Reflecting the Future event uses Poetry to Engage with Public Housing Policy

From left to right, poet presenters Shakira Johnson, Sandra Cornwell, and Salyndrea Jones. Charlie Barlow is in the back.

From left to right, poet presenters Shakira Johnson, Sandra Cornwell, and Salyndrea Jones. Charlie Barlow is in the back.

Last night, over 60 members of the public came to hear three poems by both former and current public housing residents about their experiences in Chicago public housing. Led by Charlie Barlow, a Lecturer in Public Policy and Geography and the current Director of the Chicago Policy Research Team at the University of Chicago, the policy conversation used three poems to help create discussion and interaction among the poet presenters and audience members. 

A former resident of Stateway Gardens, Salyndrea Jones delivered a poem of her public housing experience when her family was relocated to mixed-income housing. Shakira Johnson presented her poem on living in Westhaven Apartments, a mixed-income community that replaced Henry Horner Homes. Lathrop Homes resident Sandra Cornwell recalled in her poem the Chicago Housing Authority's Plan for Transformation opening up discussion among audience members and her fellow poet presenters what lies ahead for public housing and the future of affordable housing.   

Thank you to all that attended and we look forward to keeping you engaged in events in Chicago and Rockford, Illinois this summer! 

How did we do? If you attended the program last night and did not fill out an audience evaluation, please tell us what you thought in this brief survey

The Museum would like to acknowledge Ryun Miller and Robert Baudry for volunteering at this event. Would you like to volunteer at a future event? Please contact Daniel Ronan, the Manager of Public Engagement, at, or (773) 257-7241. 

The Museum would also like to acknowledge Maggie Queeney of the Poetery Foundation for guiding Shakira and Salyndrea through the poetry workshop to create the poems you see below.


Salyndrea Jones

Salyndrea lived in the Stateway Gardens public housing project from when she was born in 1993 and moved out in 2003. In that same year, Salyndrea and her family moved to Englewood into the St. Agnes Village Apartments until 2007 when her family was relocated to the new mixed-income development that replaced Stateway Gardens, the Park Boulevard Apartments. She recently moved out of her mother’s home in Park Boulevard into a low income apartment near 67th and Stony Island. At the end of April, Salyndrea participated in a workshop with the Poetry Foundation to develop this poem.


Street lights

Tall buildings

Crowded hallways

Broken elevators

Is where it began

Not where it ended

We needed a transition

Leaving behind

Abandoned buildings

Bricks and gravel on an empty lot.

With a bunch of memories

I suppose.

This project was never made for the saving grace.

As my grandmother graced the hallways just to make a way for her children

I am a product of my environment

But I'm looking to inspire

I got a taste of the black power mixtape now everything in my eyes looking a little vague.

No time to play I got a lot to gain...

But it wasn't all bad

That's just half the story

See everybody

Knew everybody

Somebody knew somebody

We were like family

We all stuck together

"icy cup, chips with cheese me please" to the lady on the 4th floor that was the candy store.

I remember summertime field trips and back to school parties...

Playing on the porch with my cousins

Going to the center

Great childhood memories

We need to get that back

for our next generation

We need our communities back


Need our people back

Why not start here....

Shakira Johnson

Shakira lived in Westhaven Apartments (on the site of the former Henry Horner Homes) in the Near West Side from 2005 to 2015. From Westhaven, Shakira moved into the Noble Square Senior Apartments to live with her grandmother. She now lives in a building in Humboldt Square where she pays 30% of her income in rent to an affordable housing developer. At the end of April, Shakira participated in a workshop with the Poetry Foundation to develop this poem. 

Many Windows Inside of Many doors

Peeling paint, old brown bricks, construction on every floor.

Sounds, laughter, cries of pain, secrets behind every door.

Apart for years, family ties reuniting.

Relationships torn apart by the rumors started behind the next door.

Levels up there's windows, with missing screens and dust.

Bars on the windows, feeling trapped in my own home.

Secrets, lies, laughter, tears of pain, even tears of joy.

Thin walls with many doors, something’s going on.

Adults fighting while children are playing. There's the beating of the drums.

For nine years straight in my home,

This is where I belonged.

Sandra Cornwell

Sandra has lived in Julia C. Lathrop Homes, located at Clyborn, Damen & Diversey, for 28 years. She has been the Lathrop Local Advisory Council president for eight months and before served as the LAC’s long-term secretary. In addition to her LAC activities, Sandra has also been a part of Lathrop’s tenant patrol and has held various volunteer positions in community groups such as Friends of the Chicago River and churches in her community. A self-taught poet, Sandra has taken to writing about her experiences in public housing. 

CHA Has a Transformation Plan

CHA has a Transformation Plan to tear up our block

Where we walked and volunteered

A place that gives a homeless person a place to stay

Flowerbeds everywhere, riverwalk

Where volunteers come to make it better for us

They told us it was not for the rich

Plans were made and then destroyed

Or so they say

“For sale” is what I heard

Moving us in and out

Back and forth

Condos up to the sky

Where do we stay?

What’s really going on?



Redevelopment plan

Decisions made at the table without us

Meeting after meeting

Putting in our time

We stand out

A neighborhood with many different personalities and colors

Many different ghettos of my life



Smiling faces

Pushing us around

Back and forth

These are our homes

We were here first

Lord, where is my hope

People in despair

CHA has a Transformation Plan  


Thank you to our program partner: