Tag Archives: Chicago





“MAKE fitness fun, CULTIVATE a community of active women, UNITE + EMPOWER women through fitness, FLIP the ingrained negative perceptions that sweat holds, TRAIN future health leaders, FIGHT childhood obesity, and LAUNCH careers for the next generation of health journalists and media professionals,” reads the mission statement of PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT. Founded in September of 2011 by Aeshia Devore Branch, PGS was created to combat the growing epidemic of childhood obesity and lack of fitness education. Since its inception, PGS has expanded programming and accessibility with events and chapters across the country. We spoke with Devore Branch, along with DeVonna Brockman and Paige Crawford to get more information on PGS, what it means to them, and more.






Aeshia DeVore Branch


What is PGS, and what does it mean to you?


PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT is a Black female-owned brand founded in 2011 and headquartered in Atlanta, GA. The wellness company develops events, content, and products that make fitness fun, affordable, and accessible to women. We donate a portion of profits to our 501(C)3 nonprofit SWEAT MAKES CENTS to train health leaders and wellness journalists at over 30 college campuses nationwide to end childhood obesity for future generations.


PGS is a Sweat Sisterhood highlighting the beauty in the fitness industry’s diversity while erasing the negative stigma that sweat holds for women. Daily we prove that through sweat, we prosper.


What experience with PGS has inspired you the most?


There are too many to name, but if I had to prioritize one, it would be PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT fest ATLANTA. The annual fitness festival, SWEATlebrity Awards Show, and fundraising effort launched in 2017 with 500+ women gathering to “make fitness fun” and “sweat with a purpose” and has grown to attract 1000+ ticketed guests. Our lineup is worth SWEATing with past honorees, including Laila Ali, Keri Hilson, Rasheeda Frost, Riley Burruss, Elise Neal, and Jeanette Jenkins. The one-day event consists of music, self-care, sisterhood, style, fitness, food, and fun, benefiting select nonprofit organizations.


What is one inspirational quote or message that has been helping you during the last few months?


This quote has been riding with me for a decade: “Success is often a marathon. It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.”
Whenever I question why results aren’t happening as fast as I would like or when an obstacle gets in my way, I turn to these words. This quote reminds me that great things take time. I need to keep moving forward. Getting 1% better every day counts for a lot in the long-run.


What advice do you have to anyone who is struggling to achieve their goals or dreams?


Do not fear failure, but please fear regret. Giving up is the birth of regret. No matter how many nos you hear, how many doors slam in your face, or how many times you fail, do not take no for an answer. Let failure be the fuel you use to ignite the fire and fight inside of you to succeed.






DeVonna Brockman


What is PGS and what does it mean to you?


PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT is a wellness organization for women that focuses on women empowerment, training college health leaders, removing any stigmas that surround women working out, fighting childhood obesity, and overall making fitness fun! We call ourselves a Sweat Sisterhood, meaning that we are united by and bond over our desire to lead healthy lifestyles. To me, PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT means self-love, sisterhood, and empowerment. All women of different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and experience levels are able to come together and have fun working towards a common goal. Women are oftentimes thought of as being “too weak”, “too pretty”, or “too girly” to get down, dirty, and sweaty with exercising, and we at PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT are proving those perceptions wrong. In a society that can be so damaging, PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT reminds us of the importance of community, love, self-worth, and that being pretty isn’t about the superficial. Every woman is strong, beautiful, and deserves to live a long, happy, and healthy life; that’s what PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT is all about to me.


What experience with PGS has inspired you the most?


This is my first year with PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT, so I haven’t had many experiences yet, but I would have to say interacting with the other PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT chapters has been a great experience. It’s inspiring to see how we can bond and form a sisterhood even though we’re from different colleges, cities, and states. Everyone is so welcoming and supportive, and I really enjoy our monthly Captain calls that we have because it gives us a chance to connect and get to know each other. I’m so inspired by the diversity within each chapter because it’s important to have black women and women of color in leadership positions, especially in fitness since minorities are more likely to struggle with weight and obesity.


What is one inspirational quote or message that has been helping you during the last few months?


“Strength grows in the moments when you think you can’t go on but you keep going anyway.” In the last few months, I have struggled with sickness, mental health, commitment to goals, and overall stress. I think of this quote to remind me that I have gotten through 100% of my bad days and I am strong enough to do it again.


What advice do you have to anyone who is struggling to achieve their goals or dreams?


If you are having a hard time achieving your goals or reaching your dreams, it may be time to reassess. Don’t change the goal or dream but maybe change your plan of action if it’s not getting you anywhere. Make sure it is something you will be motivated to work towards and are willing to give it time. Remember, it’s okay to cut yourself some slack every now and then and reward yourself. You may feel discouraged, but don’t ever compromise your goals and dreams for your reality. Instead, think of your goal and dream as your future reality; it’s your destiny. Believe in yourself and you will reach your goal; don’t ever downplay your potential.





Paige Crawford


What is PGS?


PGS is a sisterhood that encourages other women, their peers and the next generation to live a fit and healthy lifestyle.


What experience with PGS inspired you the most?


In college, I interned for PGS as a Product Manager. I am forever grateful for this experience because it was one of the first times I was able to really take lead with my creativity and merge the worlds of product, branding and fitness.


What is one inspirational quote or message that has been helping you during the last few months?


There’s a praise and worship song called “Again” by The Group Fire. The message in this song just reminds me that although circumstances may not always be ideal, I still have tons of blessings to be thankful for and to not forget that.


What advice do you have to anyone who is struggling to achieve their goals or dreams?


I am still striving to achieve my goals. I haven’t really reached all of them, yet. However, what helps me work towards these goals is maintaining consistency in all projects that I take on. Also making sure everything aligns with my own personal brand, standards and morals.






We’re excited to announce that we’ve partnered with PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT alongside the release of the Adidas x Beyoncé Superstar sneaker. Enter the raffle here for a chance to win a free pair and shop the RSVP x PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT collaborative t-shirt at the link below. Proceeds will be donated to SWEAT MAKES CENTS. Learn more about PGS here. 


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Adidas x Beyoncé Superstar (White/Black) Raffle

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Adidas x Beyoncé Superstar (White/Black) Raffle


When the adidas Superstar shoes first debuted on the hardwood in the 70’s, no one could of predicted the impact it would have on our culture. To celebrate 50 years of the iconic silhouette, the powerhouse who has redefined pop culture in her own right lends her elegance and perspective to the rubber shell-toe trainer. Beyoncé’s influence is clear, with a raised platform to add extra height that really makes a statement.

Nike Dunk High “Michigan” Raffle

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Nike Dunk High “Michigan” Raffle


The Dunk High is back, and this time it’s been designed for a kick-step entrance. Inspired by one of the most competitive state schools in the US, this model uses classic Dunk elements like a featherlight, full-grain leather upper, OG tooling, and a mesh tongue to provide peak quality and comfort. And in case you find yourself facing down your rivals, this Maize & Blue colorway lets the competition know which crew you rep.

Spotlight: Urban Growers Collective



Urban Growers Collective (UGC) is a non-profit organization founded by Laurell Sims and Erika Allen. Built from the framework of the Milwaukee based organization Growing Power, UGC is built by and for the communities it serves. Currently operating eight (8) urban farms in Chicago, the organization’s programming results in not only accessible produce but job opportunities, youth education programs, public workshops, and more.





We spoke to Malcolm Evans (Urban Farm Manager, pictured above) and Darion Crawford (Urban Farmer and Instructor, pictured below) to learn more about UGC and its programming.




Despite the fact that UGC is technically only 3 years old, it’s built upon over 20 years of prior work. Talk a little bit about the evolution of the organization and how the programs have progressed. 


Darion Crawford: “When I started with Urban Growers Collective, I was a junior at Marshall High School. Back then, the organization was known as Growing Power Chicago. Now, I’m in my 30s and love to see children come to the farm and play outside in nature, just like I used to when I was younger.


I was part of Growing Power’s first year-round youth program 14 years ago when there were only 30 teens in the program. When I initially started, I was just really excited to get a paycheck. I was actually lucky enough to have some options for after school programs, but I chose to keep coming back to the farm because I loved the hands-on aspect of seeing something I created come to fruition. The sense of ownership and leadership the program gave me made me feel like I was supposed to be there.


After graduating high school, I worked with Growing Power for five years as a youth instructor and farmer.  I left to work as a manager at Home Depot for eight years, and recently came back to Urban Growers Collective in March of 2020 to help manage the adult job training program. Coming back, I’ve seen massive changes for such a small non-profit. Urban Growers Collective has grown from employing 30 teens year-round to now providing over 200 jobs to teens. UGC has also added a program for 145 head-start preschoolers and the READI adult job training program for 50 men who are at high risk for gun violence here in Chicago.


Working here has always felt like working with family, but that feeling is stronger than ever before. The leadership team has worked together for over 15 years now, and it feels more team-oriented, organized, and structured. But no matter how hard the work is, I always enjoy it and feel satisfied when I end my day. I’m happy to be back working at the farms.




The “Art on the Farm” project has gone on since 2005. Talk about how this project has expanded with the addition of new farms and participants. What is the process for new artists/program participants to get involved? 


Malcolm Evans: I started coming down to the farm that Growing Power had in Cabrini Green in 2003 when I was 10 years old. When I was 12, I had the opportunity to help build out the farm we have in Grant Park. Before that project, I didn’t think that downtown Chicago was for Black kids. The Gold Coast was full of rich people, and the closest we ever got to downtown was the McDonalds on Chicago Avenue. Once we started going to the Grant Park Farm every day, I began to realize that the lakefront and the parks are for everyone.  There were 15 kids in our program at Grant Park the first year, and I think we all felt that way–by the end of the program we felt like we belonged downtown, too. Now we have 45 teens in our Grant Park program, and those teens give free tours of the garden during the summer. It’s opened up a new world to teens who never felt entirely welcome in our city.


Art is incorporated into the farm in a way that demonstrates that growing vegetables and edible flowers can be beautiful. The idea that the landscape can be pretty and productive is a shift from how our city is usually landscaped. It’s always fun to see folks walking around the garden and identifying all the varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers we grow in the space–there are more than 120, so it’s almost like a treasure hunt. It makes me proud to know that we are teaching people that growing food can be nourishing and beautiful in the very heart of our city.


UGC’s Youth programs range from preschool age all the way through high school. Are these programs designed for youth to progress from one program to another? What are your favorite aspects of the youth programs? 


DC: I would say yes, the programs are designed to build upon one another, and there is a developmental aspect to the youth program that keeps it engaging year after year. I think that’s the aspect of the program I appreciate most–how much we engage our participants. I can’t emphasize enough how therapeutic it is to have a hands-on learning experience, especially for teens who are in school and can’t always see the tangible outcomes of what they are learning. It’s also incredibly important for teens to feel heard, and in this program, they have a voice and get to see their dreams manifest–from selecting crops all the way to managing market stands. When I moved into the role of youth instructor, I realized how much work teaching is, but also how rewarding it is to be able to pass on the opportunities I was given.




How has the pandemic affected operations? What adjustments have had to be made? 


ME: The pandemic really made us think about a Plan B. We had to think about the way we grow food and how we can use our resources in a better way. Spring is usually very busy at the farm, but this year was extra busy because we had to start harvesting quickly. We needed to get produce into our emergency food relief boxes so that all of the folks who are unemployed or who don’t have access to grocery stores could get nourishing food to help keep them healthy while Covid-19 is spreading. With the help of our partners, we have been able to provide over 12,000 boxes of fresh vegetables and fruit and over 10,000 prepared meals to folks who need it most. 


We also had to shift our youth programs to online learning. We were very nervous at first, but it has been amazing to see how creative our teens have been with their at-home growing kits. They have really stepped up and learned a lot about being responsible for their own plants while also doing research online and learning how to cook with virtual chef demonstrations.




One of the biggest initiatives has been the Grounds for Peace program, where UGC will be restoring 50 vacant lots in Woodlawn, Englewood and North Lawndale. Talk a bit about this process and the progress made as well as if there are plans to expand once this set is complete. 


DC: I come from the same background as all of the men in the READI Grounds for Peace program. Like them, I see programs pop up in my neighborhood and I feel like they aren’t for me. I walk by and don’t know who runs the program, or if I do see the people running it, they certainly don’t look like me. But I remember walking by gardens on the west side and thinking, “How do I get in on that?” For the guys in the READI program, being able to engage, to reclaim land in their neighborhoods and have ownership over that space, is life-changing. To have their friends and family see them being productive and transforming empty lots into beautiful gardens creates a sense of change that’s hard to measure, but it truly changes everyone in the community.  It’s so important to see people who look like you doing the work. It inspires everyone in the neighborhood to become engaged, and that’s truly how we slowly begin shifting the story from scarcity to abundance.


Grounds for Peace is a program designed for men most at risk for gun violence in Chicago – so to break that down, men who may shoot others or men who may be shot. This program costs about $25,000 a year per participant, which seems like a lot of money until you think about the fact that it costs over $45,000 to incarcerate one of these men annually. These men walk away from the two-year program with a better mindset and skills that they can pass down to their children.




With the Mobile Market, you’re combating food inequity by essentially bringing the grocery store to people’s front door. Talk more about this program and what it allows. 


ME: There are a lot of areas known as “food deserts” in Chicago. These are neighborhoods with lots of abandoned buildings that don’t have many options for healthy food. At UGC, our mission focuses on providing healthy, fresh produce as well as teaching folks how to grow and cook with fresh fruits and vegetables.


The Fresh Moves Mobile Market is a converted bus that’s essentially a grocery store on wheels. The goal is to bring fresh produce to folks that have historically not had access to grocery stores. We have sites in different neighborhoods on Chicago’s south and west sides, including schools, health clinics, and senior homes, so that as many people as possible have access to healthy foods. This year, we’re going to be launching a new Fresh Moves bus, which has unfortunately been delayed due to the pandemic, but we hope to launch in early November. 


I love having the opportunity to show people where their food comes from and that a kid from the neighborhood grew this beautiful food. It’s really healing work. Most of the produce at the Fresh Moves Mobile Market comes from our urban farms from around the city, especially the South Chicago Farm, where we grow things like collard greens, peppers, tomatoes, onions, turnips, and carrots.  We harvest it fresh from the farm and it goes straight onto the Fresh Moves bus. It gives me a lot of joy to meet our customers, and I know when I plant those seeds, that the work I do matters and that it’s changing my community.




RSVP Gallery is proud to partner with UGC alongside the release of the Nike Dunk Low SP “Community Garden.” A portion of proceeds from our collaborative tote will be donated to UGC. We encourage you to learn more about the organization here. 







Alongside the release of the Nike Dunk Low “Samba,” we’ve teamed up with froSkate to release two special colorways of their “Black Skaters Matter” tee, with 50% of proceeds being donated to Affinity Community Services and the Crossroads Fund. We spoke with froSkate founder Karlie Thornton and member L Brew to learn more about the organization:



For those who may be unaware, would you mind introducing froSkate and the organization’s mission statement?

Karlie: froSkate is a skate-crew based out of Chicago that aims to bring inclusivity into skateboarding via the BIPOC, LGBTQIA, trans and NGC communities. 


Was there any initial reaction to kind of the formation of the organization itself and how has that kind of progressed since it started?

Karlie: The formation was just really natural. It was just me trying to learn how to skate and I didn’t really have any friends that looked like me or were riding like a similar level as me. I just invited a couple friends and then it kind of just turned into people wanting to join in and getting bigger. So we made an Instagram and then like that kind of formulated the official froSkate. But once we kind of started, one of our members tweeted about us, and it went viral on Twitter and all over social media, and that’s really what boosted our turnout to start to get like 40-50 people that would come out to the meetup and just take over the whole skatepark. But yeah, it’s definitely grown a lot since then, in just one year. We started off with like, 100 followers, after we went viral, we went to like 2000 or something. Then recently, we were at 4000 followers, and we had a protest and a couple other events, and now we’re at 10k. So it’s just like rapid growth from the organization.


The organization gained a lot of traction really fast, which obviously allows for a really nice platform for everybody. Outside of the skateboarding aspect, can you break down and share a couple of examples of the programming that you guys have put together?

Karlie: Yeah, so, earlier, programming really just involved our weekly meetups. Every Tuesday at seven o’clock, we would meet up at different skate parks around the city and just give a chance for everyone to come out and have community and be with people who look like them and have a great time to skate. And that turned into us wanting to hang out with each other outside of the skate park as friends and as family and having events. We did a movie in the backyard at one of our members’ houses and set up a sheet for a movie screen. We’ve done some workshops at a local DIY indoor skatepark where we hosted ramp building classes and a  skateboard assembly workshop with friends from local skate shop Uprise. We’ve also done other events like our holiday fundraiser party, and a food drive toward the earlier end of quarantine when a lot of businesses started to close on the south side. Then we had the protests, and now we’re planning a couple more really dope events. 


Have the local skateboarding institutions embraced froSkate? How are the relationships with skate shops, etc.?

Karlie: They’ve been so supportive from day one. I started skating last year and it was because of my friends at Uprise and my friends at House of Vans, who really pushed me to start. I went to skate at Vans and they gifted me a free skateboard and a free pair of skate shoes and invited me to their skate nights and stuff. So the skate community since day one has really, like been so supportive to us. And that’s just made froSkate that much easier and a pleasurable experience.


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If you talk to most skaters, they’ll tell you that skateboarding is super inclusive as a whole.. But there’s obviously been a lack of representation for people of color since the beginning. Since the inception of froSkate, have you seen that landscape shift or evolve in any way?


L Brew: I think that there’s definitely this new huge wave of people who kind of aren’t what you would assume are typical skaters. So your black and brown people, your family, your women, your LGBTQ community. And I think a big part of that is just seeing more of yourself suddenly in the scene, representation obviously is super important. And it just makes it kind of a little bit easier to feel like you’re welcome in spaces or that you’re allowed to do things when you see people who look like you doing it. We’ve gotten a lot of that, like, skating has always been inclusive and stuff like that, which typically it has, it usually is a place for people who feel underrepresented or excluded from society in different ways to come out and be them. But the fact is that there you just didn’t see it. 


Karlie: It’s stigmatized in many black communities, as well. Like, if you skate you’re trying to be white or you’re a nerd or something, or you’re weird, you know, there’s a lot of reasons why black and brown people were kind of like underrepresented in skateboarding. But it’s definitely a prevalent issue. But now like, we go to the skate park and see at least a handful of girls, they’re like really stoked.


Aside from like, the organized stuff that you guys put together and obviously, you know, texting friends to meet you at the parks or whatever, you know, have you noticed any difference in like your own personal demeanor or even the demeanor of other people?


L Brew: Yeah, for sure. I moved here to Chicago three or four years ago and skated completely by myself until I found froSkate a year ago and the reason that was is because I never saw anybody who looked like me in the skate park. The skate park is super intimidating, so I would often avoid it and go places where I purposely felt like I could be alone, so that I wouldn’t feel any kind of uneasiness in that space. So to have froSkate, and to be able to show up to the skate park in a mass with people who look like me, made it so much easier. And now I’m like, totally comfortable in the skatepark because I’ve had the opportunity and the accessibility now to be able to go into these places and not feel excluded and not feel alone. And that’s 100% changed and even still, sometimes when we go to parks, we’ll see like, people who identify as women kind of on the outskirts of the park and Karlie has always made like a really big effort of bringing those people into the park, not isolating ourselves or kind of like staying away from the action but really putting ourselves right there in the middle of everything as anybody should or as you know, as you should, you should feel welcome to be able to be in a skatepark.


Karlie: We’ve gotten more comfortable being bold and unapologetic with our presence in the skatepark and are trying to encourage others to do that as well. Definitely committing to come to the skatepark. And then people kind of like, they just get scared to go out there. They’re scared to fall and they get scared to even skate because they feel like they’re in people’s way. And that also translates into our lives, we’ve got bolder in our approach on asking for things or not being afraid to go up to certain people and talk to them.


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What effect has skating had on your life outside of the sport?


L Brew: There’s a lot of lessons you learn in skateboarding that translate to real life. And I think something I’ve seen, like, not only in skating, but in my own life is just confidence, and kind of getting out of our own heads, like ending the self-judgment, because I think a lot of the fear of being in a space where you’re not seen as that you’re being judged, even though you might not necessarily be hearing anything. It’s just kind of like the voice in your head. So like 100% getting over those insecure thoughts, and being around people who very blatantly help you do that too, and who encourage you and help you feel less insecure has been something that made a big difference in feeling welcome in those spaces. 


Karlie: It has really affected my personal life, I feel like in more ways than like a normal skater because I started a skateboarding organization. I kind of have to look at it from the fun sport aspect as well as the business’s organizational aspects. My first year of skating. was the first year of me building froSkate as an organization and it was like an incredibly stressful, challenging time, which kind of discouraged me from skating for a little minute because it felt like a chore, like a job that I had to do. It was just like, climbing up the mountain really. But like now it’s so much more enjoyable. And we’re kind of coasting with the organization and I’ve got help from people like L Brew, so it’s better. I’m more comfortable with it, I’m having fun with it and in my life as well, it’s just encouraged me to be someone that works with all different types of people and is able to get along and be able to ask for help. I’m still learning. I’m planning events, you know, having to be an administrator, or having to be a boss. Having to work with different personalities, different work traits, and stuff. I need to learn how to teach people things. When you’re skating, you have to know how to pass down, like, what you’re doing well, in the best way, this type of people. So it definitely pushed me in many different ways, like, as a skater, but also like, within my life to be more expansive in who I am.



Talk a little bit more about the fact that you essentially started an organization in a culture you’re still learning about. You hear the phrase “getting your feet wet” so often, but you kind of skipped that. 


Karlie: I tend to do that a lot, for a lot of different things in my life. It’s kind of a trend. I actually thought about the fact that it’s kind of like dropping in. When you’re up there, it looks really scary and you can really mess up if you let the fear take over you. But if you’re up there and you confidently trust that you might land it, but you have to slam down on the board like with confidence and power, then you’re going to make it and like that’s really just like, the lens that I take on a lot of different things. I feel like, or at least with me, and a lot of different case scenarios, for other people as well, If you don’t take action on your idea, it’s just never going to happen. It’s just an idea. Like, it’s really just about like, making it happen. Now, if things are lined up to where you feel like it could happen, go do it. Stop waiting, stop hesitating. Hesitating is like not always the best option. I know for some people, college is that stepping stone to like, help them figure out what they want to do. But it’s like, if you already kind of know what you want to do,  and you kind of know how to do it. Just do it and learn along the way. Life is the best teacher in that sense.


Part of the proceeds from the collaboration will be donated to Affinity Community Services as well as the Crossroads Fund. Can you explain why these organizations align with your own so well? 


Karlie: We really wanted to make sure that the organization we chose was involved in the current movement today, which is the Black Lives Matter movement. I really wanted to make sure that they were contributing and giving out their money that they received to make programming or protest or support system for Chicago’s black and brown residents, and especially a community which is so close to us, which is the LGBTQIA community. So it was kind of a perfect fit to choose Affinity Which is a black-led, queer led organization on the Southside of Chicago, which is literally dedicated to social justice. And for that black and LGBTQIA, which is kind of similar in our organization as well. So, yeah, we just wanted to make sure that the org that we were choosing is involved. They’re doing amazing programming and their mission kind of aligns with ours.


Long term, what’s the goal for froSkate? How can people get involved or donate? 


Karlie: I’d say like the big mission is to continue to make skateboarding way more inclusive so that when you go to a skate park, you see as many black and queer skaters as you would white men. And that’s like our major cool, you know, of course, that personally would love to expand in ways. I’ve been like getting your own skateboard, you know, being able to sponsor skaters we’re inspired by and that we look up to as well. And that aligned with our mission, who we feel like there’s not enough representation in media for the black and brown queer community. So to be able to sponsor those skaters would be amazing. We’d love to spread worldwide. We want to build skateparks in BIPOC neighborhoods, to have our own indoor spot in Chicago, and expand our entire organization because there are not many organizations that are like us out there. There’s a lot of skate crews for women or for the queer community, but we’re specifically centering the black and brown community. So with that, there’s kind of no rules to what we’re doing. As far as how people can support us? Donations are always welcomed. Through our Venmo, Cash App, PayPal, we got it all. But I was just recently talking about how monetary support is what keeps us going and allows us to save so that we can fund those future goals like skate parks, etc. But also, we’ve met a lot of amazing people who have great skills and connections, so if people really want to help us actually make our dreams a reality, there’s so much value in is providing your skills, services, and even connecting us with folks who they know can also help and push/fund our goals.


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Affinity Community Services

Founded in 1995, Affinity Community Services was created to help bring awareness to the LGBTQIA+ community of the southside of Chicago. Focusing on black women and dedicated to health wellness & safety, education and civic engagement, Affinity provides intergenerational programming and resources to ensure that people of all ages are provided with the support they need.

Learn more about the organization here. 






The Crossroads Fund

Founded in 1979, the Crossroads Fund was developed in order to give active community members control over where charitable donations/grants were being made. Since its’ inception, the organization has redistributed more than $6 million to hundreds of groups dedicated to all types of social issues.

Learn more about the organization here.



Q + A with Troy Scat



Give us an idea of your upbringing and personal history. How was Chicago growing up? Were you always involved with art?


When I was growing up, my family moved around the South Side a lot — from 90th & Escanaba, to 86th & Drexel, to 81st & Kenwood and then finally to 80th & Dante. I only discovered the North Side when I was old enough to travel around the city on my own. Going up north opened up a new world for me. I’ve been involved with art for as long I can remember. For a while, I was painting, drawing and making music, but about 10 years ago my focus shifted exclusively to visual art.


Starting with your beginnings with art, how would you describe the evolution of your work?


I’ve always been a copycat. When I was around 10 years old, I found a folder of Marvel character drawings that my dad had done. I would trace over my favorites, and eventually I started drawing my own characters. As a pre-teen, my favorite characters to draw were Dragonball Z, and then the work of Frank Morrison. By my freshman year of high school, I had started to do my own thing creatively.


Where did LA enter the picture/what was the deciding factor for that move?


I was working as a studio assistant to Hebru Brantley in Chicago, and in 2018 he decided to relocate to LA. Hebru asked if I would join him, and I accepted — I’d already been toying with the idea of leaving Chicago. Making the move as part of the Hebru Brand team was a perfect way to experience the culture and inspiration of a new city while still having some familiar faces around me.





Much of your work revolves around the female form, but lately you’ve been getting into some pop culture references. Is this a way for you to work with new techniques or are you using this time to transition into something different?


The female form has always been a huge source of inspiration for me. Portraiture and nudes have been my artistic go-to for most of my career, but at this stage, I’m ready to challenge myself. Rather than thinking of my recent shift in subject matter as a transition, I’d frame it as an addition. I’m exploring new subjects and mediums as a way to add to my skill set and become more versatile. The pop-culture references in my newer work all hold personal resonance — whether they are musicians or films, they represent formative experiences or periods in my life. Stepping outside of what I’m used to and switching up the technique at the same time allows for a little fun to be added to the learning.





You use postal stickers as your canvas for some of your work. Describe the appeal of that base for you. Do you reserve that work for quicker ideas? How/when did you start using them?


I started using postal stickers in my junior year of high school — I went on a college tour to Manhattan and saw how the street artists in the city were using them. As soon as I got back to Chicago, I ordered about 500 blank stickers. The stickers started out as me wanting to create street art without having to sneak and do it. I never truly enjoyed having to make art under the pressures and anxieties of potentially being caught … At the time, there were a few other things that I preferred to sneak off and do. Using the postal stickers gave me a way to take however much time I needed to make street art. I still do stickers, except now I sell some and put others on the street.




You also tattoo from time to time. Does this medium provide another outlet for you or does it act as more of an extension of your regular work? How did you get started with it?


I started tattooing when I got booted from college in my sophomore year. I had to go back to Chicago and live with my parents while I figured things out. I obviously had to start working since I wasn’t in school anymore, and I figured tattooing wouldn’t be too hard to pick up since I was already a decent illustrator. I remember going on YouTube and searching “how to put together a tattoo gun”. Within a week, I had bought a cheap starter kit and was practicing tattooing on myself. I found that I was good at it, I enjoyed the process, and it brought in a decent amount of money. I worked in a shop in Chicago for a few years, but at the moment I only tattoo by request, for friends and family. Tattooing is certainly another outlet for me — I enjoy creating unique designs that marry my aesthetic with my clients’ visions. In the future, I’d love to open up a private tattoo studio.


What does your process look like from start to finish? Walk us through from the inception of an idea to when you know a piece is finished.


My process varies. I don’t always have an idea or a concept of what I’m going to do. I like to start with whatever resonates or is aesthetically pleasing to me and then conceptualize later.





Are you someone who pulls references or looks to outside sources for inspiration? Where do you find yourself looking for that kind of stuff?


I’ve always been strongly attracted to realism portraiture work, so I usually reference photographs. I wouldn’t say that I go looking for references so much as they find me. Visual inspiration is everywhere — Instagram, movies, magazines. When something catches my eye, I make a note of it — in my phone, a notebook, whatever — so I can come back later.




Outside of possible references, what else are you consuming?


Every so often, I put on a podcast or crack open an art reference book. Recently I’ve been reading The Renaissance Nude.


Do you have a dedicated space when you’re working? If so, describe that. If not, describe the space where the majority of your work is done. What are your “must-haves” for a productive day? (items, music, etc.)


I work from home right now. I always set up in my living room, right in front of the TV. I need background noise while I work, so I’ll throw on a show or movie that I’ve already seen, or occasionally, some music — it just depends on how I’m feeling.


What does the future look like for you, both short and long-term? Any plans/goals in particular?


Currently, my goal is to keep exploring new techniques. I want to push myself while still keeping things fun. I’d really like to paint more murals — LA has such a great street art tradition and I would love to contribute to that. Eventually, my goal is to own a space that functions as a hybrid art/tattoo studio.


Select pieces from Troy Scat are available now. 

Spotlight: The Gray Matter Experience


Founded by Britney Robbins, The Gray Matter Experience is a high-school business incubator based in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago. Students enrolled in the program engage in a series of workshops and activities teaching entrepreneurial and business skills, and then apply what they’ve learned to launch real businesses on the city’s south and west sides. Students are also placed in internships and paired with mentors to ensure that the learning continues past the program.


Gray Matter was born out of the need to provide resources and opportunities for Chicago youth in the field of entrepreneurship, as many schools do not cover the subject. Their program intends to show students that starting their own business is a viable career option. The curriculum also has a heavy emphasis on creating a positive impact on underserved communities in the Chicago area.


Since its inception, the program has served over 300 students from 40 different schools, launched eight student businesses and provided over $50,000 in seed-funding.




The first designs in our “Power” series are the “Knowledge is Power” and the “Know Justice, Know Peace” tees. All proceeds from these designs will be donated to The Grey Matter Experience. We encourage you to learn more about the organization here.