Students lead artistic community event honoring Martin Luther King Jr.


Rachel Holtzman/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston students gather onstage for the finale of Diverse Communities United. The event, in which third through twelfth grade students performed hip hop dance, skits and poetry readings, held Monday at Evanston Township High School to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rachel Holtzman, Reporter

When Oakton Elementary School fifth-grader Izayah Carr stepped up to the microphone with a smile on his face, more than 1,000 people cheered as he introduced the opening act of Diverse Communities United, a community event held in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

Student performers chose the theme of “defiance with purpose” for the event, held last Monday at Evanston Township High School. The show consisted of hip hop dance, skits, poetry reading, speeches from community members and a shared message of hope for a better world.

One third grader said in an original poem, “I’ll die standing up for peace, but I hope to live for freedom.”

Although students had been working with Youth & Opportunity United staff since September to prepare for the event, the presidential election prompted Y.O.U. to focus on helping students discuss King’s legacy and the upcoming inauguration in a way that made them feel supported, Y.O.U. executive director Seth Green said.

“The greatest goal of the gathering was to give our young people the stage and hopefully in the process, to help heal,” Green said. “A big part of healing is being heard.”

In addition to performing and emceeing, students this year were also involved in planning the event, Green said.

Keisha Barnard, learning and development coordinator at Y.O.U., said putting the programming in the hands of high school students allowed the program to honor King’s philosophy and give the students a voice at the same time.

The ETHS students emceeing the event shared the stage with elementary and middle school students, Y.O.U. staff and ETHS faculty. During interludes between performances, staff and volunteers talked about the importance of community and youth support, thanking ETHS for its work in racial equity programming.

ETHS sophomore Mina Jue said she joined the high school planning committee and found that as part of the team, she could have a bigger impact.

“We came up with ‘defiance with purpose’ by discussing the events that have been happening recently with (the Black Lives Matter movement) and talking about how kids can become part of the solution,” Jue said.

Barnard said the emcees told the program staff they have gained confidence, not just from being on stage but from having the Diverse Communities United concert act as a platform to speak about what they believe is just and right.

Emily Roth, Y.O.U. High School Out-of-School Time program director, said she believes the community likes to think it’s more progressive than it actually is. To her, it’s great to come together, but defiance with purpose still has to be practiced in Evanston, and it takes more effort, said Roth, who grew up in Evanston.

“When a third grader stands up and says, ‘This matters,’ every high schooler says, ‘If that third grader can lead and do poetry, I can, too,’” Green said. “To have it all come together for us is a very special thing.”

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