Chicago is a city with many stories. The Great Fire of 1871. The Pullman Strike of 1894, led by railroad workers that ultimately resulted in the establishment of Labor Day.
The 1905 development of the 42-acre Sears, Roebuck and Company campus in North Lawndale on the west side of Chicago, bringing thousands of jobs and new residents to the area.
History seeps from the photogenic skyline to the original Sears Tower, reincarnated today as a community center and hub for North Lawndale residents.
In the company’s former Power House just across the street, a group of students at DRW College Prep are learning how photography can be used to tell their own stories about growing up in Chicago at a time when its history is being erased by things like gun violence and gentrification.
For nonprofit, 100cameras’ Chicago flagship program, 25 students at DRW College Prep received the new Apple iPhone 11 to capture images around the city. 100cameras teaches students the technical skills of photography and how visual storytelling can express their emotions.
After each program, prints of the students’ photos are sold through 100cameras and 100 percent of proceeds go back to the local community partner organizations they visit.
“As the residents of a neighborhood in Chicago that is often overlooked, being given the new iPhone that had been released just a few weeks prior felt like a momentous opportunity,” says Angela Popplewell, 100cameras’ co-founder and CEO.
Earlier this year, Popplewell, 100cameras’ director of program operations Lydia Billings and the team started contemplating how their curriculum could be adapted to be more forward-thinking, relevant and accessible for young people in the US. For Popplewell and her team, the new iPhone, with its built-in sophisticated camera features, was an important tool.
“To see how excited they were to utilize the camera tools specific to this model uplifted their creativity even more,” Popplewell says. “It was incredible seeing how they chose to utilize the wide-angle and Portrait modes to really capture their point of view and specific expressions.”
“It was amazing to collaborate with 100cameras and the talented and creative students at DRW,” said Kaiann Drance, Apple’s vice president of iPhone Worldwide Product Marketing. “The iPhone 11 camera with all its intuitive capabilities right there in your hand is such a powerful storytelling tool. To see the photos the students captured of the ways they see the world around them was truly inspiring.”
Shot on iPhone 11 by DRW College Prep Students
Founded in 2012 as a campus of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, DRW is one of Chicago’s top-performing college prep charter public high schools, engaging the students in rigorous math, science and history curriculum, preparing them to attend and succeed in college and beyond.
In North Lawndale, many of the families have lived there for generations, despite a steep, rapid population decline. After 1960, race riots, “white flight,” and the closing of the Sears complex left a major scar on the community.
By 2000, the population dropped from 124,937 in the ’60s to 41,768, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. Those who remain have felt its decline, but are also witnessing its rebirth.
“Great effort was put into destroying the will, spirit and resolve of this community,” says Amit Khatkhate, a learning specialist at DRW who partnered with Billings and DRW’s dean of students Cecilia Alcaraz to establish the program. “You can see that in the mindsets and visions of so many of our students.” While the neighborhood was a haven for many in the 19th and 20th centuries, today DRW is working hard to be one for its students.
“Our students and their families have been forgotten and left aside,” Khatkhate continues. “At DRW, we have to attempt to correct the generational effects of housing racism, educational racism and employment racism, all the while operating out of the biggest of the former industrial factories! We have to hope and pray that our pitch to our students to take the route of college, trade school, or some other typical post-secondary route is strong enough and sound enough to keep them from taking a different route, one that could lead them to coming in contact with law enforcement and/or taking their life through gun violence.”
Despite the loss and hardships, these students are full of pride, hope and optimism about their own and their community’s futures. 100cameras teaches them how to use self expression to flip the narrative on how a world of outsiders views their home, and iPhone provides the platform to capture and share their unique points of view.
“There’s a lot of memories and history in Chicago,” says Bionka, a senior at DRW College Prep and aspiring makeup artist. Bionka is participating in the eight-lesson after-school program with 100cameras. “There’s a lot of amazing buildings. And the kindness. I’ve met a lot of kind people in Chicago and just that alone I feel is what makes a city beautiful.”
“Chicago is not one set culture,” says J, a junior at DRW who uses photography and his saxophone as his tools for expression. “There are people from all over that combine to make what we are today. You can’t necessarily understand what Chicago is if you don’t see Chicago for yourself. It’s good to see what cultures are there and what is fading away, because you don’t know until it’s gone.”
“Something I’ve learned is that you don’t necessarily have to have the skills or be precise with every shot,” J says. “A story tells itself. You just got to capture that story, and then convey that story to others.”
As DRW College Prep student Promize describes, “I walked in thinking everything was in black and white. But I walked out seeing that we can all have different emotions and that we can see and interpret differently.”