More than 450 people gathered at the Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston today to attend the 9th annual Diverse Communities United event, a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Civil Rights movement, and principles of non-violence.

Nearly 80 young people presented 16 performances at the Youth Organization Umbrella session that included poetry readings, vocal acts, multimedia projects and speeches by community leaders.

This year’s theme, One World, focused on the ways that individuals can contribute to the larger community in honor of Dr. King’s dream for diversity and togetherness.

Highlights of the program included three Y.O.U. youth transferring their quick, pencil tapping abilities to the bucket percussion stylings of Boomshaka, a Northwestern University drum, dance and rhythm ensemble; a Y.O.U. lyricist group reciting their original rap “The World Today”; and youth-choreographed performances to power anthems like Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.”

Y.O.U. parent and community leader Omar Brown spoke to the audience about the continued need for programs like Y.O.U. that elevate the expectations of all youth.

“I recently asked my daughter what her favorite activity at Y.O.U is and she responded by telling me that they teach her life skills,” Brown said. “And I thought that a 10-year-old talking about life skills was unbelievable. But then I thought about it and I realized the power in those words. The term ‘life skills’ implies a skill that is not only important in 5th grade, but also when you’re 21, 41, and 61. Y.O.U. is teaching our children skills that can be helpful throughout their lives.”

“This was so motivating and inspiring,” said Y.O.U. Chute parent Charetta Williams. “It shined a positive light on our community and it also got the children seeing that their voices do matter and that they can have an impact on the community by working together.”

After the event, a group of Y.O.U. staff and youth took a field trip together to the movie theater, where they capped off the special day together by viewing Selma.

The event was co-sponsored the Music Institute of Chicago.

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