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Visually Mapping Systemic Racism & Principled Struggle

Uraline Hager reports from the Movement for Black Lives convening in Cleveland, OH

Between July 24 and July 26, Uraline Hager attended the Movement for Black Lives Convening in Cleveland, OH and sent us this report: 


The weekend of July 24th, I attended the Movement for Black Lives Convening (M4BL) in Cleveland. An estimated 1,300 Black folks from all corners of the diaspora participated in the M4BL Convening. As I moved throughout the physical and mental space of the convening, I was constantly amazed by the various levels of learning and reflection that were taking place in my brain. My thoughts ranged from the larger implications for community and group work to the smaller implications for personal growth and self-assessment. I would like to share a little bit of both.


One of the workshops that I attended was “Don’t Talk About It, Be About It: Calling Out and Ending Systemic Racism” offered by the Cuyahoga Place Matters Team (PDF). What attracted me to this workshop was that it is sometimes easy to discuss the qualitative effects of systemic racism on our daily lives, but often we lack the quantitative data to validate these qualitative experiences. In this workshop, the facilitators used maps of the greater Cleveland area to visually assess the relationships between the neighborhoods where Black people live and access to certain services.


Map Af-Am Cleveland 40s


The first map explored the relationship between the neighborhoods in which Black people live and the quality of education/high school drop out rates. The next map looked at Cleveland neighborhoods and income levels followed by a map of Cleveland neighborhoods and their relationships to high interest rate mortgage loans.


Map Af-Am Cleveland today


The following map explored Cleveland neighborhoods and rates of foreclosures. The next map looked at Cleveland neighborhoods and their relationships to incarceration rates. There were other maps that explored incidents of certain health issues as related to Cleveland neighborhoods. As a visual artist, what was overwhelming to me was that every map looked the same.


Map Foreclosures


The only things that changed were the titles of the map and the map keys. Although this workshop and its accompanying data were specific to the greater Cleveland area, I would assert that the data and the trends apparent in these maps hold true for other inner cities throughout the nation. This was a clear visual of how the struggle for the liberation of Black lives is an intersectional struggle. Access to quality healthcare, access to quality food, access to quality public education, income levels, access to low-interest rate loans, crime stats, incarceration rates—they are all linked together. You can’t discuss one issue without discussing another of these issues and how each affects the others. This revelation wasn’t a new one for me, but its visual representation most certainly was new, and left me without words. In a world that increasingly asks for data, number, and statistics, I thought these maps and what they represented provided a clear picture to anyone who would try to deny the existence of systemic racism. A sista in the workshop dropped this little gem (PDF) on us, too. A statistic that stood out to me as an educator and an artist whose work is driven by the social practice of my teaching was this: 1 in 28 children in the U.S. have a parent behind bars. For Black children, the rate is 1 in 9. This sobering statistic, and all of the factors that contribute to this statistic, reverberated in my head as I continued through the weekend’s workshops and events. My work as an artist and as a special education teacher never seemed more connected than in the moment that I ingested that daunting statistic.


Several times throughout the weekend, some of the organizers for M4BL reviewed our 10 Guiding Principles as a reminder of our common ground, our house rules, and the principles that should guide all of our work. The principles were all very well-chosen and articulated. I think the principles are solid guides for any group of people, or organization, working towards a common goal. However, what I loved most about the principles were that they could, and should, apply to individuals as well and provide a reminder and a path for self-improvement and growth. They really spoke to me on a personal level and created mental space for self-assessment and self-evaluation. After all, we must take care of ourselves before we can take care of one another.




The reminder that all Black lives matter stood out for me because it’s really easy for me to become enveloped and myopically focused on the work that I do as an artist and a public school educator that I sometimes forget how connected we are, as a people, in our struggle for liberation. Although it is important to stay focused, we must also remain open.


Wearing many hats and juggling different responsibilities is difficult. The way my mind works, I am often very open and susceptible to ideas and information when I am in the nascent stages of thinking, planning, and organizing. Yet, once I develop my game plan, I often resemble a wind-up toy that runs on auto-pilot until the motor runs out. The guiding principles of evaluation, self-love, and self-care resonated with me and were great reminders of the importance of taking the time to take care of oneself and to reflect deeply on one’s words, thoughts, and actions. These reflective processes are just as important as “the work” that I do. My next challenge: how to remain mindful of these principles and to ensure that I implement them in my daily practices. #IAmEvolutionInTheoryAndInPractice


Uraline (2011 Create Change Fellow) is an artist and special education teacher in the NYC public school system who lives in Harlem. She attended the Movement for Black Lives convening in Cleveland as a representative of The Laundromat Project, along with our cultural organizing consultant Ebony Golden (click here to read Ebony’s creative response to the convening). Visit Uraline’s website here.

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