Girl/Friends Reclaim Douglas Park

alt text By Armani Baker, Education and Youth Reporter, The Real Chi

The Visibility Project was held July 26th by Girl/Friends of a Long Walk Home in Douglas Park on Chicago’s Westside. The events purpose was to uplift and encourage Black Girls to be their true selves and comfortable in their own skin regardless of society’s negative prejudgements.

A Long Walk Home, a nonprofit organization built on sisterhood and solidarity, has been using art to end violence against girls and women for 15 years. The organization fulfills this goal by using the unique tool of calling each other Girl/Friends and constructing events every year to educate and inspire young people to get involved with making a change.

Asia Willis is the youth director of the Visibility Project and an alumna of  A Long Walk Home and has been a Girl/Friend for six years. She dedicates her summers to making dance choreography for the program’s special events.  

“I feel like girlfriends is something you don't see a lot, especially on the West Side. I never knew that girls could be close,” Willis said. “I never knew how serious these problems were—like sexual assault and domestic violence were—until I got here.”

The three hour event—which was open to the public but targeted especially at young black girls— and was also led by young, black girls and women included dance workshops, poetry performances, photography exhibits, and a special performance by Jamila Woods, a Chicago based singer, songwriter, and poet.

In addition to recognizing all black girls, The Visibility Project paid special tribute to Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old young, black woman who was shot on March 21, 2012 by an off-duty  police officer in Douglas Park.

The Girl/friends purposefully hosted  their event in this park to reclaim the space and reposition it as a positive environment. Boyd’s death is only one of many other fatal incidences that have occurred in the neighborhood park. Such as the first weekend of July, a 5-year-old girl and 51-year-old man were found dead due to a fire, this incident is still under investigation.

“Usually  I can’t come over here, it feels so heavy,” said Martinez Sutton, Boyd’s older brother. “But just coming here today and seeing how this space has transformed, and the love that was being spread around, I must say that it’s a beautiful thing.”

Girl/Friends along with Jamila Woods ended the evening by  encouraging audience members to gather around a tree for one last song to remember Boyd’s life.

A Long Walk home seeks new Girl/Friends every year to be a part of events such as this one. “Once you join the family you’re apart of the family forever,” said Willis.