On a summer day last week, North Lawndale native Courtney Brown, 23, reviewed submissions to the public digital platform Mapped, an initiative of local design studio Design Trust Chicago where they are an intern. Mapped is an online free tool that maps projects, places, organizations and people in Chicago so any other community member can learn from them.

“I expressed my interest in storytelling, memory and preservation and from there they connected me with Design Trust Chicago,” said Brown, who uses the pronoun “they.” They write, edit, fact-check, categorize and review project information submitted by the public to the Mapped platform as part of their summer internship with One Summer Chicago. 

Their role is not only to review more than 50 submissions of places of interest in North Lawndale, but also to add places and stories of historical significance.

Community members shared their memories of the Black Panther Party’s presence in Chicago’s West Side at Mapathon led by Design Trust Chicago | Provided

“I’ve been focusing on the Black Panther Party projects, so that’s about seven entries,” Brown said. Earlier this summer, collaborating organizations hosted a “Mapathon,” an event where Black Panther Party members and community members shared oral and written memories about the Black Panther Party presence on the West Side. Brown digitized and collected their stories to upload them to the map platform, a form of archiving community stories similar to art archiving.

“I learned so much about what community and care really means and what it has meant to the residents and people of North Lawndale since the 60s,” Brown said.

“Just thinking about how powerful memory is because all these places that I’ve been archiving no longer exist,” they added. “It’s impressive these older individuals can recall them regardless of all the external factors in the world and all the things that are trying to erase memory.”

Brown said they are glad they can apply her passion for art and storytelling, but also bring their interests and passion for music and art. They are an art history and African studies graduate and an avid music listener, where jazz artist Sun Ra ranks top of her list. In the past, they participated in internships at the Art Institute of Chicago where they led community relations and event planning, among other tasks.

“Not only are they completing the work in an awesome way, they’re adding to it and bringing their own story,” Emma Jasinski, community designer for Design Trust Chicago said about Brown. She said Brown has also explored how art and music can be used as tools to create new frameworks for the Mapped platform.

Thanks to a partnership with Free Spirit Media, a local media arts nonprofit that trains young creators, Brown will keep collaborating with Design Trust Chicago as a fellow until roughly the end of this month. Then, they will return to Oberlin College in Ohio to complete a few college courses that could count towards a graduate degree, possibly in London.

“If it wasn’t for Free Spirit Media and One Summer Chicago, this wouldn’t be possible,” Jasinski said. “We were interested in pursuing an internship and as a young and emerging organization, we didn’t have the capacity to do it.”

To end their internship, Brown will finish planning two events. One will invite other editors of the Mapped platform to share their perspectives and experience to improve the Mapped platform. The other one will be a music-themed “Mapathon” where community members can archive significant music venues throughout Chicago, a city with a rich history in genres like jazz, blues and house. 

At the end of this experience, Brown will carry an important lesson for their promising career in the arts and the use of oral archives as a powerful tool.

“Looking for people to tell their own stories in the way they want to tell them is really important,” they said. “Though I am archiving and editing, I still try to keep it as exact as they said.”

Courtney Brown stands next to artwork at the Art Institute of Chicago, where they also interned in 2019 | Provided