by Alex Huizar
There are students at The Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) who wait all year for February to come. It’s not because of Valentine’s Day or the lengthening daylight hours — it’s because, in February, ChiArts puts on its annual Black Culture Showcase: one of the most highly anticipated events of the academic years.
In past years, the Black Culture Showcase has been about African American history, featuring songs and dances from all over the world.
This year’s showcase took place on February 22. The crowd in the auditorium was energetic; people stood up clapping and cheering their friends on; they pulled out their phones to post videos to Snapchat. There will be rappers, dancers, singers, and more.
The Black History Showcase was the first showcase assembly at The Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts). The Showcase as it exists today was started in 2016 by alumnus Cameron Williams in the musical theater department.
Dr. Sunni Ali is the faculty sponsor for the event, overseeing the organization and program. Damayanti Wallace, a creative writer, and Jasmine Profit, a vocalist, were the co-heads of the program.
Wallace said that there were some problems with this show this year having to do with the amount resources provided by the administration.
“A lot of things we had planned and certain things we couldn’t have — like costumes or more rehearsal space. But it was fun; it was a struggle but it was fun,” Wallace said.
Wallace opened up the program with a spoken word piece. Throughout the program, a storyline that detailed tales from black history tied various elements together, fusing generational differences and perspectives.
“We wanted a storyline of African American people rather than everyone just performing,” Profit said. “We had parts that were about Africa through the middle passage; then human zoos; everything in history all the way to catcalling, Charlottesville, and police brutality,” she added.
Jemere Jackson performed a spoken word piece about crack cocaine in the 1980s and the War on Drugs.
“My dad calls my uncle a rare breed of black men because he’s over 30 years old with no felony,” Jackson said.
Evan Simpson, a senior in the theater department, was supposed to be a part of the program but was out of town. Simpson said he felt it was important for there to be art about the problems in the black community.
“Black people become so comfortable with where we are at,” Simpson said, noting that such complacency was a major problem.
The show was fleshed out with African group dancing, a Baptist-style church choir, jazz singing, tap dancing to a Jamilla Woods song, and artwork in the wing. Kyree Saintilus, a visual arts student; Aisha June, a theater major, and Jackson performed original rap or spoken word work.
The showcase went 15 minutes into the lunch hour, but many of the audience members stayed. Students showed their support, especially for the senior performers.
The showcase members sold T-shirts; the proceeds will go towards the funding for next year’s showcase.
Wallace also said that soon there will be an email to find out who wants to be a leader in the showcase next year.