The Loyola Park Field House gymnasium was transformed Feb. 27 into a space that celebrated Black history, art and entrepreneurs.
The walls were lined with student artwork and Black business owners, tables showcasing their products, a stage was formed at the center of the room, with a DJ booth just to the side, and decorations hung from the ceiling, making it easy for attendees to forget they were surrounded by basketball hoops.
The 20th annual Black history celebration highlighted Black business owners in Rogers Park, with four Black business owners speaking about their experiences in the neighborhood.
The event was hosted by the Loyola Park Advisory Council — a volunteer based program that hosts different events for the Rogers Park community, such as sand castle building contests and Earth Day events. The council receives no money from Chicago Park District, relying on fundraising events and donations, according to current president Andrea Halloran.
Roseanna Magada, former president of the council and a member for 15 years, spearheaded this event, collaborating with the volunteers and business owners to get it up and running.
Magada said this year’s theme was inspired by the West Ridge Historical Society and their program that highlighted Rogers Park visionaries.
“We’ve got a lot of beautiful Black businesses here in Rogers Park we should share with the students, because this is why we do it, for the students,” Magada said.
“To introduce students to the medium of Black art, because it’s not happening as broadly as it should and if we can just take our little pocket here, and invite them in, that’s the story.”
This year’s event included displays of Chicago students’ artwork, performing artists Dan Connelly, Fred Jackson Jr. and Jacob McCullough and Black business owners Betty McDaniels, Terry Gant, Natasha King and Chanelle Bell.
High school students at Chicago Arts also performed Dominique Morisseau’s play “Jezzelle the Gazelle.”
The celebration brought in upwards of 50 people, including alderwoman Maria Hadden.
Natasha King is the owner of Jungle Love Herbs, a natural remedy store that sells natural herbs. She said her family was one of the first Black families to live on Howard Street and has fought for civil rights, which inspired her to open her business.
“My passion was to bring something new to our community,” King said during the event. “No one ever taught us how to take care of ourselves with natural remedies. My inspiration was to be the first in my family to break the cycle.”
King said she wants to inspire kids in the community and be someone they can “look up to.”
After Floyd’s death, Bell started thinking about how she was using her money and what communities she was giving it to. While taking a walk one day, she realized she didn’t know of any Black-owned candle shops in Rogers Park. She wanted to create a business “where everything is being made by someone who looks like you.”
“George Floyd’s murder shifted a lot of my life, personally,” Bell said during the event.
Tristen Winfree, Chicago teacher and artist, helped lead the Chicago Arts high school seniors in their performance of Dominique Morisseau’s “Jezzelle the Gazelle.”
“Dominique’s work was just imagining what that work looks like for us just as artists to exist in these spaces,” Winfree said. “The play deals with police brutality and also just being a free Black person, and what that looks like when we go into these neighborhoods and catching a vibe of what that looks like in general.”
Winfree said he previously taught the students filmmaking, helped them through their artistry, and held their rehearsals before the performance.
“In my artistry, the thing I live by is, ‘Do you hear me? Do you see me? And what I’m saying, does it matter to you?’” Winfree said.
Winfree’s six students stood at the center of the room and performed the powerful play about three Black kids racing each other on their block when police officers shoot and kill two of them, leaving the third — Jazelle — afraid to run again.
“I look back to see who’s runnin’ after me. I look back to see who’s left behind. I look back to wipe a tear from my eyes… even though I never cry… and then I look ahead and keep runnin. For Rasheed. For Spider. For Equal rights. For Democracy. For the only girl on every block. For Civil Rights. And for everybody still in the race,” the students said in unison at the end of the play.
Rogers Park resident Rebeca Kell and Jenni Spinner said the play was their favorite part of the celebration.
“The dramatic piece the kids did was really powerful and really well done,” Spinner said. “It really touched me.”
Kenneth Howard, 17, who performed in the play, said the play calls on people to pay attention to what’s going on in the world, particularly to Black people and police violence.
“From the first day of rehearsal until the end I knew that it was going to be a great performance,” Howard said. “Not only because I was going to share the stage with my people but also because of how much chemistry and energy we shared with one another.”
Kendrick Jackson,17, who played the role of ‘mama,’ said the play reflected the fear he felt in 2020 after George Flyod, Breonna Taylor and Ahmad Aurbrey were murdered.
“Doing this play especially so close to the anniversaries of these tragedies, it was on my mind heavily, but doing this show, I saw that as a person and people we have to persevere,” Jackson said.
Alphonsus Ntamere, a business owner in Rogers Park, said he loved that everyone was enthusiastic about the program.
“I love when the community comes together,” Ntamere said. “It builds hope and love.”
The celebration seemed to be a lively one for Rogers Park residents. People tapped their feet and nodded their heads to the music, children gathered to play and everyone cheered on all of the guest speakers.
“It’s a happy event, it brings me so much joy,” Magada said. “My little heart bursts with confetti.”