Dwight White II went from being a Division I football player at Northwestern University to being a multidisciplinary artist. A lot of people would say those things don’t go together. But White is reshaping the narrative of what it means to be a Black man; often shoved into a box where society tells you to pick a lane, and stay there.  

With the pressure to provide economically, Black men are often not given the luxury of exploring their creative sides free of backlash. This is true especially for someone who played on the nation’s biggest stage every Saturday as a student-athlete. When he initially pivoted from football, and later a career in marketing, to being a painter, White’s family, typical of most Black families, while supportive, questioned how his passion for art would supply a living wage.

“Growing up, we’re talking about how to navigate this world, especially when the world appears very white to us, especially if you’re set up for failure as a Black man, right? I definitely questioned myself from time to time,” White said. “But going back to healing, [art] always brought me enough joy to mentally be, like, you can do this. I found it to be my purpose. So once I got through that, my self-doubt stopped a little bit.”

Although White’s days on the gridiron are over, the game has given him the perserverence and mental toughness to take a hit, and get back up. In the art world, he’s here to stay.

With EXPO Chicago taking place this weekend, White’s art will be on display across Chicago for free. He’s encouraging locals and tourists alike to explore the city and culture through his eyes by visiting his murals, including:

  • Northwestern Black House (1914 Sheridan Road, Evanston IL): completed in March 2022 
  • @Properties (1874 N Damen Ave, Chicago): completed in September 2021 
  • Loop Alliance (Ida B Wells & Dearborn): completed in November 2020
  • Super Lu (1000 S Leavitt St, Chicago, IL 60612): completed in May 2020.

And on June 17, in celebration of Juneteenth, he’s hosting his third annual “Something I Can Feel” art gala. This event will be followed by two weeks of unique experiences through art, food, healing, yoga and more, all curated by White. 

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity).

The TRiiBE: What prompted your move to Chicago?

Dwight White II: So I initially came to Chicago to go to Northwestern [University] and that prompted the move to stay in Chicago. I feel like it’s more unique to me. [In school], I would always visit the city, but I wasn’t immersed in the culture of the city. Post-graduation, I made a point to actually move across the city, [and] start getting familiar with new experiences. I fell in love with it very quickly.

Image courtesy of Dwight White II.

When did you fall in love with art?

DW II: That’s always a tough question for me, because I think subconsciously I fell in love with art at a really young age. It was like always my escape. You can probably imagine, like, the kid who’s in geometry and algebra but always sketching [and] doing random stuff off to the side. So I feel like it’s always been a love for escapism reasons. 

I was a [student]-athlete so there was really no time in my mind for art. And so I really fell in love with that again, recognizing that that was something that always brought me joy. I just really made it a priority again as an adult.

As a Black man and multidisciplinary artist, what is your goal when you approach a canvas?

DW II: When I’m approaching the canvas, I’m always thinking about how to display a potential truth, tell a unique story, but also make it extremely visually appealing and relevant to my culture. I think the art world, just like many other spaces, could [benefit from] a little bit more seasoning. More of us could be in it. And so I’m always consciously sprinkling in our culture, whether it’s by choosing a canvas like a mural, a wall that’s in my community, or literally taking a canvas and putting it in a show that’s accessible to my community.

There are some Black people who haven’t been to museums or haven’t been to an art gallery; sometimes because of lack of access and opportunity. You have a background in marketing, and you're a former football player. How does that affect your thought process?

DW II: I think from a marketing standpoint, it affects it significantly. I think about that a lot these days, because you can’t really turn it off sometimes. A marketer is thinking about consumer and insights and how this impacts the people you’re serving your product to. I’m constantly thinking about the delivery, where the artwork shows up, where it exists in the world, how it is gonna affect people mentally. Will they feel something when they see it? Will they feel something if they’re getting permission to touch it? 

We’re not always in these spaces looking for art. Sometimes you’re reaching people that aren’t looking for it. It’s, like, you put a work out into the street, and then a kid or an adult is driving by and it’s, like, “dang! That’s crazy.” 

I can recall [seeing] Hebru Brantley’s work for the first time back in 2014 [or] 2015. I came across [his] work [and] I wasn’t looking for it. And I was like, “dang! I want to do that.” And I didn’t think I was capable of doing murals at the time. But something sparked that energy in my mind.

Dwight White II working on Loop Alliance (Ida B Wells & Dearborn): completed in November 2020. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Your murals are all over the city. You even have one in your hometown, Houston, Texas. Each mural holds really powerful messages. Why do you feel it's important for your art to carry messages such as medical relief and racial equality?

DW II: It’s important because I’m introducing people to a new medium or potentially a new subject matter. It’s also art. When it’s public, a lot of times it can mark a moment in time, or tells a historic story. In 2020, for example, we needed medical professionals and we were highlighting essential workers, but how often do you hear about that now? Not frequently, right? But when you can create a piece of art that’s going to live for longer than the moment, then that can be powerful. I think that’s the significance of mural making for me.

I also think that it allows for an opportunity to be engaged with the community you want to be engaged with, even when you’re not physically there. Someone approaches the work and can connect with my artwork. That’s a part of me connecting with the community.

After pivoting from football, did you ever question yourself? Did others ever question why you were making art?

DW II: Questioning myself was one thing, right? Growing up, we’re talking about ways to navigate this world, especially when the world appears very white to us, especially if you’re set up for failure as a black man. So I definitely questioned myself from time to time. But going back to healing, [art] always brought me enough joy to mentally be, like, you can do this. I found it to be my purpose. So once I got through that, my self-doubt stopped a little bit. 

On the other hand, other people, even down to friends and family, [thought] art was cute. Alright, like, “we loved watching you on the big screen. We was rooting for you.” But now you’re doing something that’s fascinating. It’s incredible. You have the skill set, but no one knew how to make sense of that as a career. Like, how would you make money drawing pictures or having gallery openings? It didn’t make sense to anybody except me. So there was a lot of doubt. But again, it went back to just being mentally tough and being very clear on my life’s purpose.

You've collaborated with big brands such as Nike and Levi. How does it feel to put your spin on such iconic brands?

DW II: For lack of a different term, it’s dope. When I was growing up, I was trying to be like Mike. I wanted a Nike deal one day. You think about all these people who are influential to you. You remember when they initiated those brand partnerships. Don’t get me wrong, like [my collaborations are] nowhere near the scale [just yet], or the level of significance Jordans have on the culture, but when it comes to just the opportunity to put your spin on a brand that you [have] supported or worn your entire life, it was like, dang!

Tell us what you're working on now.

DW II: I think the biggest thing I’m working on right now is my 3rd annual Something I Can Feel experience. It’s gonna be happening downtown at the Shops at Northbridge this year. So for the next couple months, me and the team, we’re gonna be working on finalizing programming.

Tell me more about Something I Can Feel.

DW II: Something I Can Feel was born out of an idea of celebrating Blackness but through art. I’m from Houston, Texas. And so Juneteenth was always a significant holiday where I’m from. It was always celebrated. You could see the joy, the energy behind it. 

[Something I Can Feel] has since grown into unique experiences for the culture, ranging from the arts to food experiences, yoga, fashion, it’s all about tapping into people’s feelings. Literally. When they walk in, they should feel something from the sounds they hear, from the things they smell, so full sensory experience.

is a culture correspondent with The TRiiBE.