Evanston is Family Strong! attendees explore the Resource Fair on April 30 at the Robert Crown Community Center. Credit: Heidi Randhava

More than 500 people of all ages attended the inaugural Evanston is Family Strong! Fest on April 30 at the Robert Crown Community Center. The free event was held in observance of Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, honoring Evanston families and the legacy of the late Dr. Marjorie Fujara, a local pediatrician and violence-prevention advocate.

Hosted by the City of Evanston in partnership with the nonprofit Be Strong Families, the celebration kicked off Evanston’s My City, Your City, Our City Safe Summer Initiative. The focus was on families coming together to learn, play and explore.

Printed programs listed activities scheduled throughout the afternoon at the community center, and a resource fair in the lobby provided a one-stop location for local residents to connect with representatives of 33 community organizations and programs that provide supports to help keep families strong.

Steven Frost, assistant coordinator of School Age Child Care for School District 65, called the event “amazing.”

“I love the way that it’s flowing,” he said. “It has opened up opportunities for families and individuals. … If you put many organizations that can help families together in one location at a certain time period, I think it definitely gives families who are short on time an opportunity to meet a variety of different folks.”

Young artists view the Family Ties community art project as it takes shape. Credit: Heidi Randhava

The family fest featured Family Ties, a community art project with artist Anni Holm; free professional family photographs from the Chicago Neighborhood Portrait Project; connection and healing circles facilitated by trained staff and peace builders; a storybook corner with local celebrity readers and free books for children to take home.

Celebrity readers at the fest were ETHS District 202 Superintendent Marcus Campbell (with Willie the Wildkit), City Clerk Stephanie Mendoza, Ninth Ward Council Member Juan Geracaris, Police Chief Schenita Stewart and Mayor Daniel Biss.

Other highlights included family yoga/hip hop, arts and crafts for kids, board games and puzzles, an interactive martial arts demonstration, a community drum circle, theater improv games, a cheerleading clinic, music from DJ Corey Bless Production and free food and refreshments.

GreenTTea and the Tempos perform in Battle of the Bands. Credit: Heidi Randhava

At 3 p.m. young musicians gathered in the second-floor gym for the Battle of the Bands Showcase, sponsored by the School of Rock. Three of the teen bands played for cash prizes – with everybody a winner. Mallory Johnston, lead vocalist for the band NoAds, spoke with the RoundTable before taking center stage. “I’m very excited. It’s going to be fun,” said the ETHS freshman. Cheers and applause followed each performance. Other bands that performed at the event were Polysaccharide Meteorology, GreenTTea and The Tempos and the School of Rock House Band.

Biss read a proclamation declaring April 30 to be “Evanston is Family Strong! Day, in honor of Dr. Marjorie Ruth Fujara.”

Dr. Marjorie Fujara. Credit: Cook County Health

The proclamation states that Fujara was a supporter of strong families in Evanston and Cook County “through her work as a physician and community member focusing on issues including gun violence, child physical and sexual abuse, mental health, and education policy.”

In his remarks, Biss said, “I am so pleased that we have the opportunity in this small way to honor Dr. Fujara, to thank her for what she did for this community, to encourage all of us to build on that legacy.”

Mariana Fujara-Shevick, Fujara’s daughter, was there to accept the mayoral proclamation.

“Marjorie Fujara wasn’t just a child abuse pediatrician, even though that may be why we’re all gathered here today,” she said. “To many, she was a friend who brightened their day at work, or a hero that would save her patients from the missteps of life. To me, she was my mom – my hardworking, dedicated mom. …

“She inspired so many people, but what so many others didn’t get to see is how much everyone inspired her. Every ‘thank you,’ every smile, every thoughtful gesture, she took as inspiration to do the job many couldn’t do. … She wasn’t necessarily strong physically, but mentally. She was strong enough to see all the injuries and tears from the most innocent among us – children. She was strong enough to, time and time again, use her days off to put others before herself.”

Fujara was one of the first pediatricians in the country to specialize in child abuse pediatrics. On the staff at the Cook County Health and Hospitals System and the Children’s Advocacy Center, she worked to promote safety for children until her death from breast cancer on Oct. 19, 2021.

Saturday’s fest gave community members an opportunity to form new bonds and raise awareness of Fujara’s efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect.

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.

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  1. I’m so happy to see the City of Evanston honored Dr. Marjorie Fujara in this way. She was a champion for children everywhere – including her neighborhood school. For years we served together on the planning committee for the Dawes Elementary multicultural and inclusion celebration. Marjorie drove the change to make sure we embraced our neurodiverse and differently abled students to ensure every child got to be celebrated and proud of their unique selves and families.