Founded by Imran Khan and January Miller, Embarc Chicago was created to provide resources and opportunities for underprivileged Chicago youth. For Imran, it began when he was teaching at a school and he brought his lunch and sat with his students. Inside his lunch, there were strawberries. As he gets ready to take a bite out of the plump fruit, one of his students asks, “what’s that?”
Hearing that statement, it’s still hard for many of us to comprehend the possibility that there are people out there who have never seen a strawberry. However, it’s not that farfetched that someone has never seen fresh produce if you think about the lack of grocery stores and resources that are available in underdeveloped communities.
While Chicago has an abundance of wealth, there is a clear divide between the haves and the have-nots. Because of this disparity, Imran sought to make a difference and helped create Embarc Chicago.
For one night only, we were going to celebrate the positive impact that Embarc has had on the lives of many Chicago youth. As we assembled in the prestigious Joffrey Towers, we are lead to a private reception where we are to mingle with Embarc students, teachers, as well as supporters of the Embarc program.
The room is lavishly decorated by Kehoe designs featuring royal-hued plush seating and a large feathered centerpiece. As we moved about the space, we were served delectable bites while sipping on specialty cocktails. While it’s nice to eat and drink, guests were encouraged to use that time to get to know one another. The conversations were facilitated by name tags on each of the guests.
While mingling, I struck up a conversation with a woman who shared with me how she was an Embarc teacher. She mentioned how she had never been to an event of that magnitude, so an evening at the Joffrey would be a first for the both of us. As we began talking, I could sense the passion through her voice. She shared with me how she could already see the difference in many of her students because of the Embarc program. The evidence of her teachings was made apparent, as one of her students approached poised and confident as she shared her Embarc story.
As the night progressed, past and current students of the Embarc program moved about the room and shared their stories of trials and tribulations to each of the attendees. There was no fear and no hesitation as they proudly declared to everyone that they are indeed a product of Embarc.
Once the mingling concluded it was then time for the main event. We are lead to the intimate Joffrey rehearsal space inside the black box theater. With only a couple hundred seats in the house, we each were going to get closer to the Joffrey than we have ever gone before. The first row is occupied by students, graduates, and teachers of the Embarc program. Once every seat in the room was filled, it was then time to begin the cultural experience of a lifetime. And the best part, Embarc was going on this journey with us.
As the lights dim, the audience is immersed into neo-classical worlds of wonder with each of the specially curated performances. Never to be performed again, each of the choreographed routines was specially created for that night.
The experience itself was so intimate that one could hear every inhale and exhale of the dancers. Even from the furthest seat, one could make out the muscle definition of each of the performers. With each graceful movement and pristine technique, we became privy to the fact that we were witnessing world-class talent just steps away.
The performance concludes with a resounding applause. By scanning the room and seeing the smiles on the faces of the students, it became clear why experiences like this are needed for Chicago’s youth.
As we leave the theater, our night transitions from an evening at the ballet to a night at the masquerade. To make the transition complete, each of the guests donned glittered masquerade masks.
We put on our masks and made our way to the reception area where a lavish display of delectable bites lay at the center of the room. Guests continue to mix and mingle with one another, this time with the esteemed ballet performers in attendance.
The night concludes and we part with our masks as a souvenir of our magical evening at the Joffrey. It was a night to remember for all, and I am already counting down the days to next year’s “A New Movement”
If you would like to learn more about Embarc head to Embarcchicago.org to learn how you can support the program by ensuring that students continually have experiences like a night at The Joffrey.
All photos courtesy of Nancy Beale for Embarc Chicago