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Meet the Authors

Lifting As They Climbed is written by Essence McDowell and Mariame Kaba. The two authors originally self-published a south side edition in 2018. The extended version of the guidebook is published with Haymarket Books and includes double the women, new tours and elements for educators and researchers. 


Organizer, Educator and Curator

Mariame Kaba is an organizer, educator and curator who’s active in numerous social movements for prison abolition, racial justice, gender justice, and transformative justice.

She is the founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with a vision to end youth incarceration, and a co-founder of numerous organizations including the Chicago Freedom School, Love and Protect, the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women and most recently Survived & Punished.

Mariame is also a co-organizer of the Just Practice Collaborative, a training and mentoring group focused on sustaining a community of practitioners who provide community-based accountability and support structures for all parties involved with incidents and patterns of sexual, domestic, relationship, and intimate community violence.

Mariames Headshot_edited.jpg

Essence McDowell

 Writer, Creative Director,  Communications Strategist

Essence McDowell is a writer, communications strategist and creative director. She is the
coauthor of the two books in the Lifting As They Climbed series including the most recent edition, Mapping A History of
Trailblazing Black Women in Chicago.

Essence utilizes community engagement, digital design, and communication technologies
to strengthen community institutions, and advance justice-based organizations. She has
worked with national and local entities: Illinois Humanities Council, Chicago Torture
Justice Memorials, Latino Policy Form, Black Feminist Future, and Chicago Public Schools.
Essence is the former director of arts and communications at the Social Justice Initiative,
where she co-founded the Chicago Justice gallery and created over 50 public programs,
community events, and symposia.

Essence is also an arts leader who has developed numerous exhibitions including 2019
Black Chicago Resists, 2020 Belonging: Place, Power and Impossibilities, and the 2023
Climates of Inequality: Stories of Environmental Justice which is currently open to the
public in Chicago.

With a vision of centering the power and expertise of Black women and girls, Essence has
ventured into filmmaking and is screening her debut documentary project,
"Invisible Giants.

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