Justus White: Winner of the Inaugural Emerging Artist Award

Sherre Jennings Cullen and Jill Potter also contributed to this blog entry.

Not every Urban Gateways student grows up to be a professional artist, and that’s more than okay: The benefits of an arts education apply to success in every facet of life, and we are happy to support that success any way we can.

But some of our students do, in fact, become artists and creatives, and contributing to Chicago’s vibrant arts scene by bringing innovative minds into the fold is something we take great pride in accomplishing. The students themselves, of course, deserve the real recognition. To grow into an artist, especially when so many Chicagoans grow up disenfranchised, takes determination and perseverance. At the 2017 Art for All Gala on March 10th, we will present the very first Urban Gateways Emerging Artist Award to a student who exhibits those very qualities: Justus White.

Justus started out as an apprentice with our Art Options program five years ago; this intensive, college-level film and writing program for Chicago teens is highly selective, accepting only up to 15 students each summer to ensure a close-knit environment that allows each student to grow as much as possible in just four short weeks. Students complete nightly academic readings on topics ranging from diversity (or lack thereof) in the arts to police shootings; they engage in challenging discussions and close examinations of artworks. They write their own pieces and film their own short films by the end of the summer. “Learning to read those articles, to critically analyze art – poetry, film, and learning post production – it was vital college preparation,” Justus said. (Read more about Art Options here.)

Justus excelled in Art Options from the beginning and he came back for three years to build on his film and poetry skills; he was accepted at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago after his third summer with Art Options. He could not afford the tuition, so SAIC recommended he go to Harold Washington College for two years and then reapply. Justus did just that. He returned to Art Options this past summer to be a peer mentor for this year’s participants. He was accepted to SAIC again for the fall as a Junior, but despite grants and scholarships, he was short on tuition. Art Options instructor Eunsong Angela Kim lobbied on his behalf and ultimately his exceptional work led SAIC to grant him the additional scholarship funding. Justus is now a busy Junior at SAIC with a bright future and plans to launch his own production company dedicated to serving youth in marginalized communities.

“Each year, Justus has emerged as our top choice candidate to produce visionary and original film work and poetry. [He] will be the first in his family to attend college, and his potential and possibilities as a student and as an artist are astounding,” said Angela.

Justus’ reasons for making art are familiar and poignant: “There are many problems we encounter daily that I believe can be solved with art. I, myself, am a witness to this,” Justus said. “Whenever I feel discouraged or infuriated, I express my emotions through poetry. Then, this poetry itself becomes a piece of me. As soon as I write down what I am feeling, I feel relief.”

We are proud to have worked with Justus through Art Options, and we can’t wait to see what he produces as the years go by. Read a piece of his poetry below, and join us at the Art for All Gala on March 10th to help us celebrate this Emerging Artist.


I Want
Justus White

I want a whole foods in the hood,
you know what, I want a half foods in the hood
that has the same goods but for a lower price.
I want vegetables gardens and fruit plants
to fill up desolate vacant lots.
I want a peach tree on every corner
an apple tree on every block.
I want to see five course meals sold at “Stop-N-Shop”.
I want families with their children playing in the parks
with no fear of danger in mind, no curfew time,
     no commitment to crime.
I want the African American Male able to walk to the next block
without a fear of being harassed with no assumption
     that he could be shot.
But if that would happen, you’d hear “I ain’t no snitch”
by those who are financially fit but still hittin licks, that’s it.
What don’t you get? Well let me elaborate,
the death of another person is something we now celebrate.
I don’t have to demonstrate, it’s all in the media,
see you laters have now become well it was nice seeing ya’s.
But still I want liquor stores to become libraries,
Flamin Hot Cheetos to become grapes and cherries.
I want peace within streets
Love in communities
I want fathers with their daughters
Mothers with sons.
Society with a weapon of hope, instead of abusing guns.
That means eradication of those that are trigger happy
that means the eradication of the system
     that was made to trap me.



Urban Gateways Emerging Artist Award winner Justus White


Art Options program photos


Thanks to the following funders for supporting Art Options:



Jim and Kay Mabie