A virus that could possibly dismantle human kind. We been used to that scenario. In the hood, we wear that perspective like a pair of fresh white 1s showing our ingenuity, while still managing to put food on the table, despite wavering finances. Our water is polluted with lead. No real resources are there to feed our souls or our children. We been stressing for a blessing. We been clawing at society for our just due.

That’s what the people are fighting for when we show up — full force — to raise hell in front of Mayor Lori Lightfoot at the Chicago City Council meetings. No matter how much the city takes and keeps from us, we still prosper and manifest survival. We still have bills to pay, despite setbacks and generational losses. Y’all gotta catch up to us…on foe nem.

With all the violence that’s been taking place in our community, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness each time you see folks in your community without the resources they need to survive. I’ve been dealing with the discomfort of not being able to immediately change the realities of so many people I know who don’t have the things they need to survive. 

Organizing work is something that can feel discouraging sometimes, because it’s hard to tell if real change is happening. My good brother Malik Alim’s work as campaign coordinator for the Coalition to End Money Bond and as an advocate with the Chicago Community Bond Fund was instrumental in the passage of the Pretrial Fairness Act, but in real time, he didn’t always get the affirmations from local community leaders and government officials that he is now getting posthumously. He didn’t sweat it, because he knew the work was bigger than him. But he constantly taught me how to exist in the organizing community, and that the work that is being done is having a larger impact — whether I can see it in real time or not.

There’s a program called ShotSpotter, a national surveillance program that is supposed to help reduce gun violence and bring some sort of safety to communities. The city is putting $33 million towards a ShotSpotter gunshot detection program that’s generated more than 40,000 dead-end police deployments in Chicago within a 21-month period, according to a study by the MacArthur Justice Center. 

Those ShotSpotter dollars could be going into communities such as Roseland, Auburn Gresham and Pullman. These communities have families that have been living here for decades who are in need of therapy, job resources, access to nutritious foods, financial literacy, entrepreneur and business training, affordable housing and more. These dollars could also go to nonprofit organizations that are bridging the educational and technological gaps between impoverished communities and recruiters for good-paying jobs. 

I’m currently a part of the Stop ShotSpotter campaign, where we’re asking for the city to cancel the program and reallocate those funds to such community organizations. Behind closed doors, the city quietly renewed its multi-million dollar contract with ShotSpotter, and it’s disrespectful to the people who are constantly saying that ShotSpotter doesn’t work. ShotSpotter is another example of Mayor Lightfoot having all of this power to delegate funds, but neglecting South and West side communities who still have open wounds from ongoing crime and the overpresence of police — two things you don’t see happening up North.

The concept of people power is so important when it comes to understanding that doing what you can — whether that’s sharing a flyer on social media, donating to a mutual aid, volunteering at a community organization — is how we all succeed in making our home, our city better. We know that 12 ain’t protecting us. We know that Mayor Lightfoot and many of the city officials in power are not fighting for us. So we have to lean into ourselves, into our communities, to make our home safer. We’ve gotta get gang on the same wavelength because there’s beauty in community. There’s power in love.

As a Black boy in Chicago, one of our worst nightmares is waking up and realizing we can’t provide for our loved ones. Our fears live in the everyday realities of losing our food stamps and burying our children before we die ourselves. But it’s about more than that, too.

We’re actually trying to survive out here. And to do that, we had to mold our souls to battle any war that takes place on the corners of our broken streetlight kingdoms. 12 makes us bleed out, and sometimes our own collective traumas make us forget how to love each other, but despite all the odds against us, we still celebrate life. The power of politics sometimes deters our community leaders from helping the community, yet we still flourish. We have taken every curse given to us and have still survived oblivion. 

The trauma that we’ve been giving is our art. No virus — COVID-19, gun violence, poverty or anything else — can wither our spirits. Our skin is too tough. Our blocks are too nourished with the second-hand goods America throws away. We can’t be broken. 

This ongoing photo series, called #SanctuaryFromForgottenBlocks, is a reflection of empowering community, and expanding what that means through words and imagery. In Chicago, violence is the dominant narrative when it comes to Black and brown folks, but I wanted to capture a Black aesthetic that most people don’t talk about.

You can see more from this series for free at Kusanya Cafe, located at 825 W. 69th Street, from Dec. 3 through Feb. 1. Viewing hours are 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily. The photos are available for purchase, and proceeds will be given to HER Chicago and GoodKids MadCity.

You can see more from this series for free at Kusanya Cafe, located at 825 W. 69th Street, from Dec. 3 through Feb. 1.
is a photographer and writer from the Chatham and Burnside area. Since his highlighted works with True Star Magazine, showcasing Chicago's musical talent, he has been on a mission to capture and express powerful opinions and perceptions through imagery and writing.