Evanston’s MLK Day celebrations emphasize arts, altruism

Ben Winck, Reporter

Several city institutions will host a variety of events focused on the arts and community service throughout the coming week to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Many of the events will take place Sunday and Monday — the official holiday — at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., to commemorate the life and spirit of King, who is remembered for his influence on the Civil Rights Movement. Northwestern is encouraging students to assist in various service projects throughout Evanston and Chicago.

EPL’s programming on Monday will include activities for children such as a peace tree craft and sing-along that emphasizes Dr. King’s impact on social justice. Laura Antolin, EPL’s children’s outreach librarian and one of the event’s coordinators, said the library places great significance on teaching Evanston youth about King’s life and work because it can have a large impact on how they grow up.

“When the kids hear Dr. King’s words, they’re in awe,” Antolin said. “They walk away with a sense of knowing what they want to do. They know they can make a difference. There’s a mission for them to do.”

The theme of service and altruism, two core tenets of King’s message, will be touched on at several of these events. Lesley Williams, EPL’s head of adult services, said the focus on community service perfectly fits a weekend celebrating the activist.

“Anyone familiar with King knows he was about a lot more than being nice and holding hands,” Williams said. “He was about confronting inequity.”

Williams will also lead a discussion Saturday at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center following a screening of the movie “Chi-Raq,” Spike Lee’s controversial 2015 film that focuses on gang violence in Chicago.

The screening is just one component of Fleetwood-Jourdain’s planned festivities for the day. Titled “Day of Celebration,” the community center will host guest speakers Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and former Mayor Lorraine H. Morton along with the Evanston Children’s Choir and a duet by the Evanston Dance Ensemble. There will also be a community discussion of King’s work and issues of race in modern society with Black Lives Matter Chicago and Making Evanston Equal Together (MEET) in attendance.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz emphasized how the weekend takes a creative approach and uses the arts to positively look back on King’s achievements.

“It’s a celebration,” Bobkiewicz said. “Rather than have individuals speaking, we have arts groups really celebrate. This weekend is truly a celebration of his life and leadership.”

Williams said the goal of the events is to turn attention toward King’s ethos of advocacy.

“I think Evanston has always been associated with a certain amount of social action and activism,” said Williams. “It’s a day to look toward what we can do.”

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