WEST LOOP — Latoya Howell's son was fatally shot by police in suburban Zion a year ago.
A memorial to remember the 17-year-old held in early April fizzled out, and neighbors told her they didn't even want teddy bears at the scene of his death because it didn't make the neighborhood look good.
Chicago activists wanted to make sure Howell's pain was shared with the world. Her son, Justus, was one of many young black kids who are memorialized through art and performance at an exhibit that opened in the West Loop.
"The people of Zion, they don't come out, don't speak up, definitely don't do something like this," Howell said. "This means a lot."
The art exhibit "Our Duty To Fight" opened Wednesday at the University of Illinois-Chicago's Gallery 400, 400 S. Peoria St.
Put on by Black Lives Matter and other activist groups, the exhibit highlighted two things: societal causes championed by the many organizations and the young black men who have been victims of police brutality and shootings.
Art commemorating the fight to remove State's Attorney Anita Alvarez is hung at an art exhibit honoring black activists. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]
The families of those lost to police shootings were paired with local and national artists who then created a piece honoring their lost loved one.
"This isn't about the artwork. It's not about an exhibit," said Aislinn Pulley, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Chicago and one of the featured artists. "This is about shining a light on the lives of the people we lost. This is a call to action."
For two years, the UIC art gallery has hosted exhibits that examine Chicago's "standard of living," said gallery director Lorelei Stewart.
The space has hosted works on the labor movement and immigration, but Stewart said there is no issue related to standard of living in Chicago that is more pressing than racial discrimination.
So the gallery reached out to Black Lives Matter about telling their story, Stewart said.
"We turned the platform of the gallery over to them," she said. "These are not artists sitting on the sideline. They are out there."
The artists highlighted issues like the Dyett hunger strikes, the campaign to oust State's Attorney Anita Alvarez from office and the protests to bring a trauma center to the University of Chicago.
Highlighting those campaigns shows how protests and activism can and has made a difference in Chicago, said activist Frank Chapman.
"There's a crisis in this city and we all know about it,"Chapman said. "We have to change this system."
The gallery will run through June 11.
Watch Vic Mensa's performance here:
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