Evanston youth celebrate MLK Day with message of non-violence

Teens from the  Chute Middle School theater group speak out against violence during a MLK Day celebration. YOU hosted the celebration Monday to celebrate Kings legacy with a message of non-violence.

Jia You/Daily Senior Staffer

Teens from the Chute Middle School theater group speak out against violence during a MLK Day celebration. YOU hosted the celebration Monday to celebrate King’s legacy with a message of non-violence.

Jia You, Assistant City Editor

A crowd of 200 Evanston residents clapped, cheered and danced a little Gangnam Style during Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration organized by the nonprofit Youth Organizations Umbrella.

YOU hosted the annual celebration, called Diverse Evanston Walks United, to give youth in the community an opportunity to speak out against violence, said Melissa Carpenter, YOU community schools manager. Other local nonprofits, including the McGaw YMCA and Evanston 150, co-sponsored the event.

The theme this year — “hear the echo” — is particularly “poignant” because of recent tragedies involving gun violence, Carpenter said.

“It’s a huge tragedy but also really an opportunity to open the doors to that conversation,” she said.

Local students put on the two-hour performance at the Nichols Concert Hall of the Music Institute of Chicago, 1490 Chicago Ave. The performance featured singing, slam poetry and breakdance, interwoven with video clips of interviews with youth on violence prevention.

“If we start now, it can keep growing,” one girl in the video said.

“Maybe the adults should do a little more, too, not just the kids,” another said.

Graig Tertulien, a graduate of Evanston Township High School and YOU alumnus, sent a sobering message on the recent shootings with an original rap piece, “Gone.”

“God I can’t believe I’m making this song,” Tertulien sang. “I can’t believe another one’s gone.”

But the mood lightened when Oakton Community College students screened a short film featuring a kid participating in various YOU classes, including a Gangnam Style dance rehearsal with YOU staff. Several among the audience danced with the music in their seats.

Keynote speaker Tom Vanden Berk, who lost his 15-year-old son to gun violence in 1992, urged young people in the community to advocate for gun control through social media and petitions with state legislators. In a post-event interview with The Daily, Vanden Berk called accessibility to guns the cause of the violence “epidemic.”

“Get your voice heard immediately and strongly,” he said during his speech. “Remember it’s your friends and loved ones who are lost.”

The celebration serves to remind the Evanston community to work together on stopping violence, McGaw YMCA president Bill Geiger said.

“It’s a great opportunity to see people from across our community come together to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King,” Geiger said in an interview. “Hopefully it provides an experience that sustains us through the year.”

Hawa Fahnbulleh, a Haven Middle School student who attended the celebrationsaid she supports the message to stop violence and “make each other feel loved.”

State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-18th), who attended the event, said living King’s legacy involves reducing poverty and the high school dropout rate.

“Dr. King talks a lot about unity,” Gabel said. “He talked a lot about … the war on poverty. To me, implementing what King wanted us to do is really to make sure that people don’t go into poverty.”