Samantha Powers/The Daily Northwestern
The Music Institute of Chicago and the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theater brought together creators across disciplines Sunday to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr., marking the first collaboration between the two institutions.
Young dancers swept across the stage and music of all kinds floated through Nichols Concert Hall. Local leaders made remarks on Evanston’s efforts to pursue racial justice through reparations. Mark George, the president and CEO of the Music Institute of Chicago, said the arts unify people across a diverse array of identities and communities.
“There’s something about live performances and seeing art in person,” George said. “I think that there’s a magic there, and there’s a fellowship that develops from anyone who is in the room.”
George worked with Fleetwood-Jourdain Theater Artistic Director Tim Rhoze to feature artists and performers from all over the community.
Some performers were seasoned professionals, like the Hearing in Color musicians who performed “Stone of Hope (Martin’s Song),” a tribute commissioned specifically for the event. Others had just begun their performing careers, including dancers from TE & Company, who combined dancing with sign language to bring the audience to its feet.
“Evanston, our country, our world, is so diverse,” Rhoze said. “And so what we’ve done is just taken a snapshot of the diversity, and we’ve presented it to this very small community.”
Rhoze said he was glad to see people from all over Evanston come to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy and enjoy the art on display.
Evanston resident Steven Frost, who attended the event, said he appreciated the unity on display.
“The arts definitely open up and help connect different folks,” Frost said. “It helps move things forward.”
Mateo Tirres dances along to spoken word by Nolan Robinson and music by Steve Rashid in the Evanston Dance Ensemble’s performance of “Inspiration Moving Forward” from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” (Samantha Powers/The Daily Northwestern)
Between performances, Mayor Daniel Biss and Reparations Committee member Claire McFarland Barber both spoke about Evanston’s Reparations Fund, a pioneer initiative meant to provide financial redress for racial injustice in the city’s history.
Biss gave remarks celebrating the progress the reparations initiative has achieved and looked forward to the work yet to be done.
“We are done talking — it is time to act,” Biss said. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Terri Shepard, the NAACP education chair for the Evanston/North Shore branch, attended with her family and said that the fight for racial justice extends before and beyond Dr. King’s lifetime.
Shepard grew up in Topeka, Kansas and started at Monroe Elementary School in 1954, the year that Linda Brown arrived after the U.S. Supreme Court delivered the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Shepard’s daughter, artist Tasha Nemo, displayed a painting in a gallery at the event that focused on the protection of Black femininity.
“I want to affirm Black women and Black people in general through my artwork and give them a space for healing and positivity, as I’ve learned through my family and the African ancestry that I have,” Nemo said.
A teacher at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School, Nemo said she wants to help her students understand the history of the racial justice movement.
As someone who has witnessed the progression of racial justice in education firsthand, Shepard said the empowerment of the next generation is key to moving forward.
“I want to support the kids,” Shepard said. “That’s who I’m here primarily to support … They need to know that what they’re doing is important.”
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