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We Carry the Light - 2018

Location: The Historic Rosenwald Apartments,  Chicago IL

               Between 46th and 47th Street, Wabash and Michigan Ave


Project Description:

The Sankofa is a mythical bird that flies forward while looking backward with an egg symbolizing the future. In the Twi language of Ghana, "Sankofa" translates to "it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot.” In other words, Sankofa teaches us to go back to our roots, gather the best of what our past has to teach us in order to achieve our full potential as we look towards the future.


The light emitting from the Sankofa egg is the inextinguishable energy of our ancestors. This energy gave stamina to our African ancestors as they journeyed the Middle Passage and empowered slaves to relentlessly resist. This force inspired their attempts to escape, revolt, and even enlist in the Civil War to fight for their freedom. This energy persevered black codes during Reconstruction, pressed forward during the Great Migration, and when limited by the City’s boundaries of segregation, gave rise to one of the premiere centers of African-American culture — Bronzeville. 

Bronzeville, the "Black Metropolis,” has been home to many famous African-Americans, including former Rosenwald residents such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Jessie Owens, Joe Lewis, Lorraine Hansbury, Marla Gibbs, Nat King Cole, Quincy Jones, John H Johnson, Vivian G. Harsh, Ralph Metcalfe, Robert Rochon Taylor, and William L Dawson. These icons, along with many others, were infused with this ancestral force of energy as they yearned to create meaningful lives. This energy pervaded the 1960s Civil Rights movement and still emanates within current movements for social justice and economic empowerment.

The mural depicts scenes from the past, present, and future of Bronzeville, highlighting the eternal ancestral strength and resolve that embodied the more than 500,000 African Americans that migrated to Chicago from the South. This strength is engrained in our legacy, woven into the tapestry of our present, and sown into our future.


The Sankofa bird is comprised of individual clay pieces that were hand-sculpted by the first senior residents to occupy the newly renovated Rosenwald Courts Apartments. During the art making process they reflected on the history of the Rosenwald while sharing personal anecdotes and family memories. They used Adinkra symbols, words, and texture to infuse their individual artworks with personal messages of hope, love, peace, and spirituality. The elders of this community have deepened their personal connection to this work of art and the space, and solidified their role in the ongoing legacy of the Rosenwald. Their collective wisdom and energy will permeate this community for generations to come. 


Artists Carolyn Elaine and Damon Lamar Reed designed and fabricated the remaining artistic elements of the artwork, drawing inspiration from artist-led design charrettes, story-collecting sessions, hands-on art making workshops, and community conversations. 


Produced in partnership with archi-treasures, a non-profit arts-based community development organization, “We Carry the Light” was made possible through support from the Burton Foundation, Chicago Community Trust, and National Endowment for the Arts.


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