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Annual gala honoring Chicago's Black Catholic founder set for March 5th

A Chicago public park in honor of Jean Baptiste Point DuSable was announced 35 years ago. It is still yet to come, and a local nonprofit aims to be the change.

(DuSable Heritage Association)

The DuSable Heritage Association is hosting its annual fundraising gala on March 5th at 5pm CT, in support of their ongoing advocacy for a city park in honor of their namesake: Chicago founder (and Black Catholic) Jean Baptiste Point DuSable.

The event is held each year on the weekend nearest to the city’s incorporation anniversary, March 4th—also known as “DuSable Day”.

This year’s theme is DuSable Park, DuSable Scholars Program—The New Phase of the Legacy, and the event will be held in a hybrid format at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) Student Center East.

“As in the past, this gala reserves a prime space for DuSable Park,” said DHA president Etzer Cantave in a statement announcing the event.

“We shall not relent in our advocacy for the park until its greenery graces the landscape of Chicago’s Lakefront.”

The park, announced roughly 35 years ago by then-mayor Harold Washington, has yet to materialize in a city that has only recently begun to fully acknowledge DuSable’s legacy. The thoroughfare along the aforementioned lakefront, Lake Shore Drive, was co-named after DuSable just last year.

The DHA, founded in 2000, has saluted the growing efforts to honor the Haitian-born settler, who arrived in the region in the 1780s as its first non-Indigenous settler. The organization has also recently established a partnership with UIC to offer scholarships in honor of DuSable and his Potawatomi wife Kitihawa.

Their new DuSable Scholars Program, benefiting Black and Indigenous students pursuing STEM disciplines, will provide a full ride and stipend through graduate school at UIC—where Cantave serves as a financial administrator.

The first cohort in the program, consisting of 19 students, will be honored at the upcoming gala.

“It is refreshing that a new phase in the DuSable legacy is taking shape in a most enduring way,” Cantave said.

In an email to supporters earlier this month, the DHA also noted that UIC joined two other local colleges in having students present ideas about the future DuSable Park. On the official side, more than 100 architecture firms responded to the city’s call for proposals last year.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, during debates concerning the Lake Shore Drive renaming, also presented her plans for the park, including sculptures of DuSable’s family and a yearly festival in his honor during August, the month of his death in 1818.

Longtime advocates (including DHA founder and board member JC Pierre-Louis) criticized Lightfoot at the time for her exclusion of their input—and an allegedly undue connection between the park and a luxury real estate development—but in the email sent out this month, the DHA spoke of her plan in glowing terms.

That ongoing project, as well as the new educational collaboration with UIC, will characterize the gala next month as the park’s most enduring supporters gather to celebrate DuSable’s legacy and impact.

Early bird tickets are available online through February 18th at $100 (virtual $75; regular $125 after 2/18); sponsorship packages are also available. The DHA also accepts tax-deductible donations via PayPal.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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