Written by The Chicago Defender
The producers of the award winning Broadway musical “Fela!” have partnered with the Chicago-based Rainbow/PUSH Coalition in an effort to help combat the increasing rise of violence in Chicago. Rainbow/PUSH founder and CEO Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and “Fela!” producer Stephen Hendel launched the new Stop The Violence initiative to inspire and encourage young people and bring peace to neighborhoods across the Chicagoland area.
“Chicago is going through a terrible problem with the gang violence and murders right now,” Hendel told the Defender. “And here is our show, which is about social justice, the plight of the disposed and the struggle to achieve dignity and these artists are using their talent to make a social statement and help these young people heal and find courage and strength.”
With the national spotlight cast on murders in Chicago – most recently with the death of Hadiya Pendleton and Janay McFarlane – the Stop The Violence initiative is looking to provide more opportunities and incentives for young people by focusing on “action areas” including reconstruction, responsibility and the redistribution of resources.
Hendel also revealed another approach.
“Fela! has become a very community oriented show but we also want to emphasize the themes of self-esteem, struggle, and self-worth in the face of a culture that they can bond with,” he said.
He has also been hard at work with the Fela Foundation, which has recently brought forth a new curriculum to Chicago schools to introduce its public education program that educates students on the legacy of Fela Kuti, the Yoruba culture and social justice among many other topics.
Starring Grammy award winning recording artist Michelle Williams, “Fela!” the Musical, which Hendel calls, “a stimulating feast of theatrical arts,” tells the inspiring and courageous story of world renowned Afro Beat creator and activist Fela Kuti who used his musical platform to fight for human rights and social justice.
“We set up a foundation to bring Fela’s message using art, culture and theater to inner city students,” Hendel explained. “We’ve circulated the curriculum around to about 30 schools that have been taking a look at it. We commissioned a former teacher and historian and arts professional to work with me to create a curriculum that talks about the history of Fela, different scenes in the show while asking questions about what those scenes mean and how production uses music and video to create the environment to express the themes.”
The Stop the Violence initiative will debut in Chicago but will travel with the musical to other urban locales, taking a stand, nationally, against violence.
“Fela!” makes it return debut to the Arie Crown Theater February 20-23 with $10 of every ticket sold going towards the Stop the Violence initiative.
“What stands out is the message and how it appeals to young people especially young Black males who face issues with their self –esteem,” Hendel shared. “It’s about male self-esteem, struggle, and commitment. They need to follow strong male leads and we now have something to take to these young boys so they can be proud of themselves and the audience really understands the message of the show and finds a great deal of inspiration from it.”