The Evanston Children's Choir sings at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center.

On Jan. 18, Youth Organization Umbrella (Y.O.U.) held its 10th annual “Diverse Communities United” event celebrating Dr.  Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and vision for a peaceful, just and equitable world. More than 800 people attended the 90-minute celebration that was held in the auditorium at Evanston Township High School. The theme was “The Road Less Traveled.”

Eric Witherspoon, superintendent of ETHS, gave the opening remarks. “I think it’s really significant that this event was envisioned, created and continues to be planned and led by students,” he said. “As we see so many of the things going on in the world right now, I think many of us have to almost shudder and wonder what has happened in this country when it comes to issues of equity, social justice and racial justice.

“Today we hear the voices of the youth. We have youth who are committed to racial and social justice, who are committed to equity in their lives, in their school, in their community and in the world they’re going to go out into. … We have hope because of the young people who are here today.”

Using various forms of art, more than 100 youth explored different routes to overcoming injustice, breaking down stereotypes, and leading for social change. Y.O.U. students from all 11 of Y.O.U.’s afterschool sites performed choregraphed dances and skits, role-played as principals, sang original songs, read poems, and gave speeches that touched on community diversity, exceeding expectations and promoting peaceful revolutions.

The event was emceed by three ETHS seniors, Ezra Averyhart, Mackkeitha Mason and Qurshiana Leslie, who were involved in creating the first Diverse Evanston United 10 years ago. 

“We celebrate MLK’s vision on this day to continue his legacy, that black lives matter,” said Ezra Averyhart. “I dream that our communities show us that our lives matter by working against income disparities and racism in the justice system. I dream that our schools enforce equal discipline policies and produce equal graduation rates. I dream that our newscasters report our deaths and our crimes and our losses with empathy.”

Ezra presented a bouquet of flowers to Susie McMonagle in appreciation for her creative direction of the event.

Seth Green, executive director of Y.O.U., presented the Diverse Communities Award to “Evanston Own It,” a coalition of 14 faith communities formed in 2014 to reduce youth violence and promote a peaceful and safe Evanston.

This year’s celebrations of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. focused in large part on his own words and vision and artistic interpretations of them.

Former Mayor Lorraine Morton spoke of some of the early civil rights pioneers who “paved the way for Martin Luther King.” Reverend Gessel Berry Jr. of Sherman United Methodist Church took the title of Paul Tillich’s book “Love, Power and Justice” as the theme of his keynote speech. 

One of the songs performed by Evanston Children’s Choir at the community celebration on Jan. 16 at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center was “Let Us Walk in Velvet Shoes,” the theme of which,  director Bryan Johnson said, can be a metaphor for walking in the footsteps of Dr. King. Dancers Claire Doyle and Sidney Chuckas of Evanston Dance Ensemble performed “Unknotted.” A discussion of Dr. King’s work and its present impact on the issues of race and gender in the arts and on other community issues followed.