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Connections for the Homeless brought a double dose of community camaraderie to the Fifth Ward Saturday, July 23, with a two-part block party attended by several hundred people.

The block party featured two huge bouncy houses, a slew of community organizations, plus other activities. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

“And today’s the day when it came to life,” said Nia Tavoularis, Director of Development and Communications for Connections for the Homeless, the local non-profit.

A Celebration of Our Neighbors was a community gathering a year in the making. It was a thank you from Connections to the Fifth Ward community and all of the neighbors who have helped keep the organization going for 37 years.

A community volunteer paints the face of a little girl. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

“Family Fest” took place from noon to 4 p.m. at Foster Field and included free catered food from Curt’s Cafe and Jennifer’s Edibles, pony rides, bouncy houses and live gospel performances from local talent such as Evanston Sings and Bessie Simmons. Fifteen community partners, including the YMCA, Girl Scouts Evanston and the League of Women Voters, were also there. 

“This location is great because it’s in the heart of the Fifth Ward. Everybody knows it. We knew that we would get lots of traffic from people driving by,” Tavoularis said. 

Three hours after that party closed down, the second celebration, for adults only, started at Double Clutch Brewing Company, featuring live bands and food trucks from 7 to 11 p.m.

A llama was part of Saturday’s pop-up petting zoo at Foster Field. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

The event was co-chaired by City Council member Bobby Burns, Fifth Ward, Chef Q Ibraheem, DJ Corey Bless and Jenni Suvari. “They’re the ones who helped us get it off the ground,” Tavoularius added.  

Bless, a longtime Fifth Ward resident, produced all of the entertainment as well as getting many of the vendors. The day’s party lineup at Foster Field was all about gospel, inspiration and gospel rap. Later at Double Clutch Brewing, Bless selected entertainers who perform funk, country and soul jazz. 

“When we thought about this event, we were thinking about inclusion, we were thinking about building the joy back in the community and bringing back that love in the community that we haven’t seen, that was kind of lost during the pandemic,” Bless said.

Attendees at both events seemed to have a blast. 

DJ Corey Bless points at the camera during the last 30 minute set of the afternoon. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

Paivia Brown, 34, arrived at Foster Field around 12:30 p.m. with some kids, including her daughter Peyton who enjoyed everything, Brown said, especially the bouncy houses and pony rides. 

Brown has lived in Evanston most of her life. Events like Saturday’s should happen more often because, she said, she generally doesn’t get the sense of camaraderie with other kids who live in the area and the same sense of security.

“When everybody is put in their own little area, they’re stuck in the house, you don’t know what’s going on around you. But when we’re all together, being able to play with one another….  there’s a community here,” Brown said. “So with that comes a certain type of security because you’re like, oh, that’s little such and such, I just seen him the other day. Or you know, that’s her, you know, I know your mama.”

Attendees at Double Clutch Brewing Company danced eagerly as music played and the band sets up behind them. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

Later that night, at Double Clutch Brewing, the RoundTable also sat down with Mz Otisha Roe, one of the most enthusiastic dancers at the event. Mz Otisha, 50, lives in Skokie by herself, because her five kids are all adults now. 

She saw the event advertised on Facebook and decided to attend with her best friend.

She was glowing as she spoke. What was she looking forward to for the night?

“Well, just to enjoy the band cuz I’m going to if don’t nobody else do. As you seen, I’ve been out there dancing by myself. I didn’t come for the crowd. I came for the music.”

Find more photos from the event here, taken by Hex Hernandez.

Debbie-Marie Brown

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 dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

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  1. Thanks to Connections and sponsors. It was a wonderful community event.
    I would like to see a picture of the “Bless” Band. They were great!

  2. I live in the 5th ward and loved the music and energy of the people who attended.
    Makes me proud to live in the 5th Ward!