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Auburn-Gresham continues Renaissance; Quad Communities keeps on Groovin'

Two South Side NCP communities, Auburn Gresham and Quad Communities, held annual festivals the same weekend in mid-September.

In Quad Communities, several hundred people came out for the Groovin’ & Gospel on the Grove Festival, a two-day event held Sept. 12-13 along the 4400 and 4500 blocks of South Cottage Grove Avenue.

Photo: Aum Mu Ra-El

NBA star Dwyane Wade shares a few thoughts during the opening ceremony at the 2009 79th Street Renaissance Festival.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 12, the fourth annual 79th Street Renaissance Festival kicked off with Miami Heat sensation Dwayne Wade leading hundreds of youth in a silent march against violence.

“It was very powerful seeing those 300 orange shirts in twos, walking silently,” said Carlos Nelson, executive director of NCP lead agency the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation (GADC).

When the group gathered at the Renaissance Festival’s main stage, Wade asked how many present knew someone who had been killed. “About 85 percent of the kids raised their hands. It was sickening,” Nelson recalled.

Though the message was somber, the kickoff ended on a hopeful note, recognizing Fr. Michael Pfleger for his decades of work to end violence in the Auburn Gresham community and beyond.

Although the Renaissance Festival’s primary goal is to promote local businesses in the neighborhood, it has evolved over its four-year lifespan to include a number of youth-friendly activities, including a daylong basketball tournament run by In the Paint Basketball.

Three bounce houses kept the younger set jumping. “There was much more to offer the children in terms of activities,” noted Louise Butler of Alpha Learning Center, a daycare and after-school program located at 8422 S. Damen Ave.

Photo: Aum Mu Ra-El

Tragil Wade (left), sister of Dwyane and executive director of Wade's World Foundation, speaks during the opening ceremony, during which Fr. Michael Pfleger (center) was honored for his decades of work to end violence in the Auburn Gresham community and beyond.

Her daughter, Rhonda, the director of the center, said that attending the festival has been a useful marketing tool. “Each year, we have gotten clients,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for networking as well.”

Plankton Viewing

All ages enjoyed performances by perennial favorites the Jesse White Tumblers and the South Shore Drill Team, and a new favorite, the Shedd Aquarium booth, which featured microscopes for visitors to view different types of plankton eaten by baleen whales, and a sample of the baleen plate the whales use to filter the plankton from the ocean.

“It’s so small,” a male passerby remarked. “How can they eat and get filled up from all that?”

“They eat lots and lots,” explained Mark Hallett of the Shedd, who said the museum’s first appearance at the Renaissance Festival was very successful. “People have had lots of questions and been real enthusiastic. It’s been a great day,” he said.

Photo: Courtesy QCDC

Raw Footage churns out its blend of hip-hop, rock, funk and R & B during the Groovin' on the Grove festival.

This great day was just another step in a budding partnership between the Shedd and GADC, who Nelson said are working together to design neighborhood-based programming.

For starters, the Shedd is offering a free admission pass to anyone who brings a bag of recyclables to the GADC office at 79th and Racine.

To Nelson, the most important aspect of the festival is that it has evolved into a neighborhood institution. “It has grown its own pulse. This is now a staple of Chicago neighborhood festivals,” he said. “The neighborhood now expects it and looks forward to it. It’s camaraderie. The elders and the youth, the businesses and the residents just come together to join in celebration. Thousands of people expect it.”

Groovin’ & Gospel

The main stage at Groovin' on the Grove featured musical acts that spanned such genres as reggae, funk-rock, R&B, rap, and inspirational, said Yvette Kelly, NCP organizer for lead agency Quad Communities Development Corp.

Photo: Yvette Kelly

This threesome, (from left) sisters Bre' shayia and Isabella Kelly and a friend, seemed to enjoy the Groovin' festival -- and one another's company.

Acts included Tony Backhouse & The New Zealand/Australian Accapella Choir, Candace Marie, TJ Brown, Rocky Year, Phaze 2, Raw Footage, Ace Watkins, Ifficial Reggae Band, Felona, Rollin B, and Joe Jr Kebon Carr and Friends Gospel Inspirational Group.

Vendors sold everything from smoothies to earrings, and children played at the “Giggles & Grunt Kid pavilion,” on an inflatable playground complete with four bounce-houses and a waterslide, she said. Free hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and watermelon slices were hungrily consumed all day.

The City of Chicago Clerk’s Office offered identification cards for children, for use in case they ever get lost, as well as licenses for pets, Kelly said. Pet groomer Paws Chicago Inc. talked to attendees about keeping their animals healthy and getting them spayed or neutered, she said.

On Saturday night, about 70 people stayed after the festival for “Movie in the Park” featuring “The Long Shots,” based on a true story about a little girl in southern Illinois, starring Ice Cube along with Ke Ke Palmer from “Akeelah and the Bee.”

“We served hot buttered popcorn all evening,” Kelly said. “The response was so great that QCDC will feature three movies next year – in July, August and September 2010.”

-- Ed Finkel contributed to this article

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