Your NPR news source
Ariel Mejia

Ari Mejia

Producer, Audio & Community Storytelling, Vocalo

Ariel (Ari) Mejia is the Audio and Community Storytelling Producer for Vocalo Radio. Previously, she taught youth radio at After School Matters and independently developed and hosted Mirror and a Flashlight, a podcast from the Chicago Women’s Health Center, and Unboxing Queer History, a podcast from Gerber/Hart, the Midwest LGBTQ Library and Archives. Her audio has been featured on Short Cuts, The Heart, The Dig, Change Agents, and Bird Note. In addition to her work as a producer, oral historian, and audio artist Ari plays guitar and makes wheel-thrown ceramics. She identifies as a kitchen witch and also dabbles in candle magic.

Helene Achanzar’s job is to introduce students to poetry. She’s the director of programs at the Chicago Poetry Center. That means she manages education programs in Chicago Public Schools, organizing poetry residencies and performances for students of all ages. “Getting to meet an artist, as a student or as a young person, I think, can really change the trajectory of someone’s life,” Achanzar said. In today’s episode, Achanzar explains her path to poetry and her life in and out of Chicago. Because she grew up here, left and returned, Achanzar says the changes in the city are always on her mind, and in her writing. This episode was produced by Ari Mejia for WBEZ’s sister station Vocalo and their Chi Sounds Like series.
Efren Adkins did not make it to the floor at their middle school dance. “I don’t dance. I don’t dance,” Adkins remembers saying. “I had a real disconnection with my body.” Today, Adkins is both an arts teacher and a part of Chicago’s vibrant and diverse performance art scene. They’ve danced in Mexico, Russia and Japan, and they’re fully planted in the 60608 zip code. In this episode, Adkins explains their evolution in self-expression and their journey to teaching youngsters about art in Chicago schools. This episode was produced by Ari Mejia for WBEZ’s sister station Vocalo and their Chi Sounds Like series.
Self-taught Chicago artist Teresa Magaña channels her Mexican and Chicana roots to create stunning paintings. Her artwork takes inspiration from Chicago sign painters and the Day of the Dead, and now she says she’s “exploring more of the femme body and imagery.” And as an activist, she hopes to provide space and resources to artists in the Pilsen community and beyond through the Pilsen Arts and Community House, which she co-founded. In this episode, Magaña explains how she came to art late in life, the inspiration she takes from her cultural roots and why she decided to create an art and community center in her lifelong home of Pilsen. This episode was produced by Ari Mejia for WBEZ’s sister station Vocalo and their Chi Sounds Like series.
Sulyiman Stokes grew up in Auburn Gresham on Chicago’s South Side, and he fell in love with music at a young age. His winding artistic journey has taken him to Los Angeles and back to Chicago, and he has stepped in and out of the music industry. Now, he’s carving out a path as a multidisciplinary musician and photographer. In this episode, Stokes talks about using his art to tell Black narratives. This episode was produced by Ari Mejia for WBEZ’s sister station Vocalo and their Chi Sounds Like series.
Gigi Lira never imagined she’d make it as a working artist. Then, she started doing manicures on the side at Beauty Bar, a hair salon-inspired bar in West Town. She frequently worked queer events and did nails for LGBTQ+ Chicagoans who didn’t feel comfortable at other salons. Fast forward, and she has her own salon. “It’s so important to me to provide a safe, nurturing place that doesn’t just tolerate you,” Lira said. In this episode, Lira talks about creating an inclusive, nonjudgmental space for her clients. This episode was produced by Ari Mejia for WBEZ’s sister station Vocalo and their Chi Sounds Like series.
Vici Howard is a South Side filmmaker. Upset by the lack of opportunities to show off her work, Howard started her own rotating showcase to give Black and brown femme filmmakers a platform to show their films. “There’s a whole community of filmmakers out there, Black and brown women of color, who need a venue,” she said. “So I’m creating a community and giving that and offering that to them.” In this episode, Howard tells us about Black & Brown Femme Films and how she embraced her love of film later in life. This episode was produced by Ari Mejia for WBEZ’s sister station Vocalo and their Chi Sounds Like series.
Mayadet Patitucci Cruz grew up in Gage Park and didn’t leave their neighborhood very often until high school. Now, they work to bring resources to LGBTQ youth around the city. “What led me to it was wanting to work more with queer and trans young people,” Cruz explained. “But also doing some other healing work at the same time, which is what happens when you’re doing organizing.” This episode was produced by Ari Mejia for WBEZ’s sister station Vocalo and their Chi Sounds Like series.
Daisy Zamora is a proud Latinx Chicagoan out here bettering her community. She’s both a volunteer doula who supports new mothers during childbirth, and an activist who leads conversations to create healing between communities. Zamora facilitates “community solidarity circles,” and says that these kinds of discussions among young people can help create a radically inclusive Chicago. This episode was produced by Ari Mejia for WBEZ’s sister station Vocalo and their Chi Sounds Like series.
Tony Smith came of age during Chicago’s house music scene in the late 1970s. Chosen Few and Frankie Knuckles were his neighbors, and they helped him find his footing in Chicago’s arts scene, a space he’s occupied ever since. Smith’s a multimedia artist – a photographer, a musician, a documentarian and an archivist – and today he teaches his students at the Hyde Park Art Center how to have their own voice through art – and how it can make a difference. This episode was produced by Ari Mejia for WBEZ’s sister station Vocalo and their Chi Sounds Like series.
Ennis Martin is a Chicago-based illustrator and painter known for paintings of big whales with big feet. He’s also an afrofuturism and science fiction fanatic. As part of the “Chi Sounds Like” series from our sister station Vocalo, Martin explains his path from the b-boy and hip-hop community to graffiti and eventually to sci-fi art. He says his sci-fi paintings aim to make sense of being human.
Paige Taul says her journey started when another Black person told her she wasn’t Black.
Beatrice Scescke was born and raised in Chicago but always dreamed of those greener pastures – something she had been drawn to since her visits to Kentucky as a child. Years later, she founded the Chicago Rewilding Society, a non-profit urban nature sanctuary that allows city residents to connect with nature, animals and therapeutic healing. The Society is located in Garfield Park and houses rescued horses, goats, chickens and more. To learn about her story, visit Vocalo’s Chi Sounds Like.
Jeanine Valrie Logan saw a need for women of color in maternal health when she struggled to find a Black midwife during her own pregnancy.