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Gala will honor Chicago's Black Catholic founder, fundraise for park

The annual event honoring Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who arrived in Chicago in the late 1700s, will be held in March at the Palmer House.

(DuSable Heritage Association)

CHICAGO — Ahead of Founder’s Day in the Windy City, the DuSable Heritage Association (DHA) will host its annual benefit gala on Saturday, March 2, honoring the region’s first non-Indigenous settler: the Haitian-born Catholic trader Jean Baptiste Point du Sable

As in previous years, the event will serve to fundraise for DuSable Park on the Chicago lakeshore, a decades-old project that began construction this month.

This year’s gathering, to be held at the Palmer House hotel in downtown Chicago, will include live music, a silent auction, raffle, and a guest speaker on the theme “Yesterday's Heritage, Today's Harmony, Tomorrow's Hope.” It will also feature the motif of Carnival (“Kanaval” in Haitian Creole), the celebratory season preceding Lent in Christian countries around the world.

“This exclusive fundraising event promises an enchanting night filled with delectable cuisine, music, a captivating performance by Claude Marcelin, and dancing,” reads an event description released by DHA.

“Secure your spot for an enchanting night of celebration, cultural pride, and philanthropy. Let's come together to make a meaningful impact on our community's heritage and future.”

An intergenerational affair, the gala will celebrate the achievement of the DuSable Scholars at the University of Illinois Chicago, where a select group of Black and Indigenous students pursuing STEM disciplines receive funding from the DHA each year. The organization will also bestow its annual awards at the dinner.

The DuSable Park project, announced in 1987 by then-mayor Harold Washington, had long been considered a dream deferred, facing various development roadblocks that led to an indefinite hiatus. On Jan. 17, the developer Related Midwest announced it would begin a comprehensive project that includes the full build-out of the green space honoring the city’s founder.

“We are proud to begin construction at 400 Lake Shore and deliver Chicago a new, transformative project to be enjoyed for generations to come,” said Related Midwest president Curt Bailey. 

“Located on the last waterfront site where Lake Michigan meets the Chicago River, this development is anchored by two towers surrounded by public green space that will complete Founder’s Way on the River and DuSable Park, as well as provide much-needed affordable housing for the city.”

Some advocates, including the founder of the DHA, have criticized the connection of the park to real estate development, but this month’s announcement received glowing remarks from Mayor Brandon Johnson, who said the project “represents our city’s growth, as well as its inclusivity.”

The development of Dusable Park will join several other nearby monuments to his legacy, including a bust, bridge, harbor, and the city’s main downtown thoroughfare, Lake Shore Drive—which added his name in 2021.

Nicolas Paul, the president of the DHA and main organizer of this year’s gala, told Crain's Chicago Business this month that work on the park is “way overdue; way, way overdue.”

Early bird tickets for the DHA gala are available online through the end of the week for $125. Prices will increase to $150 on Monday, Jan. 29. Interested parties can also make tax-deductible donations to the organization via Eventbrite or on the DHA website.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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