Juneteenth, Pride, and legacies

Many ways to celebrate and honor Juneteenth this week, as well as other outdoor and indoor gatherings and events—check it out!

FRI 6/17

Roman Villarreal, a self-taught artist born in 1950 and raised in the area called The Bush on Chicago’s southeast side is being celebrated with his first major retrospective solo exhibition, “Roman Villarreal: South Chicago Legacies,” which opens today at Intuit: the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (756 N. Milwaukee). Villarreal works in sculpture using a variety of materials, including marble, limestone, lead, and alabaster. His work is informed by a full life: an early stint in a local gang, followed by service in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War; his Mexican-American heritage, and his career working in Chicago’s steel mills, where after work he made sculptures with any materials he could find. The exhibition runs through January of next year, and Intuit offers free admission and extended visiting hours this weekend: today until 8 PM; Saturday and Sunday from 11 AM-6 PM. Ticketed reservations are required for entry. (SCJ)

FreeGeek Chicago has been serving the Chicago area for over 17 years by offering tech training, affordable computer systems, e-waste recycling, and more, all centered at their Avondale location (3411 W. Diversey). Unfortunately, declining sales and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced the FreeGeek organizers to decide to shut down operations this summer. The organization is hosting a Farewell Sale through June 26, with deep discounts on their remaining computer parts, rebuilt systems, laptops, and more. You can check out what’s left and thank the “geeks” for their community service during their open hours (Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 AM to 4:30 PM). (SCJ)

The local branch of Books4Cause, a national organization that works in partnership with the African Library Project to build and bolster school libraries in 18 countries within Africa, is getting out of their literary comfort zone today and tomorrow to host a Summer Clothing Swap at their Avondale location (2931 N. Milwaukee). Bring gently used clothing to give away, or just show up and check out what’s available: the Swap will benefit from some items thrown in by Books4Cause’s neighbor, the store Vintage Frills. You can also bring books to donate (or pick up books, DVDs, or school supplies from Books4Cause—items in their store are free for the taking). The swap happens today until 7 PM and continues Saturday from noon-5 PM. (SCJ)

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (220 E. Chicago)​​ is celebrating Black creativity and entrepreneurship by hosting Refine Collective’s second annual Freedom Market. From 5-9 PM, over 50 local artists and Black-owned businesses will be participating, including Bon Femmes, Plant Salon, Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery, Sydnie Jimenez, the Furniture Curator, and more. The museum’s galleries will be open to view, and DJs Slot-A and Cut Cuz will share music throughout the evening. Expect a cash bar as well as drink samples provided by Baileys Colada. A portion of the event’s proceeds will go to the Gray Matter Experience, a local nonprofit focused on developing the self determination of Black youth. Advance tickets are available here. This event is open to those 21 and up. (MC)

SAT 6/18

JustKids Book Festival, organized in part by the children’s literacy 51st Ward Books, promises a day of diverse authors offering readings in both English and Spanish, workshops for kids and their adult guardians, free book giveaways, music, and the benchmark of any kid-focused summer affair: face painting and a bounce house. The free festival aims to offer anti-bias and culturally relevant reading for children, and prioritize storytelling by and for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ and disabled communities. It all happens at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters building (1901 W. Carroll). More information can be found and free tickets can be reserved at the 51st Ward Books website. (SCJ)

The Chicago Pride Fest street festival returns this weekend with live music, food and drink vendors, arts and crafts booths, drag shows, a pet parade, giveaways, and more. There’s a $15 suggested donation for entry each day (a portion of which goes to performers, festival workers, and community programs) and events are scheduled (rain or shine) from 11 AM to 10 PM today and tomorrow. Highlights today include Bev Rage & the Drinks at 2 PM and Inaya Day at 4:30 PM; tomorrow is packed from morning till night starting with the 12:30 PM pet parade (complete with an awards ceremony at 1 PM), rapper CupcakKe at 4 PM, and ending with drag artist the Vixen hosting a rendition of Black Girl Magic at 8:45 PM. Everything takes place on Halsted from Addison to Grace Street. A full schedule including music set times is available at Northalsted Business Alliance’s website. (SCJ)

The charter school network It Takes a Village Family of Schools is hosting Juneteenth Village Fest today at Douglass Park (1313 S. Sacramento on the map, but the festival will be nearest the park entrances at 12th Place or 14th Street near California). Douglass Park is an especially significant site for this event. The Lawndale site was originally named for a man who advocated for the expansion of slavery, but in 2020 Village Leadership Academy students mobilized to pressure city officials to rename the park for 19th century abolitionists Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass. From noon to 6 PM, this free community gathering will be jam packed with games, carnival rides, entertainment, and more. Performers include musician Ric Wilson, magician Spellbinder, and comedian Leon Rogers—but that’s just the beginning. Check out ITAV’s website to learn more. (MC)

Charles Stepney was a Chicago pianist, songwriter, composer, and arranger who worked for Chess Records and created the band Rotary Connection in the mid-60s. His list of credits as a backing musician and producer includes work with some of the biggest names that came through Chess, including Muddy Waters, the Dells, Terry Callier, and Howlin’ Wolf. After working with the Ramsey Lewis Trio on several projects (including their 1968 album Maiden Voyage, featuring Stepney’s song “Les Fleur”—famously recorded later by Minnie Riperton, who Stepney also worked with extensively), Stepney produced and worked on music with Lewis Trio drummer Maurice White’s then-new band Earth, Wind & Fire—a collaboration that lasted through several of the bands albums into the 70s. Unfortunately, Stepney’s life was cut short by a heart attack and he passed away in 1976 at 45 years old. His legacy lives on in the music, and local label International Anthem is working with Stepney’s daughters Eibur, Charlene, and Chanté on this year’s Summer of Stepney series (a variety of events scheduled through September celebrating Stepney’s work), including today’s special Father’s Day celebration at Kenwood Gardens (6929 S. Kenwood). The event starts at 1 PM with a conversation between writer and culture historian Ayana Contreras in conversation with Stepney’s daughters; a performance by the band Rotary Connection 222 (Junius Paul, Makaya McCraven, Jackson Shepard, Alexis Lombre, Meagan McNeal, and Stepney’s granddaughter Brandice Manuel) follows. This outdoor event is free and open to all ages, but reservations are requested. (SCJ)

In recognition of both Juneteenth and Pride, Joel Hall Dancers present We Are the Change!, a piece celebrating the company’s Black and LGTBQ+ heritage, at the Center on Halsted (3656 N. Halsted). The lineup includes a world premiere, Namo; Following Omens, by artistic director Jacqueline Sinclair; “Preparing for Take Off,” an excerpt from William Gill’s Flight; and a series of short pieces by founder Hall (To Eulaulah With Love, Donny; Widows; 631362; Etude en Jazz #4). The evening includes music by Michael Wall, Sandro Perez, Pharoah Sanders, Miles Davis, Donny Hathaway, and others, along with puppet design by Stephanie Diaz. Tonight’s performance is at 7 PM; tomorrow’s curtain is 3 PM. Today, the Joel Hall Dancers Youth Performance Workshop will debut Feminist, choreographed by Joel Hall Dancers company member Heather Zimny. June 19 will feature Djeliya; Marakadon by Regina Perry-Carr and Idy Ciss’s Liberté, all performed by Muntu Dance Theatre. Tickets are $30 in advance or $35 at the door and can be reserved by calling 773-888-0477, ext. 102 or at joelhall.org. (KR)

Co-created by Pilar Audain, Anthony Moseley, and Carla Stillwell, the final performance of Collaboraction’s Moonset Sunrise takes place at Navy Pier (600 E. Grand) tonight at 7:30 PM in the new Bar Sol space (formerly the Riva Restaurant). Devised as a combination of healing ritual, song, dance, and storytelling, the piece “honors the sacred moment between the setting full moon and the rising sun” on the shores of Lake Michigan, and invites audiences to reflect upon and reconcile the past with “our new NOW.” Among the featured performers are Jose Rico of Solidarity Heals (formerly Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation-Greater Chicago) and Susana Banuelos and Aztec Dance Chicago. The event also features local vendors selling self-care merchandise. Admission is by suggested contribution ($50 general public/$15 artists, activists, students, seniors, and veterans). Register online at collaboraction.org. (KR)

SUN 6/19

Unabridged Bookstore (3251 N. Broadway) has been giving back to causes in the Lakeview community and beyond since their inception in 1980, and these days the store gives back on a monthly basis by making financial donations to causes rooted in social justice. The store will honor Juneteenth today by donating 100 percent of profits made from both in-store and online sales today to the Black Women’s Health Imperative, the oldest national organization (created by Black women in the 1980s) that is solely dedicated to improving the health and wellness of Black women and girls. You can help out BWHI and also find some new summer reads by going to Unabridged’s website or visiting the store and making a purchase today anytime between 10 AM-7 PM. (SCJ) 

In honor of Juneteenth, Congo Square Theatre Company offers two programs today at Zhou B Art Center (1029 W. 35th). From 1-4 PM, Festival on the Square returns with family-friendly (and free!) programming inspired by the original Congo Square in New Orleans and with a focus on “arts, healing, and Black joy,” built around the theme of “Homecoming.” There will be performances from Ayodele Drum & Dance; a reading by company member Aaron Todd Douglas of August Wilson’s monologue How I Learned What I Learned; a blues performance from Melody Angel; and readings from plays submitted to the Congo Square Samuel G. Roberson Next Up Fellowship, named after the company’s late artistic director and designed to support emerging playwrights. (Fellowship winners will be announced during the festival.) Black-owned businesses will also be on hand, vending everything from jewelry to health and beauty products. At 6 PM, Congo Square hosts its annual fundraiser, the Vision Benefit. Three Black artists will be recognized during the event: playwright/director/administrator Luther Goins will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award; Jacqueline Williams (most recently seen onstage as Calpurnia in the national touring production of To Kill a Mockingbird) will receive the Artistic Excellence Award; and Rueben Echoles, longtime associate artistic director at Black Ensemble Theater, will receive the Emerging Artist Award. The evening includes a watch party for Congo Square’s popular online sketch comedy series, Hit ’em on the Blackside, and more entertainment from Ayodole, Angel, Alexis Roston and Friends, and dance performances from Hawkins House of Horton. Benefit tickets are $250. For information on both events, visit congosquaretheatre.org. (KR)

For something decidedly NOT all-ages, head over to the Den (1331 N. Milwaukee) for Juneteenth Jump Off!, a celebration of Black burlesque artists presented by Bawdy Suit (aka Samson Night, Faggedy Randy, and P. NoNoire). Some of the featured performers include Po’ Chop (aka Jenn Freeman); Ray Gunn of The Vertical Side Show; and pole dance champion and Fly Club founder Divine Em. It all starts at 6 PM; tickets are $21-$251 at thedentheatre.com. (KR)

Whether you’re a budding organizer or renowned labor historian, tonight you’ll want to be at Pilsen Community Books (1102 W. 18th). At 7 PM, labor journalist (and previous Reader contributor) Kim Kelly will be in conversation with UNITE HERE staffer Diana Hussein to promote her new book Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor. Kelly’s book focuses on how women, people of color, prisoners, sex workers, queer and disabled people, and others on the margins have always been leaders in the fight for fair working conditions–and why their stories have been lost. As inspirational as it is instructional, this is an essential read for anyone advocating for working class dignity, and tonight you can ask questions about the material—for free! (MC)

MON 6/20

Monday Night Foodball presents chef Jordan Wimby this week, aka the Melanin Martha, who promises a menu of “Ancestral Favorites Reimagined” in a celebration of Juneteenth and Black cuisine. The dessert portion of the menu sounds especially delicious: your choice of bourbon sweet potato crème brûlée or strawberry-mint ice pops. Pre-ordering is possible, and walk-in orders are welcome starting at 5 PM. The event happens until 9 PM at Kedzie Inn (4100 N. Kedzie, and you can read more about Wimby’s work in senior writer Mike Sula’s column this week. (SCJ)

TUE 6/21

Kids can tell who tells a good story and who doesn’t, and this week presents multiple opportunities for kids five years old and older (accompanied their parent or guardian) to hear from someone who has years of experience with the craft. Oba William King, a Chicago-based actor and musician who dubs himself “The Poetic Storyteller,” offers an hour-long program at several Chicago Public Library branches this week that’s geared toward sharing interactive stories teaching about Juneteenth and entertaining with interesting folk tales. Families can check it out today at the West Englewood branch (11 AM, 1745 W. 63rd), Wednesday morning at Brighton Park (11 AM, 4314 S. Archer), or Wednesday evening at the Austin branch (6 PM, 5615 W. Race). King performs at six other branches this week at various times: check out the CPL website for details and more free events. (SCJ)

WED 6/22

International playgirls Los Bitchos are bringing their unique brand of psychedelic cumbia to the Empty Bottle (1035 N. Western) tonight. As I wrote earlier this week, I think the band calls to mind the themes and aesthetics of Věra Chytilová’s Daisies. If you haven’t seen the flick, no worries. This show is for anyone who enjoys rollicking grindhouse soundtracks and fun. Rudy de Anda opens and things kick off at 8:30 PM. Tickets are $20 and available to those 21 and up. Proof of vaccination is required. (MC)

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