With songs, stories, dancing and drums, the Evanston community recalled the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. this week and last week.

The recent shootings and gun-violence were a recurring theme at Diverse Evanston United, a community-wide celebration of peace, diversity, unity, leadership and service held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Jan. 21. The event was sponsored by Youth Organization Umbrella, the McGaw YMCA, the Music Institute of Chicago, the North Shore United Way, the YWCA of Evanston/North Shore and Evanston 150.  

“For me, especially as we talk about Dr. King, one of the most powerful ideas is how they [Evanston’s youth] responded to the recent violence that has tragically been part of our community this fall,” said Seth Greene, executive director of Y.O.U.  “I just can’t imagine anything that could be more in line with Dr. King’s vision.

“[Youths] had the courage to share their grief with our counselors. They had the extraordinary courage to start discussions through our community on how we build a more powerful Evanston, and they actually took action,” he said.

At the celebration, many students – who were members of 12 groups – spoke out against violence in their poems, raps, songs, videos, or dance numbers.  

In a rap that he wrote in response to the recent shootings, Greg Tertuilen said,  “There’s a cycle, a cycle, a brand new cycle. The City of Evanston has lost another child. It hasn’t been a while since we lost the last one. So why does another mother have to bury her own son?”

Members of the Chute Theatre Group said in poems and raps, “You need to stop the violence. You need to stop it now.  … People think it’s cool. But we think it’s cruel.”

The Oakton Lyricist group said, “It ain’t funny when you kill, … when you kill it’s over, … I see violence everwhere, … The ones you kill end in a flat line, … We don’t want this to last.”

Ralph Edwards from Cease Fire talked about some of the work his group does in Chicago, Decatur, Waukegan and other cities to prevent gang violence. “We are interrupters. We are all ex-gang members, “he said. “Basically we mediate conflicts for the gang members. We go to the first line to make sure that no one gets hurt, shot, stabbed.”

He said Cease Fire supplies resources, including, an identification card, a driver’s license, job training, a safe-haven – “anything they need to get out of a gang.”
Tom Vanden Berk, who lost a son to gun violence in 1992, encouraged the 300 youth in attendance to use social media to help end gun violence. “Understand the enemy,” he said. “Let’s call the enemy the gun. …It’s an issue of illegal guns that are distributed and sold and there’s no accountability.”

“I’m excited about the commitment, the passion, the energy of this young crowd, and the hard work that you are going to do in the next year to make a change. It’s the young people who will make a difference,” he added.

Eric Witherspoon, superintendent of Evanston Township High School, said, “What a historic day this is. It’s been proclaimed as a day of community service. It’s been proclaimed as a day of celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King and all of his commitment to diversity and unity and peace. It’s a day to celebrate the second inauguration of President Barak Obama.”

Mr. Greene said one thing he had been told by leaders in other communities where gun violence had occurred was, “Do not allow that violence to be accepted. Whatever you do, do not allow it to be accepted. Have everyone speak out, especially to young people.”

In summing up the celebration, he said, “What you saw today was our young people speaking out. If our Mayor, who was not able to be here today was here, she would have said, ‘ That is what makes us great,  and it is what will allow us to get over this.’”

Fleetwood Celebration

On Jan. 19 at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center the theme was “I Am Somebody.” Serving as emcee, Aubrey Marquez, who often asked the audience to repeat that phrase, said the occasion was “not only to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy but to celebrate us. He spoke of us when we were not allowed to speak.”
Fifth Ward alderman Delores Holmes spoke about the value of listening to one another, and retired mayor Lorraine Morton described some of the pioneers in the civil rights movement who paved the way for Dr. King.

On Jan. 21 the theme was “Here the Echo: My Voice, My Community, My Future.” At Northwestern University, students and the community alike were invited to a staged reading of David Mamet’s “Race” and a candlelight vigil at Alice Millar Chapel.

On Jan. 28 Harry Belafonte spoke at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...