the other day, and then this dope artists just said it. So now, thank you, not about me, but thank you. Yeah.

There was a comment that I pulled from one of your videos that I want to get to is a guy named Wade, who I saw in one of your videos, he's one of your map twins, you know, way, yes, you're smiling and recognition. And you know, you asked Wayne, or someone asked Wade about what he encouraged people to take part in the folded map project. And he said, quote, having an open mind and being willing to do something new, and get out of your comfort zone is important if we're going to become a more united city. And as citizens of the city really have a connection with the entire city and not just half of it. You've got to sometimes take the initiative and do the uncomfortable thing. I want to encourage anyone who wants to bridge that gap that we all know was there. You should just do it. That's not what right. Like I said, that's your medium. I got to set this up. This is exciting, because this is the person who actually first mentioned, Tony gudjohnsen and the folder map project to me. So Chris new router is in the house.

Chris Newrouter  40:17  

I'm Christie router. I'm a middle aged white lady who lives on the north side. I've in a weird neighborhood called bowmanville which is pretty close to Edgewater, which is sort of the north side focus of folded map. My day job is in forensic engineering. So I have like an architectural background. And I first fell in love with folded mat because of the beautiful sort of architectural photos that that Tamika took. And so I went down to Englewood branded, and saw the exhibit after hearing it on NPR. And I just fell in love. And I've a comment, and then some questions. One of the things that is really great about Tika is that there's so much joy and celebration of these communities, you know, whether it's north side, the, you know, over resource neighborhood I live in, or, you know, South Side communities like Englewood, that, frankly, are getting just horrible media coverage. And it bothers me as a Chicago in who loves my city that, you know, it's described as a warzone. And we forget, I think that people live in these neighborhoods, even if there's, you know, a gang problem on a block. These are thriving neighborhoods that people live in. And we need to start measuring our communities only in terms of, you know, monetary wealth. And that's what I really love about this project. In particular, one of the questions I had for Taneja is, how do you see this being applied in other communities? I see a lot of the chat was really focused on that. 

Tonika Johnson  41:55  

Thank you for asking that question. I've been thinking a lot about that. And when I've spoken in other cities of the state, I've always ended up saying every place has a fold. So that is going to be the next guide that I create after I commit to getting this action kit out in two weeks is a find your fold. And it doesn't matter what kind of mapping system your city has, there is segregation. And there's usually a street, a house, a landmark, something that divides. And I want to help people know that you don't need an exact grid map to do this or replicate this in your city. Just your reflection about where the divide is folded right there. Even if it's in a classroom, or lunchroom, there is usually a divide a fold. And so I want to be able to encourage people to find that fold. And use art to think of the fold like it doesn't have to be so rigid, you know, conceptually, it could be a fold in instruments, certain students in class pick it, there is always something that is a division. And the goal of folded map is to use that divide to bring people together. So I am definitely going to create, find your fold guide, explaining to people my process and how I do folded map and you know, give them the instructions on how to do it in their location. So that's soon to come. Maybe the 2021 drop.

Baratunde Thurston  43:53  

All right, we've got a live question from mamma Sara.

Mama Sarah  43:57  

Great, thank you. Hi, I'm from Rochester, New York. The folks here in the city roots community land trust in Rochester have been doing tremendous work around educating about redlining how our city was divided. And I'm just curious who you're connecting with around efforts to educate beyond your project into how your communities can rebuild from the grassroots maybe through land trust or other things. 

Tonika Johnson  44:24  

So beyond folded map, I'm definitely connected with community organizations that are trying to really specifically increase home ownership in neighborhoods like Englewood, Land Trust, is one of the, you know, tools that people were talking about. But then there's also the other issue of repurposing schools that have been closed in neighborhoods like Inglewood. So all of those things are definitely being talked about and expensive. But since neighborhoods in Chicago are like a universe of their own, you can't apply one strategy to all of these neighborhoods, each neighborhood is very unique. An example I can give is, there's another Southside neighborhood called Auburn Gresham, and Chatham, and these are neighborhoods that have a strong home ownership base. But they're mostly older black people. And so their neighborhoods, even though they have high home ownership, they don't have the other amenities that, you know, this aging population deserves. And so they don't have grocery stores in abundance. So their efforts is going to look different from a neighborhood like Inglewood folded map has definitely been included in those conversations of how people can be helped. And so that is one of the other primary things that's being discussed publicly in Chicago is just the banks, you know, banks still not offering fair lending practices to the neighborhoods that were redline. And then also, you know, even beyond Land Trust, conversations about the appraisal process, how that also hinders home ownership, value increasing in certain neighborhoods. So all of those things are in conversation and on the table. So yes, thank you for the question.

Baratunde Thurston  46:29  

Thank you so much. I'm going to read a question from Aaron mast, some of which you addressed. He asks, How do we bridge the gap? This gap between that I quoted Wade referring to how do we bridge that gap? How do we talk to people who don't think that gap exists,

Tonika Johnson  46:46  

you don't talk about the gap that you just don't waste of time with that. Another thing, Wade said, that really stuck with me. He said, you know, dismantling racism, and segregation seems like such a big thing, but you just can't fix. And he said, you know, folded map, providing him a way to feel like he was. And that's just what I want to remind people that we're still struggling with racism and segregation and systemic racism, although we have policies and laws, but that doesn't work. It has to be through our personal lives, like, we have to make it personal. That's the only way that systems can stop becoming systems, because we have to change the thoughts. It's the thoughts that are systemic, what people think of each other is systemic. And the only way you can change thoughts is by changing yours. And the only way you could do that is by getting to know other people. And how you choose to do that can be up to you. But it is a very real way that works. I don't want people to minimize the impact of literally getting to know someone who has a different lived experience, it's powerful, it's been proven that that's a guaranteed way to develop empathy. So you know, there is another version of Aaron out there in some other neighborhood, you know, and just imagine if you all met each other, you know, what the issue that he has will become important to you. And that is the goal of folded map is to help people become more empathetic. So that's what I would suggest, you know, just keep it simple. If you find someone interesting, who is different than you, strike up a conversation and talk to them, and just perceive the relationship.

Baratunde Thurston  48:56  

Yeah, I'm gonna do a potentially annoying thing here, but I'm gonna quote myself, which is in my TED talk about deconstructing racism. And I made this comment that systems are just collective stories we all believe in. And what you've answered to Aaron's question Tonika is reminds me of that in a different way. If enough people do believe the gap exists, and enough people work, to build that bridge, create that dialogue and establish a relationship that can become the new system. It's almost a numbers game. And there are many people who are interested in doing that. We may not all be aware of how many of us there are. I'm going to read a question from Betsy from the great NYC. are you creating programs that teachers can use like a teaching guide?

Tonika Johnson  49:47  

Yes, I'm actually doing that right now. So one of my goals was to have bolded map b a curriculum in Chicago Public School System, but you My collaboration with them a partnership was kind of interrupted by them adopting, you know, New York Times 1619 project, which is amazing. So I still wanted teachers and educators to be able to access not only just the material from folded map, but from my other projects, interviews. So I am in the process of creating a website, that educators or just the public in general can access and use as instructional resources for existing curriculums. So the goal is to eventually have a folded map curriculum. But until then, I want to make my interviews, the clips, I have of Inglewood, the photography, the maps, when interviews all of those things from all of my collective projects available for the public to use as instructional tools for whatever it is they're doing, because there's a lot of great curriculums already out there. And I know that people and educators are constantly looking for resources to support or to make their curriculums fresh. So I just decided to kind of go that route. And we will be hopefully making that website available in 2021.

Baratunde Thurston  51:19  

Thank you, Betsy, from the great NYC, for that great question. And now we're going to hear from Ned.

Ned  51:27  

All right. I'm the kid I'm calling from Madison, Wisconsin. Yeah, we have a definite divide in my child's school, between, you know, the families live on one side of the street, that's mostly apartments, it's mostly black families, mostly poor families, and the other side of the street, its houses, mostly the white folks who go to the school, the school itself is incredibly diverse, but we don't live near each other. And one of the things that, I guess, just as I've been listening, and I've been thinking about, you know, kind of these flip flops, I think about the issues of like Low Income Housing solutions, other things. The question I want to ask you, though, is, as you've been working on this project, how have you personally seen your concept of what racial justice, social justice, is some of these issues like housing and other things? What does that look like? For you? How is this work impacted you personally, in your thoughts on those things?

Tonika Johnson  52:21  

Yes. So thank you for the question. one specific example I can give is, when I expanded the project to include map twins from the western side of the city, which is very different from the north and south side. So Chicago is like a triangle, you know, like, north south, and then it extends here. And then there's a Western part. It's on that Western part. It's still the north south racial divide, but it's just 10 minutes apart, as opposed to our part. And so when I interviewed those maps, when they talked about gentrification, which wasn't something that was brought up in north south maps wins, because that really has happened from white to black communities. Traditionally, in Chicago, Latino neighborhoods get gentrified. And because of that gentrification, they move into neighborhoods where they can afford, which is generally black neighborhoods. So the maps went started talking about gentrification. And it's always people against the gentrifiers. And so I've used that conversation, to help people understand how we have to redirect our anger. And you have to redirect it to our elected officials. And the people who create the housing policies that determine low income, high income neighborhoods, because at the end of the day, the white people who are viewed as gentrifiers to whatever neighborhood honestly, they're viewed as dollar signs by the developers and corporations. And they can't really help that wherever they move, or affordability. Businesses just follow them, like everything, they everyone just follows them. So I just told people, you know, that if we're gonna continue having this conversation about gentrification, we cannot be blaming, you know, of course, once gentrification happens, the people who are new to the community should pay attention to the community that existed there before. But the issue does not start with people who move into a neighborhood and then eventually the neighborhood changes not as a result of what they said they want, but because of what follows them, which is resources, which is money and development. And so the only way we can tackle that is becoming unify and addressing that saying, No, it's not fair that you neighborhoods where young white professionals move because they want to live someplace to that they can afford that the neighborhood starts to change because of developers and corporations who view them also as dollar signs. And so that is one way that we've been kind of having that conversation in Chicago that kind of addresses the class part of it. Because at the end of the day, people move to neighborhoods that they feel like they can afford, how they determine the criteria for the neighborhood deals. That's a lot of other stuff. But remembering that commonality is that people live where they can afford. And we have to question what goes into making a neighborhood affordable or not. So that's just a very general conceptual answer. But you know, that's just part of the conversation that has to happen for people to even think differently about the income gap.

Baratunde Thurston  56:03  

Thank you for an excellent question, Ned from Madison, Wisconsin. And an excellent answer to Tonika Johnson from Chicago. I just want to say what an incredible pleasure this has been. I knew from seeing the project from the outside. This was something special, we had a brief call with Nico a few weeks ago, it was clear this was special. And I think what's remarkable is some of what we've already heard that to Nico, your medium is also the people that you've imbued a level of trust in us to go through this process, and not try to fix everything, like the mess is okay. And it's a part of the process. And it ties back to so much of what we believe in the show that relationship building is key to citizen. And so you've demonstrated a really beautiful, literally artistic way to do that, that adds a third dimension to the reports of what our communities are like, and gives us a bit more language and imagination to create the communities that we actually want to live in. All that is tremendous and remarkable. And and thank you, thank you, thank you, we're going to find that fold. Yes.

We are beyond grateful to tonika Johnson for joining us. You can follow @tonikaj on Instagram and visit Find this episode a full transcript, show notes and more at And please show your support for the show in the form of a review. And or a rating makes a big difference with these algorithmic overlords, y'all. But now for the fun part. This episodes actions, we start off with our internal actions, there's three of them, the first pretty light and they get a little heavier from there, I want you to listen to another podcast, This American Life, not the whole series that's like thousands of hours to episodes that sit under the title house rules. These two episodes examine segregation in the United States. In a beautiful way, you can find the link in our show notes on the website of the digital scholarship lab for the University of Richmond in Virginia, you can explore this interactive map that lets you see where segregation got planted in the United States in so many ways, by looking at the loan rating codes from the homeowners loan Corporation around the time of the New Deal, find your city and look at that history and think about is it still reflected today? The third internal action as a lot of detail, I want you to find out, but I lay it on your pretty simply like this. We think we came up with a way for you to explore a folded map like experience for those who don't live in Chicago, right without having to move to the city of Chicago, which is a great place. But that's a big commitment for a podcast where you are trying this. Instead of that. First step, reflect on your neighborhood. And write down the things you love. The things you depend on the specific places that you frequent the library, the grocery stores, you go to the cultural institutions, you value the new sources, you trust at a very, very local level. Then I want you to think about the neighborhood. You don't go to think about that part of town that you think of as too dangerous or too bad to visit or maybe it's too wealthy and too unwelcoming to visit either way. There's a part of your town or your region that you do not frequent. I want you to picture this place, find it, name it, and then I want you to explore it. Using the same lens you use to think about your neighborhood. Find out A restaurant there that serves the food you love, an order takeout or delivery, find a library there and compare its programming to the one offered by your own library. We're in COVID time, so I'm not going to encourage you to physically explore a bunch of neighborhoods and indoor spaces. But find artists and cultural institutions and local news sources in the part of town you never go to, and tune into that. Our goal is to help you become a better citizen of your own neighborhood, and your greater City and Regional area, not just your neighborhood, on the external front. For those who live in Chicago, you better sign up for that do it now Tonika has finished the action kit and it is available for you. So please check that out. And whether you live there or not, if you know an educator, I share this project with them. In particular, has resources designed specifically for educators. So download the action kit and try to do it try to do it. And if you take any of these actions, as always share them with us by sending an email to Put the word bridges in the subject line that'll help us sort this out and brag online about your citizen and using the hashtag #howtocitizen. You can also send us general feedback or ideas to comments at and you can text me 202894844 drop the word citizen in there so I know how you found me and I'll give you extra special attention and alerts. How to Citizen with Baratunde production of IHeartRadio Podcast executive produced by Myles Gray, Nick Stump, Elizabeth Stewart, Baratunde Thurston produced by Joelle Smith, edited by Justin Smith powered by you


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