As a child, Ugonna “Ugo” Njoku used to ride along with his father, a medical supplier and Nigerian immigrant, while he made deliveries throughout Baton Rouge. He remembers crossing Florida Boulevard and noting the drastic shift in scenery—the tidy, well-appointed houses turning to sun-chapped tenements after they passed that stark dividing line.
These excursions planted the seed for the 21-year-old LSU senior to create The Social Boot: Boundaries Unchained, a documentary exploring what he calls “the relationship between health and a sense of belonging.” Through a lens trained closely on healthcare distribution in Baton Rouge, the documentary looks at racial disparities and how they were exacerbated by the many trials of the past year. It incorporates contrasting looks at nearby major cities like Atlanta and Houston, as well.
The film is set for release in spring 2022, at which point Njoku plans to host public and private screenings in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
But before his team even started filming, he knew the story would expand beyond a single documentary. The idea has since flourished into the Social Boot Network, a collective of artists, organizers and thinkers working both independently and collaboratively to advance the “creative underground” of Baton Rouge. In Njoku’s words, it’s “a melting pot of creativity and innovation.”
“There’s an understanding that we all have our own creative endeavors,” he says. “What one person may lack, another person has, and so we just kind of share our gifts with each other.”
The network started within the documentary’s production team and has since brought in a vast and varied roster of creatives. Among the group’s roughly 20 members are Njoku’s sister Uzoamaka “Uzo” Njoku, the unit production manager who oversaw travel arrangements and booked film locations, and videographer Taij Stewart, who documented the making of the film.
“[The Social Boot Network] boosted my creativity times 50,” Stewart says, “because I had all this new inspiration from people that were surrounding me. Some of my best friends now are some of the most amazing creatives I know, and I gotta give all thanks for that to the Social Boot.”
Stewart says he worked largely on his own until Ugo, a friend of his since high school, told him about his plans for the Social Boot Network. Since then, Stewart says his creative career has flourished in ways he’d previously thought impossible: He credits the network with providing a foundation for his personal videography brand, 808.TV.
Uzo echoes Stewart’s sentiments: She says the confidence the Social Boot Network gives her has encouraged her to pursue projects she otherwise would have considered out of her reach. One of her many pursuits is modeling, and she had long dreamt of working with photographer Ally Green, who has shot the likes of fashion model Winnie Harlow and rapper Westside Boogie. At first, she thought the aspiration impossible. But with the help and support of her Social Boot connections, she secured a shoot with Green in December 2020.
“Just having that support behind you makes everything 10 times easier,” Uzo says. “And then great things come from that.”
Ugo says The Social Boot is just as much a social organization as it is a creative one, hence his motto: “Experiences inspire creations, and creations inspire experiences.” Recently, the network partnered with local collective BR.adio to host “The Function” in October, a gathering of like-minded individuals celebrating underground creativity in Baton Rouge.
Moving forward, the network’s next social event will be “The Social Social” in February 2022, which Ugo says will be modeled after the Mardi Gras Players Balls of the 1970s. With that falling close to the release of the documentary, there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on The Social Boot in the near future.
Check out the network’s Instagram for updates on the documentary, future events and more.