Bronzeville, easily one of the most historic neighborhoods in Chicago. Back in the day it was the stomping grounds for writer Gwendolyn Brooks and the jazz clubs filled with the sounds of Louis Armstrong. Some would describe it as Chicago’s version of the Harlem Renaissance. If you were an artist or a creative, Bronzville was your home.  It’s a no brainer that this neighborhood be included in The Chicago Home Theater Festival.

However, in 2017 Bronzeville as well as many parts of Chicago are going through a rebirth with a new resurgence of artists. In Bronzeville there’s no shortage of talent due to the presence of many art incubators and black businesses.

I knew that news of the rebirth of Bronzeville was spreading like wildfire when I heard one of my co-workers dub it as the hot new neighborhood. In fact, nothing was new about Bronzeville at all. It’s always been here and it’s a testament to the strength and resilience of a Chicago landmark.

The Chicago Home Theater Festival Welcomes You to Bronzeville

True to the nature of The Chicago Home Theater Festival, one must live and experience anything before making any judgments.

Prior to the festival, I knew very little about Bronzeville aside from it being the home of the historic Chicago Defender and the home to many black legends. Which is why it was an absolute must for me to experience the neighborhood for myself.

Admittedly, I was slightly nervous about the visit. I would hear stories of Bronzeville on the news.  However, once I visited I realized that all of my preconceived notions were off the mark.

Instead of an ongoing pattern of violence, what I found was a community that openly embraced and welcomed one another. While we toured the neighborhood, I asked one of the women walking with me what she thought of Bronzeville. She shared that she found comfort knowing that her daughter is here. Safety was not a concern because she knew that Bronzeville is where her daughter felt at home. She was in a community that not only supported her but looked like her.

When walking along, our guide and host for the evening Tempestt Hazel would stop and talk to neighborhood residents. It’s interesting because just a few miles away you never see strangers stop one another on Michigan Ave. Instead day by day strangers walk past remaining complete strangers.. But in Bronzeville, you get a smile or a hello and you immediately know that this is not just a neighborhood, but a home.

Black Girls Can Fly

Along with Tempestt, our tour guides for the evening were the Fly  Girls of the production Black Girls Can Fly.  Created by Sydney Chatman, the production chronicles the life of a 10-year-old girl who’s experiencing PTSD while living in Chicago. Throughout the production, she  along with her friends celebrate and tell the story of black women aviators. Some of which are recognizable names like Bessie Coleman and others are hidden figures such as Dorothy Layne.

While walking around the neighborhood, the girls would perform scenes from the play giving the viewer just a taste of what the production is about. While they were in fact kids, they did not stray away from topics that plagued the everyday Chicago youth’s day-to-day life. They recited the names of victim is police brutality and sternly asked Chicagoans to stop killing each other. They even touched on the problem of gentrification. While this was gut wrenching for the audience, this unfortunately is the reality of many of Chicago’s youth.

Playtime in the Park

However, the most interesting moment of the day came when attendees were encouraged to release their youthful side and play some neighborhood games in the Hadiyah Pendleton Park. While this was a famous spot for a horrific crime,  on that day we reclaimed that park as a place of peace and joy.

We played familiar games like tag and red rover. When I became “it” I quickly remembered that my track days were long behind me. I was never able to catch the fly girls.

As we walked back to our host’s home we played a game of hopscotch to close our evening with The Fly Girls.

For one day, we experienced the joy and the happiness that the children of Bronzeville experience. The threat of violence never even crossed our minds.  We continued to  frolic through the grass and laugh and giggle as we blew bubbles.

Take me to the Water

Once the Fly Girls performance concluded, we were guided to the artist loft of Tempestt. Tempestt is a writer, artist, and activist and the director of Sixty Inches From Center and for the evening she welcomed us into her world of art.

In the hallway of the artists lofts sat a woman encircled with an array of candles. We stood idly as we watched her light each candle one by one. A few moments later the strong powerful voice of Jamila Raegan fills the room.

She gets up from our throne of candles and begins to sing a lovely rendition of the hymn “Take me to the Water”

She leads us into the next room which is the home of Tempestt, still singing until she takes her seat. Talk about the most marvelous opener to an evening I had ever witness.

The large crowd situate themselves and makes themselves at home among plush colorful seating arrangements. To make us truly feel at home a meal that featured all Chicago black businesses were put on the forefront. We indulged in ginger lemonade from Marvelous Natural Ginger Lemon Aide, Moroccan mint popcorn from Herby Pop, and Kale and collard greens. Can’t have a family style dinner without some greens.

A Night of Art

Once we finished our meal in our home for the evening, the rest of the evening we dedicated to highlighting Chicago’s most artistic souls.

The evening began with a poetry reading by Kush Thompson. She read a selection of original poems by herself and famed Chicago poet Krista Franklin. The moving poems were felt by the audience as Kush was able to capture their full and undivided attention.

It was the perfect warm-up for the evening.

Following Kush, was an intimate acoustic performance by Growing Concerns. Growing Concerns is a poetry collective that fuses hip-hop poetry with a lyrical narrative to the backdrop of live music and original arrangements.

The soothing sounds seamlessly fit with the vibe of the evening. It was once again like we were witnessing an intimate rehearsal. The feelings and the emotions just can’t be replicated with a large crowd.

To conclude the evening, poet Stella Binion read a few of her original works. Her thoughts that focused on her own poetic journey made the audience feel closer to her and like we knew her all along. Even after only a few minutes.

Hummingbird Cake

Before we leave from the magical space created by Tempestt and fellow Chicago artists, a round of Mindful Indulgences Hummingbird Cake is our parting gift for the evening.

After taking in the melodic sounds of poetry, music, and soul song, the night ended on a rather sweet note.

We nibbled on delicious food, engaged in conversation with strangers, and immersed ourselves in the worlds of Chicago artists to create memories that I’m sure will leave a forever imprint in our minds.

I now have a newfound appreciation for Bronzeville because of The Chicago Home Theater Festival.  I’m looking forward to discovering more about this Chicago icon.

*All photos credit to Eedahahm