Tim Rhoze, Melissa Raman Molitor, Angela Lyonsmith  and Indira Johnson facilitated the kickoff of the Year of Kindness and Nonviolence.
Tim Rhoze, Melissa Raman Molitor, Angela Lyonsmith and Indira Johnson facilitated the kickoff of the Year of Kindness and Nonviolence.

Although Jan. 26 was a dreary day outside, inside the newly renovated Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center was humming with energy and activities. The 2020 Year of Kindness and Nonviolent Action Initiative (and City-wide art project) was about to officially begin, and there was so much to do.

On one side of the room, under the encouraging guidance of poet Alice George, collaborative poems were being created as participants completed sentences such as, “Kindness looks like …”

On stage, the Evanston Township High School Jazz Band filled the center with upbeat music. Nearly 200 attendees, many of them elementary and middle-school children, gently jostled and squeezed themselves among tables covered with white butcher paper festooned with “Kindness is …”

Each table was stocked with art supplies - colorful markers, crayons, yarn and pieces of wood, along with some printed guidelines for the afternoon’s art projects.

Internationally renowned artist Indira Freitas Johnson spawned idea of this initiative. A sculptor, educator and peace activist, she in Evanston. Her sculpture “Conversations Here and Now” graces Raymond Park, and her Emerging Buddha installations were installed in parks and other public places in Evanston and Chicago a few years ago.

Ms. Johnson said she was concerned with the prevalence of gun violence in the United States, the damage violence creates in its wake, and the way it affects everyone, especially young people. She says she believes in “the transformative power of the arts” as a means to bring people together and create a peaceful, nonviolent inclusive community. This belief is central to the 2020 Year of Kindness and Nonviolent Action Initiative.

Ms. Johnson wanted to develop a series of community-wide public art projects to bring people together, especially those who might not normally meet and speak to one another. She shared her idea with other artists and social justice advocates, whose enthusiasm led to their creating the project’s Advisory Council. Together they brainstormed to figure out what the initiative would look like, its scope, and the role the Advisory Council members and organizations would play.

The Advisory Council includes representatives from many areas and professions within the City, such as Evanston Family Focus, City of Evanston Parks, Recreation & Community Services, Evanston Public Library, EvanstonMade, Evanston Cradle to Career, Dear Evanston, Open Studio Project, Evanston Community Foundation, Fleetwood-Jourdain Theater, Rainbows for All Children and Evanston/Skokie School District 65. A complete list of organizations, participants, supporters, and future events may be found online at www.KindnessInActionEvanston.com.

The goals of the initiative were straightforward.  First, to increase awareness about the roots of violence in the Evanston community, taking into account the tremendous and cumulative impact that poverty and mental health have in perpetuating violence; second to celebrate acts of kindness and nonviolence. Third, to persuade community residents to get involved and initiate change. Ms. Johnson reiterated that“positive change can only happen is through individual action” and that each person can make a difference. Cumulatively, these individual acts of kindness add up and eventually create change.