The Inspirational Voices choir performs gospel music to a live backing band. (Andrew Burke-Stevenson/H-F Chronicle)
Education, Feature, Local News

H-F High School’s 7th annual Pursuing the Dream conference features music, poetry and essays

Homewood-Flossmoor High School students performed music and read their poetry and essays at the seventh annual Pursuing the Dream conference in H-F High School’s Mall Auditorium on the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 11.

The Martin Luther King Day event also featured a panel of local authors, a speech about Black generational trauma and a speech about the power of words.

  • Student Aaron McIntyre (Valentine) performs his spoken word piece “Black Magic.” (Andrew Burke-Stevenson/H-F Chronicle)
    Student Aaron McIntyre (Valentine) performs his spoken word piece “Black Magic” during Pursuing the Dream at H-F High on Jan. 11. (Andrew Burke-Stevenson/H-F Chronicle)

The event began with a performance of “Lift Every Voice & Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem. Lead singer Laila Green was accompanied by four student backup singers and five guitar players, Madison Clarke, Kaleel Morris, Araceli Adames, Judah Crowder and DeAngelo Barlow.

In another performance, five students in colorful, West African garb did an Ayodele Drum and Dance. While they all drummed and danced, the two students in the foreground danced more frequently and the three behind them drummed more frequently.

Julianne Posey read her poem “An Ode to Writers” which explored procrastination, inspiration and the journey of the writing process.

“Fingers racing, mind pacing, as words flow from my fingertips,” Posey said, describing herself typing on a keyboard.

Aaron McIntyre AKA Valentine read his poem “Black Magic” which was about his mother, his family and finding the “magic” in himself and his community. The poem referenced “Black skin that shines blue in the moonlight” and “Black magic that shoots out from our feet in every direction.”

Ashna Thomas read her poem “Where I Come From” which was about her struggles and experiences as an Indian American immigrant – both in where she’s originally from and lives today.

“I know I don’t fit in, but I’m an unfinished book that’s not finished being written,” Thomas said.

Inspirational Voices, a singing group at H-F, performed their rendition of two gospel songs.

The author panel included India Anderson, Suhar Mustafah and Evan J. Roberts. They discussed the craft of writing and finding their voices as authors.

Roberts, an H-F teacher and the author of children’s books such as “Khahari Discovers the Meaning of Autism,” said some people underestimate how challenging it can be to write children’s fiction.

“As an author, as a writer, you have to put yourself in an audience’s mind. … So, I got to think like a little kid. How would this resonate with a little one?” Roberts said. “But now, I also have to think about the parent because that person has the money to buy the book.”

Joshua Jury read his essay Birthright Complexity about his ongoing journey in understanding his Jewish faith and identity.

The synagogue is “where I don’t need to hide my true self nor the legacy of my ancestors,” Jury said. He said, “this once tranquil vision that I had of synagogue began to shift” when he “became more aware” of “the abundance of security cameras and the headlines of antisemitism in the news.”

Jury spoke about traveling to Israel with his Jewish summer camp.

“I was introduced to Zionism, and this instilled value of a holy land that must be protected at all costs. But my group, like I, was different too. We were the new generation of Jewish teens. So, the trip became a good time of self-reflection and great outer skepticism,” Jury said. “Through all the beauties, we weren’t distracted from the horrific realities of ethnic cleansing and the political corruption the nation faced.”

Psychologist Jazmin Rhodes read her essay, Black Folk Mental Health: Generational Trauma, Traditions and Truth.

“Black people, there is trauma in your traditions,” Rhodes said. “When we grow up, we learn that we have to work ten times harder than everybody else – the rigorous external and internal self-awareness rooted in anti-blackness is traumatizing to the system.”

“Respectability politics,” “code switching” and “the strong black woman trope” are all trauma responses, Rhodes said, describing them as an “exhausting” way to live.

“I think it’s time for a mindset shift from surviving to thriving,” Rhodes said. “We are in survival mode so much that resting makes us uncomfortable. So, I suggest resting by any means necessary.” 

Kathy Bankhead, former Assistant State’s Attorney for Cook County and restorative justice advocate, spoke about the power of words.

“The words of our allies can give us strength, and the silence of our friends can devastate us. They can shame us and rehabilitate us at the same time,” Bankhead said.

“It has always been dangerous to use the power of words. And (it) seems to me even more so now in this season where even liberal thought has moved towards cancel culture,” Bankhead said. “Dare I speak my mind? What do I risk by expressing what I believe?”

The evening closed with a performance from the H-F step team, the Vi-Kings and Vi-Queens of Xcellence. They danced to the song “Stand Up,” written for the Harriet Tubman biopic “Harriet,” and raised their fists.

Catherine Ross-Cook, the diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator for H-F District 233, said every student who performed was “taking a risk to be brave” by performing for the audience.

“Every student chose a piece that was really close to home,” Ross-Cook said. “I feel like, even though I’ve known them, I got to know a little bit closer.” 

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