Eva Jefferson Day honors Northwestern alumna by engaging with local Evanston community on MLK Day


Connie Deng/ The Daily Northwestern

NU and ETHS students collaborated with Family Focus to create a day of workshops honoring the spirit of Eva Jefferson Paterson.

Abigail Sutter, Reporter

Evanston students participated in Eva Jefferson Day at the Norris University Center for a Monday afternoon aimed at racial empowerment.

The event was a collaboration between Northwestern University, Students Organizing Against Racism from Evanston Township Public High School and Family Focus, a local non-profit focused on creating enrichment opportunities for students and their families. The program has been running for more than ten years, and did not take place in 2019.

The event is held in honor of alumna and activist Eva Jefferson Paterson. A sophomore at the time of the landmark 1968 Bursar’s Office Takeover, Paterfson was the first black president elected to Associated Student Government. In the first month of her tenure in 1970, students protesting over the killing of four Kent State and two Jackson State students were ready to burn down Lunt Hall, which housed the NROTC. In an article for Northwestern Magazine from 2018, Jefferson wrote that she “persuaded students” to not follow through with burning down Lunt Hall.

Paterson went on to co-found and become the president of the Equal Justice Society, along with several other civil rights organizations. SESP junior Soteria Reid, the executive officer for justice and inclusion for ASG, was in charge of planning the day.

“That looks different every year,” Reid said, “but every year it’s just as rewarding an experience.”

The day included a variety of activities aimed at engaging students in hands-on learning. SOAR put on a workshop titled Circles of My Multicultural self, aimed at self-awareness, identity and agency.

“Especially with race, people define who you are and what you’re worth,” Reid said. “So being able to define who you (yourself) are is really important.”

Other activities included value skits, where students were separated into groups representing values such as community, equality, peace and love. Participants then made a skit exemplifying the importance of both the value’s presence and absence in their lives. Students also watched Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech followed by a discussion where they talked about their dreams, affirming that they can and will achieve them.

Organizers have been preparing the program since May 2019, said Corey Winchester (SESP ‘10). A history and sociology teacher at ETHS involved in SOAR — as well as a graduate student in SESP — Winchester himself helped organize the day when he was an undergraduate.

“Anytime anyone goes to college, you have to realize you are now part of the community,” Winchester said. “Sometimes folks think they’re devoid of any responsibility to the community. And I think this is just one of the opportunities where folks can get involved.”

A major theme throughout the day was access. Winchester spoke about how Eva Jefferson Day brings youth of color to campus who may not have had the opportunity otherwise. He added that days like this honor “the vision” she had when she was a student on campus.

JoAnn Avery, program manager for Family Focus’s after school program, has been at the nonprofit for more than 35 years and has helped with this event since Winchester was an undergraduate. Avery said this event was special because of its hands-on approach and interaction between NU and Evanston students.

“It’s important that kids see that Northwestern, even though it seems far away in their mind as far as ever even going here, is not impossible,” Avery said. “And there are kids like them that are here too.”

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