Shalicia Johnson: Through the Lens

Madison photographer Shalicia Johnson of ArrowStar Photography has been documenting slivers of local history for decades and moved into professional photography in 2017.

Recently, she was out in Madison photographing racially spurred protests. We published a selection of her wonderfully-captured photos in our July/August issue, and wanted to know what her experience has been like as a Black person in Wisconsin.

As told to Shelby Rowe Moyer | Photography by Anthony B. Cooper

Since I was a child, I’ve always been interested in capturing moments — from moments at horse camp to exploring Switzerland with my family for my grandma’s 80th birthday. Now, without my camera, I look at moments in everyday life and take a picture of them with my mind, wishing I had my camera in hand. There was no way I was going to let such a significant part of our nation’s history — of my people’s history — pass by without me capturing what I experienced in my corner of the world.

The first event I attended was the African American Council of Churches’ Solidarity March, and there were people from all walks of life and faith. This march brought out some of the best people in Madison — the ones who want to see an end to police brutality, to injustice, to systemic racism and who are committed to the work to do so.

Having been born and raised in Madison since the ’70s, I think I have felt all of the feelings.

I have felt unseen. I have felt left out. I have felt unrepresented. I have felt unimportant. I have felt like I don’t fit in, and I have felt that I would never, ever be considered beautiful.

Sometimes as an adult, I feel like I’m too white for my Black friends and too Black for my white friends. I get along with most everyone, and maybe no one has those feelings but, for me, there’s always an internal battle that I’m fighting. Living here is difficult for Black people. Madison really and truly is a “Tale of Two Cities.” Some are blissfully unaware that Wisconsin continues to be ranked the No. 1 worst state in the nation for Black people in many ways, from our life expectancy to the failure of our kids in schools to the highest Black male incarceration rate — one in eight.

[For those that are seeking educational materials], one of the books I have read is “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, and that is 100% where I encourage all white people to start. You can’t work on being non- or anti-racist if you don’t understand your own racism.

More importantly than reading books and watching movies, I would urge you to get out of your bubble and to meet people who don’t look like you — as a start.  Get to know them, their families, their stories, and do way more listening than talking. Get involved in community activism, follow Black community leaders and figure out the best way you can help.

Maybe it’s as simple as shopping at a Black-owned business, or maybe it’s making a donation to a local organization doing the hard and necessary work in our community like Nehemiah, The Progress Center for Black Women, Urban Triage, The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, or Freedom, Inc. — to name a few.

Follow Madison365 for integral news on communities of color along with top local and national stories, and listen to their podcast Black Oxygen, hosted by Angela Russell. Two other phenomenal podcasts I would suggest are “Black Like Me” by Dr. Alex Gee and “Defending Black Girlhood” by Lilada Gee.

One more suggestion: If you really want to dig into how to become an ally, check out Justified Anger’s African American History Course, Black History for a New Day.

One good thing that has come from all of the yuck thus far in 2020 is that the spotlight is on institutionalized racism, equity and equality, the wealth gap and so many other issues in Wisconsin and all over the country. There’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube. This year has also shone a light on the brazen racism I’ve seen coming from the most unexpected people, and I thank social media for outing them.

People are fed up.


Read more from our Solidarity in the City article here.

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