Ramaan Statik adds finishing touches to his mural at the Juneteenth celebration in Ingraham Park. (Submitted photo)

Evanston’s 2021 Annual Juneteenth Parade and Celebration featured multiple art genres including fine art, literary art, musical and spoken word performances, murals, drumming, poetry, and dance. Hosted by the City of Evanston in partnership with Evanston Present and Future on June 19 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., it drew hundreds of people from Evanston and surrounding communities.

The event celebrated the creative impact of Black artists who contribute to the overall health of their communities, not only inspiring joy but also using their medium to advocate for social progress and racial justice.

Some of the many featured artists, participants and organizers took time out to talk with the RoundTable during the celebration at Ingraham Park, which began at 12:30 p.m., immediately after the parade.

Sugar Creek Folk Art represents the creative work of Jevoid Simmons, specializing in Afrocentric carvings, paintings and Americana crafts. Their booth buzzed with conversation as Mr. Simmons answered questions about his newly released book, “Up from Down Home, A Family’s Journey North.”

The book’s narrative is supported by 17 original paintings by Mr. Simmons. A limited number of copies were available for sale, but they sold out long before the celebration concluded. The book is available online at www.upfromdownhome.com.

When asked how he became involved in Juneteenth this year, Mr. Simmons said he was invited to be an art exhibitor by Lisa Degliantoni of Evanston Made, a local nonprofit arts initiative that connects Evanston arts to the public.

“Lisa Degliantoni has been really instrumental in the push for diversity here. That’s something she has been promoting through Evanston Made – not just to buy local, but to buy diverse local,” said Mr. Simmons.

Networking was key to the success of this year’s Juneteenth celebration, which was virtual last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evanston resident Leslie Guiden attended the event with her sister, Andrea Truman. “I found out about the Juneteenth celebration from my son. He sent me the flyer, which I was very happy to see. … My sister came all the way from Arlington Heights. Then we ran into a friend here, who told us about Mr. [Simmons] and his book. So, I wanted to come over and purchase the book,” said Ms. Guiden.

Lea Pinsky, Executive Director of Art Encounter, did not hesitate when Tim Rhoze, Artistic Director of Evanston’s Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, asked her to help coordinate the live art/mural portion of the program.

“I thought, ‘Who are some of the most exceptional Black artists in Chicago that can do this kind of live art – because not everyone can. My top choices were Rahmaan Statik and Dorian Sylvain,” said Ms. Pinsky, pointing toward the muralists, who completed their pieces, start to finish, during the celebration.

“They work in really different media. [Mr. Statik] uses spray paint and [Ms. Sylvain] is working in acrylic paints.

“Tim said, ‘I’d love them to paint something on Juneteenth and change. ‘Change is gonna come’ is the phrase he had spoken – the Sam Cooke song.

“I left myself out of that aspect, but Art Encounter got the boards ready and the easels. We made sure the artists had all the supplies they needed and that they were comfortable. … The murals will stay in the Evanston community,” said Ms. Pinsky.

In live or performance art an artist chooses to work directly in front of the audience.

Artists Dorian Sylvain and Carly Crudup invited children to participate in painting their mural, based on the Sankofa for the Earth. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

Ms. Sylvain’s mural included audience participation, “because I can’t turn kids down. They’re looking at me with those longing eyes. I can’t help but say, ‘Here, you want a paint brush?’ she said laughing.

“This project is based on the Sankofa for the Earth, an African proverb that says, ‘Go back and fetch it,’ meaning to look back at one’s history as we move forward.

“In the mouth of the Sankofa [represented by a bird looking backwards over its tail] is a seed which represents our future,” said Ms. Sylvain. “On the outside of the Sankofa, I have symbols that are used during the Kwanzaa celebration, called the nguzo saba, which are seven principles to live life by.

“So … it’s not only us understanding our history and being more imaginative about our future, but it also has to be grounded in principles, so that as a society, we can all learn to be good citizens,” said Ms. Sylvain.

Watching the mural take shape, young children waited patiently for their turn to paint, with guidance from Ms. Sylvain and student artist Carly Crudup.

Student artist Carly Crudup guides a young creative contributor. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

“We put in all different aspects of what Juneteenth represents. We have the Black Lives Matter sign, we have ‘Say her name.’ We incorporated a lot of different things that, all together, represent what Juneteenth means,” said Carly.

Spray paint can in hand, Mr. Statik created a mural that, over the course of the day, transformed a white art board into a vibrant public art piece.

Mr. Statik’s audience included adults and children, including his young daughter, Takalayah Barnes. They watched intently, leaving for periods of time, and returning to find that new figures had taken shape on the art board.

Muralist Ramaan Statik’s daughter, Takalayah, was a source of inspiration. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

 “The celebration went beautifully…It’s definitely an honor to be back in the City of Evanston. My daughter had a good time also,” said Mr. Statik, as he put the finishing touches on the mural. On the stage the band Drea, the closing musical act, performed “Bounce.”

An abundance of art, music, food and sunshine made the celebration ideal for families. Kids of all ages crafted freedom signs at an art activity table, organized by Art Encounter.

An impressive lineup of spoken word pieces recognized Juneteenth as a day to honor the dedication and sacrifices of so many in the struggle for racial justice.

Fran Joy presented an Artist Talk, “Stacey Abrams, Called Georgia Blue.”

“I focused on how we need more people like her… I think she is important because of what’s happening with voting. And don’t think your vote is not important, because it is, or they wouldn’t be trying so hard to take it away from you… In the midterms, we need you out to vote… Don’t be complacent,” Ms. Joy told the RoundTable following her talk about voting rights champion Stacey Abrams.

There was a poetry tribute by Fifth Ward Alderman Bobby Burns to Hecky Powell, the late civic leader, philanthropist, and owner of Hecky’s Barbecue. Mr. Powell had long championed the celebration of Juneteenth.

“I believe today was an awesome event in our celebration of Juneteenth,” said Lawrence Hemingway, Director of the City Department of Parks and Recreation.

“We partnered with Evanston Present and Future, who organized the parade. Ms. Kemone Hendricks did a fantastic job,” said Mr. Hemingway. “Each year, the department does a Starlight Concert for Juneteenth celebrations. I had the idea to go to Kemone and say, ‘We need to marry the two events, so we have one seamless event for the public to enjoy.’

“We worked together so that folks can participate in the parade and come in at Ingraham Park and enjoy the celebration,” said Mr. Hemingway, who gave a shout out to the entire Parks and Recreation Department, including Tim Rhoze and Michelle Tompkins.

“We came together as a team and worked really hard to make this the wonderful celebration that it is,” he said.

Ashanti Cole-Stallworth did a reading of her poem, “Beautifully Black.” Ms. Cole-Stallworth is an ETHS 2020 graduate who currently attends Columbia College Chicago.

“Beautifully Black”

by Ashanti Cole-Stallworth

There is nothing more beautiful than black people being black
Even though we lack some connections to our cultures, we still find a way to be beautifully black
Our hair, our dances, our style is beautifully black
Even when the odds are stacked against we’re still beautifully black
No matter what we lack we bounce back
And that’s because we beautifully black

In the summertime our brown skin glows like gold while glittering like glitter.
Walking Gods and Goddesses, I know we make you shiver.
Beautifully black
There is power in how graceful we are.
We are beautifully black.
And no matter what we lack we bounce back.
That’s because we’re beautifully black.
There is nothing more beautiful than black people being black.
And that’s a matter of fact.
Today is the day we can celebrate being beautifully black.
Wear our hair like crowns.
Embrace our African Features.
No longer shall we be looked at like disgusting creatures.
Our features are beautifully black.
Even when the odds are stacked against we’re still beautifully black
No matter what we lack we bounce back
And that’s because we beautifully black.

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.