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More About Essence

Essence McDowell is a communications strategist, organizer and co-author of Lifting As They Climbed: Mapping a History of Black Women on Chicago’s South Side.  

She started out her career as a budding journalist, writing for national newspapers like the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Afro-American in Washington DC.  As print media transitioned into the digital sphere, she obtained her master’s degree in journalism & new media from DePaul University.


As her passion for digital communications expanded, she took on projects for state and local organizations. Essence worked with the Illinois Humanities Council to create an online platform to connect local communities through conversations on social justice topics. She also took on web development for the Illinois Capitol Forum, a program that brings students together to engage in project-based learning within the humanities. 

In 2013, she joined the Social Justice Initiative at University of Illinois in Chicago as the media coordinator and digital activist for the Freedom Dreams, Freedom Now conference. Essence went on to work as communications coordinator for the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, national media coordinator for INCITE!’s Color of Violence 4 Conference, and community engagement manager with Chicago's Gallery 400.


Essence also has been a part of multiple Chicago based community organizations, the All African People’s Revolutionary Party, Black Youth Project, Love and Protect, and Bridging While Black. She also served on the board of the Chicago Freedom School.


For the past three years, Essence has joined forces with a small group of women to organize the Free Black Women’s Library. She also works with A Long Walk Home to create safe spaces for young Black women and girls who have been impacted by sexual violence. As a part of her ongoing dedication to building resources for Black women and girls, Essence is working to develop a Chicago-based hub called the Black Women's Organizing Collective (BWOC).  


In 2018, Essence and organizer Mariame Kaba published Lifting As They Climbed as a project to uplift the untold stories of Black women in Chicago. The guidebook was a success and is now in its second edition. This year, the two authors signed a deal with Haymarket Publishing to extend the guidebook and include Black women's legacies and landmarks from West Side of Chicago. The new book is set to be released in the summer of 2020.

Essence currently works at the Social Justice Initiative where she is the Associate Director of Communications. 

The Extended Bio:

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