Crossing Borders Music performs works by Haitian composers in Dawes Park. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

This past Sunday, Sept. 26, the Haitian American Museum of Chicago and Crossing Borders Music teamed up in Dawes Park for a mobile display of Black history, music and heritage. The event featured three small exhibits on Haitian western classical composers, aspects of Black internationalism and the Black underground railroad on the Illinois Trail of Tears. 

This is the second time the two groups partnered for a version of the “We Walk” event, but the first time that it’s taken place in Evanston. The event was sponsored by the Evanston Arts Council.

Crossing Borders Music is a Chicago-based group that performs chamber music by composers from under-represented cultures, including Cambodia, Colombia and Haiti. The organization’s mission is “to use music to promote the dignity of people from all cultures.” The Haitian American museum invited Crossing Borders Music to share music by Black composers.

The two hosting organizations have been connected through their cultural respect for Haiti for nearly 10 years, says Tom Clowes, Executive Director of the music group. The museum opened in 2012, the same year Crossing Borders Music gave its first performance. 

The founder and president of the museum, Elsie Hernandez, opened the historical space in Uptown after the 2012 earthquake in her native country, deciding that it was the most impactful thing she could do in response to the tragedy. Clowes first traveled  to Haiti in 2000 as an undergraduate student and has gone every summer since. For Clowes, the purpose of “We Walk” is to give Americans a different view of Haiti than the typical portrayal in the American media. 

“The Haiti that I have come to know and love and see every year when I go, is very different from the one that people think they know,” he said. “So often, we see the disasters, the corruption, the poverty, but what we don’t see is the rich history, the first Black Republic founded on the world’s largest and most successful slave revolt,” Clowes said. “The country that’s so rich in culture, and music and storytelling, religion, language, community, and there’s also a western classical music, composing tradition that goes back hundreds of years.”

Kailie Holliday plays music by Bach and Sir Wick at Dawes Park. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

Kailie Holliday, 18, was a featured performer at the event. Holiday is from Chicago and has played cello for 11 years. Clowes was one of her music teachers in elementary school, and Holliday now studies at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern.

“Tom emailed me and he was like, ‘Well, we’re doing this celebration of Black history. And I’d love you to play.’ And I was like, ‘OK, sure.’”

For the event, Holliday performed the entire Second Bach Cello Suite, as well as a “Black”  interpretation of the suite written by Sir Wick, an African American composer, titled The Minuet Cello Suite:

Dr. Edward C. Davis shares an exhibit about his family history. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

Edward C. Davis is a global Maroon anthropologist and scholar of the African diaspora who lectured to small crowds at the event. He led an exhibit called “Black Underground Railroad on the Illinois Trail of Tears,” which includes a discussion of his personal family history as it relates to greater Black diasporic history in Southern Indiana, Southern Illinois and Southern Ohio.

Dr. Cranston Ramirez-Knight is an Afrolatino historian and writer who also lectured at the event. He was interested in spreading the message about Black people who have come to the Americas, and ties that into the experience of African American history. 

Dr. Cranston Ramirez-Knight leads an exhibit about Black Internationalism. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

“Because we have more in common than we have differences,” Dr. Cranston said. “And it’s the commonness, that we have to bring out. That becomes important.”

Dr. Cranston explained that only 4% of the enslaved Black population came to the continental United States, while the other 96% were spread across the Caribbean, South America and more. He says that, whether Black people are in Cuba, Belize, Nicaragua or Ecuadaor, they’ve always been on the stage as international players. But, he adds, this information has been repressed because those people were not in the continental U.S. His exhibit focuses on some of those repressed heroes. 

The Haitian American Museum and Crossing Borders Music are partnering again for a larger version of this event in Chicago’s North Lawndale community on Oct. 17.

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at