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District 158 celebrates cultural diversity at its first DEI Cultural Festival

LANSING, Ill. (April 25, 2024) – District 158 hosted its first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion cultural festival at Memorial Junior High School on April 18 from 4:30 to 8 p.m. The festival celebrated the wonders of diversity and cultural enlightenment through food, singing, dancing, art, and storytelling.

Memorial Junior High’s band students performed in the commons during the festival. (Photo: Kinise Jordan)

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative

The DEI festival is a part of the district’s efforts to promote cultural diversity and equity, and provide awareness through inclusion.

The event was organized by Dr. Kelli Ross, Principal at Memorial Junior High, and the district’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee.

“It’s been a collective effort. We’ve had representation from every school and not just administrators but teachers and paraprofessionals who are on the committee,” said Dr. Ross at the April school board meeting.

Dr. Ross says the committee has spent over a year planning the event.

Celebrating cultural diversity

The dynamic gathering immersed guests in an evening of cultural awareness through art, performances, and storytelling.

Attendees browsed the building to view student’s artwork and projects. (Photo: Kinise Jordan)

At 4:30 p.m., guests followed a schedule of activities outside and inside Memorial, including the classrooms, gym, commons, and Learning Resource Center.

Attendees were allowed to browse student projects and artwork between performances.

The opening performance by the “Lester Crawl Little Learners” focused on teaching kids that people come in different colors and shapes. The kindergartners sang So Many Colors, So Many Shapes, by The Singing Walrus, a company that creates sing-a-longs for preschoolers and kindergartners.

Uncle Gerry performed Irish songs and educated the audience on musical traditions in Ireland. (Photo: Kinise Jordan)

Musician and songwriter, Gerry Dignan also known as Uncle Gerry, sang several Irish folk songs before educating the audience about music traditions in Ireland and how to pronounce Irish words used in his songs. He also told a fictional story about an Irish healer.

Mama Edie performed a Nigerian song before telling two fictional stories to the audience. (Photo: Kinise Jordan)

The evening then shifted to the Learning Resource Center where speech pathologist and bilingual storyteller Edith Armstrong, also known as Mama Edie, educated guests on Nigerian culture, sang a Nigerian song, and told two fictional stories. The rich stories explored the importance of learning about other cultures. 

Armstrong says she completed her speech therapy practicum at Memorial in 1989 while pursuing her Master’s in speech pathology.

District 158 elementary students sang “Songs of Peace” at the festival. (Photo: Kinise Jordan)

A group of elementary students sang songs dedicated to world peace including We Are The World and What The World Needs Now.

The women of the Ayodele Drum and Dance group brought “energy and love from Africa” with their performance. (Photo: Kinise Jordan)

The all-woman ensemble, Ayodele Drum and Dance, paid homage to traditional West African dance and music. The group’s announcer said it aims to “spread knowledge and experience of Africa” from a feminine perspective.

Nylee Zamudio, 7th grader at Memorial, performed “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus. (Photo: Kinise Jordan)

Later in the evening, several Memorial Junior High students put on a talent show. The students performed songs by Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, and Cynthia Erivo, and a 7th grader gave a speech by former U.S. President Barack Obama.

7th grader, Kaitlyn Knight, performed “Haunted” by Taylor Swift. (Photo: Kinise Jordan)
7th grader, Tony Clemons, performed a speech by 44th U.S. President Barack Obama. (Photo: Kinise Jordan)
Zyrie Dortch, 6th grade, and Koi Dortch, 7th grade, performed “Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo. (Photo: Kinise Jordan)

The last performance of the night brought together the music, dance, and costumes of Mexican Folklore. The Mexican dance troupe, Ballet Folklorico Yolotzin, promotes the art of Mexican Folk art through dance.

Ballet Folklórico Yolotzin performed Mexican Folklore dances dressed in traditional Mexican dance attire.
(Photo: Kinise Jordan)

Memorial Junior High is located at 2721 Ridge Road in Lansing.

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Kinise Jordan
Kinise Jordan
Kinise Jordan brings local experience and a long list of journalism skills to her work with The Lansing Journal. She understands the need for reliable, factual information in equipping people to build community. An Audio News internship with WBEZ honed her interviewing skills and her sense of timing and deadlines. A native of Calumet City, Kinise is familiar with the interplay of local government, local schools, and local businesses.