In celebration of Black History Month, the Trust is featuring insights from philanthropists and leaders who are making a difference in the Chicago region. Be sure to take a look at our social media channels for more stories throughout the month.
African American Legacy (AAL), an initiative of The Chicago Community Trust, awards the Donald Stewart Fellowship each year to a recipient who embodies leadership in Chicago’s Black community.
Donald Stewart was the former president and CEO of the Trust, and during his tenure, African American Legacy was formed as an extension of the Trust’s philanthropic work. AAL is led by civic and community leaders with the goal of improving the quality of life of Black Chicagoans. Stewart’s leadership and dedication to the fields of philanthropy and education left a lasting impact.
Tonika Johnson is the third recipient of the fellowship, highlighting her leadership in the Black community and exemplifying Stewart’s legacy. She recently reflected on this achievement:
Now that you are a recipient of the Donald Stewart Fellowship, what will you do next?
Tonika Johnson: As a self-employed artist whose practice centers around creating projects that educate the larger Chicago public about segregation and how it impacts us personally today, this fellowship will allow me to continue doing my projects and sustain my quality of life without the burden of financial stress.
Pursuing my passion of using art to facilitate public conversations about systemic issues—while also being mother of older teenagers, a new homeowner, and a family caretaker—can become mentally overwhelming when you have to also worry about securing an income.
The Donald Stewart Fellowship relieves me from that worry so I can focus on working on my current project and creating new engagement for them.
Share your proudest moment in your career and how it has shaped you today?
TJ: The proudest moment of my career is the career itself. Given my work focuses on systemic segregation, just having it valued and financially supported enough to sustain a quality life for my family and I makes me proud and continuously grateful.
What are you hopeful for in the future of Chicago?
TJ: I believe that Chicago’s systemic racism doesn’t reflect how we want to interact with each other today—which makes me hopeful we can improve our City, so it can be better for ALL here.