The auditorium inside of Austin Town Hall 5610 W. Lake St., was alive with the sounds of music, dancing and poetry on the evening of Feb. 21. Pass the Peace: Black History Affair served two purposes — to celebrate the accomplishments of the black community and to show off the cultural programs the park facility offers. 

According to Dionne Hawkins, a theater teacher at the fieldhouse and the person who organized the event, the program has been held in some form or another for more than 20 years. This year, the South Side-based Example Setters youth poetry group performed, and members of Girl Scouts Troop 20368 shared displays they put together for World Thinking Day. 

Hawkins said that she was gratified by how many people showed up, saying that it showed that the community cared about what they were trying to do. 

The celebration of Black History Month wasn’t just limited to the Feb. 22 event. At the beginning of February, the staff set up large bulletin boards near the auditorium entrance with photos and biographies of famous black politicians, activists, athletes and scientists.

Before the event began, Girl Scouts from Troop 2036 brought out their displays, which presented information on African countries like Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Madagascar and Chad. 

There was also a table displaying books and artifacts from the Ivory Coast and a display dedicated to Wakanda, a fictional East African country that is home to Marvel Comics superhero Black Panther. At several tables, the audience could sample drinks and food from the country.

The one outlier among the displays was India. Later during the program, Hawkins said that there was a reason why it was included.

“India is not an African country, but they have a large population of black people — they’re called Untouchables,” she said. 

Dalits, better known as Untouchables in the western countries, are groups that have traditionally been placed at the bottom rung of the Indian caste system. 

While Dalits are not related to any African ethnic groups, they and African-Americans have found common ground because both groups have historically been at the bottom of their respective countries social strata, and while discrimination against both has been declared illegal, they still face discrimination and obstacles in obtaining housing, employment and social services. 

“This kind of program for the African-American youth is important, because my understanding is there’s very little history taught in school period, and almost no [black] history, so these children don’t know their history, their past,” said spoken word poet Loretta Hawkins.

“When we have programs such as this, it allows them to have culture, to have pride in the achievements of African-Americans,” she said. “These kinds of programs are not just important, they’re critical for us as the African-American people.”


Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...