‘Expressions Challenge’ fosters youth expression through the arts

Chicago's Very Own

CHICAGO As depression, cyberbullying and body image persist as serious issues facing today’s teenagers, expressing emotions and thoughts can often be difficult.

One Chicago-area company has created a unique platform for teens to have their voices heard through the arts.

Walgreens’ ‘Expressions Challenge’ is a platform geared toward helping Chicago-area high school students navigate these difficult times by expressing themselves through art.

“It’s titled ‘Reflections’, and the entire idea behind it was a lot of women, specifically women look in the mirror and think negative things about each other, have a negative perception of their own body,” Anna Thompson said.

Thompson, along with fellow area teen Natalia Granatowski have both experienced the modern-day pressures of being a teen while both winning the Walgreens Expressions Challenge previously.

“It kind of represented how there are people on the other side of the screens,” Granatowski said.

The challenge was initially launched in 2009 as an HIV/AIDS outreach and awareness campaign, but quickly turned to a host of other topics.

“It really morphed quickly because students brought up things like, abstinence, body image and really quickly after that became expressions which is really designed to help young people articulate the issues that are impacting them,” Walgreens Community Affairs director John Gremer said.

From the pressures of social media to gender identity, students pick a topic and then submit their entry in the form of visual artwork, multimedia or written/spoken word.

The winner receives a cash prize of $2,000. To date, Walgreens has awarded more than $350,000 in winnings. Gremer said having a platform in which young people can be heard is beneficial for all participants.

“The challenge helped me to kind of ground myself and communicate in a way that is different, instead of saying something flat out,” Granatowski said.

Throughout the years, countless students have taken part in the Expressions Challenge. With the local success of the program, Walgreens opened the program up to high school students nationwide, adding a COVID-19 category and specialty award.

The submissions have already been pouring in, touching on pandemic grief, frustration and isolation.

“In one of the pieces of artwork I saw a person hugging the air and no one was there,” Gremer said.

As students have had an unimaginable year, Gremer encourages young people to continue to share their voice.

“No matter what year it is, no matter what topic it is, find your authentic voice, find a way to express it and then use that to make a positive impact on your community,” Gremer said.

If you would like to submit an entry, the deadline is March 31.

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