What will your legacy be?
This year, Sojourner Scholars reflected on the life and boundless legacy of Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs. As our program had been virtual since the summer of 2020, this was the first in-person seminar for current Scholars. When we were apart, America confronted its everyday institutional racism in George Floyd’s murder and endured inequity, loss, and other hardships from a deadly and divisive pandemic. Who better to embrace now than Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs? A teacher, artist, historian, Chicagoan, institution builder, prison educator, and community activist who championed Black history, art, and other spaces. Dr. Burroughs often asked, “What will your legacy be?”
During our 2022 summer session, Sojourner Scholars examined Dr. Burroughs’ remarkable life and daunting yet empowering question in relation to archives and memory work. We read her poetry, learned about her life, experienced her artworks in person, and made art ourselves in wellness workshops with LaLa McCraney (aka Ms. Lala), embracing Dr. Burroughs’ fluid creative expression across visual and written arts. We also met two of Dr. Burroughs’ students, Carl and Cedric X, who encountered her and began writing poetry—per her steadfast encouragement—when they were incarcerated. Carl and Cedric spoke of Dr. Burroughs’ transcendent resolve, kindness, and that everyone called her ‘Mom.’
Year 2 Scholars wrote poems inspired by Dr. Burroughs’ “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black (Reflections of an African American Mother),” and Questlove’s “Summer of Soul,” reciting their verses for friends and family during our end-of-session celebration on July 29th at the Green Line Performing Arts Center. Drawing from Dr. Burroughs and their own experiences, Scholars spoke of strength, conviction, and empowerment.
Capstone Scholars researched The Margaret Burroughs Collection at the South Side Community Art Center, which Dr. Burroughs co-founded in 1940. As some of the first researchers to access this archive, Scholars studied documents related to Margaret Burroughs as an artist, historian, Chicagoan, museum founder, world traveler, and prison activist. Capstone Scholars presented their research at our end-of-session celebration at the Green Line Performing Arts Center. In the future, we hope to include their writings in a digital archive map that presents some of SSCAC’s collection to the public, contributing to open-access educational resources about Black history and Dr. Burroughs.
From everyone at Illinois Humanities, CONGRATULATIONS to the 2022 Sojourner Scholars! We wish you all the best and more in your future pursuits, and encourage you—and everyone reading this—to always ask yourself, “What will my legacy be?”