BCAI Event Highlights Latin, Indian, Hip-Hop Cultures

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MixFuzeEvolveFamily, a BCAI School of Arts fundraiser, will offer a "culturally infused" celebration of Latin, Indian, and hip-hop influences as well as a variety of culinary treats.

The April 14 event, 3-6 p.m. at the Hansen Student Center, 300 East Beecher Street, Bloomington, will feature live music and stage entertainment, raffles, and 12 Indian and Latin dishes on a sampling basis.

Admission includes $10 entry (Ages 6 and up); $6 for a small meal ticket (up to 5 food samples);
$10 large meal ticket (up to 10 samples); and $25 VIP admission (includes entry, a sample of every dish, front row seat reservation for stage events, and one free raffle ticket).

Children under 6 years old enter for FREE, but they must have either a large meal or small meal ticket.

The event is sponsored by State Farm, Not in our Town: Bloomington-Normal, and Willie Brown.

For more info, visit the event website at

Solidarity Concert For Puerto Rico January 22


A Solidarity With Puerto Rico Benefit Concert, featuring local musicians and performers from Normal Community High School and the Bloomington-Normal community, is scheduled 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. January 22 at Normal Theater to raise funds for hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

The event is hosted by Illinois State University Latin American and Latino/a Studies. In September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the island and NCHS juniors Keajia “Keke” Hardin and Anabelle Chinski wanted to do something to help. For their community service project, they reached out to ISU's Professor Maura Toro-Morn to organize this event.

All proceeds will be donated to the Puerto Rico Agenda, a not-for-profit group in Chicago sending aid to relief and rebuilding efforts on the island.

To learn more about Puerto Rico and the effects of hurricane Maria, there will be a teach-in -- free and open to the public -- on Friday, January 19, at 3 p.m. in the Escalante Room of Hewett Manchester. Puerto Rico, its unique history with the US, and the effects of Maria on the island, are topics.

Presenters will include Professors Maura Toro-Morn and Yojanna Cuenca-Carlino of ISU, Professor Daynali Flores-Rodriguez and Krista Cardona of Illinois Wesleyan University, and Stephanie Rodriguez, ISU student and reporter for The Daily Vidette. It will be moderated by Prof. Juliet Lynd, Acting Director of LALS. Sponsored by the Latin American and Latino Studies Program.

Official figures show that, of the island’s 1.5 million customers, just 900,000 have had their power restored. Businesses continue to struggle and many schools remain closed. Puerto Rico has received limited federal support amid controversial statements by President Trump about the U.S. territory and its people.

The New York City Department of Buildings sent a 14-member team to inspect damage to homes and government buildings after Hurricane Maria slammed into the island. Inspectors assessed nearly 5,100 structures, helping local officials understand the magnitude of the destruction.

Dozens of inspectors swarmed the streets of New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, filling out piles of paperwork as they assessed the damage.

Over 80,000 buildings were inspected, but city officials realized the process could have been completed more efficiently. So, in late 2016, the Department of Buildings began using technology that allowed inspectors to file reports from the field using a smartphone or tablet.

The technology was used in a disaster zone for the first time a few months ago, in Puerto Rico.

“Having people from the mainland that came in early, left late, and didn’t have to worry about not having electricity in their homes — it was extremely necessary,” said David Carrasquillo Medrano, an adviser on planning and land use affairs for the city of San Juan, the island’s capital.

New York City buildings department officials said they mapped the damage and streamed the results in near-real time to officials.



Nov. 4 Fundraiser Features International Menu, Night of Entertainment

Bloomington’s Breaking Chains Advancing Increase (BCAI) School of Arts is offering a Twin Cities fall date night quite unlike any other: An evening of music and dance with an international menu, a multicultural bar, and a safe and creative place to leave the kids.

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BCAI’s Mix.Fuze.Evolve 2 (MFE2) fundraiser is from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, at Reality on Monroe, 111 E. Monroe St. in Bloomington. Mix.Fuze.Evolve celebrates BCAI’s thesis that “experiences fuel creativity & fuse into ideas. Ideas unify & bring positive progression.”

The event will showcase culturally-infused live stage entertainment and music with a dance floor, a “culturally diverse” cash bar with 14 alcoholic and non-alcoholic options, a Coffeehound coffee bar highlighting blends from various cultures, and 12 culinary meals from six different cultures.

The event will include multiple raffles. Profits from the event will fund BCAI-supported scholarships.

In conjunction with the event, BCAI is holding a youth event for every age, infant to teenager, from 5:30 to 11 p.m. that night at Illinois Wesleyan University. The program is free for MFE2 ticketholders, but non-MFE parents also are welcome to register youth at a $25 per-child cost.

“We’re giving you five hours of free, constructive child care,” BCAI Director Angelique Racki added. “It’s a no-brainer.”

Tickets are $55 per person 21 or older. Tickets are available at Reality Bites, Coffeehound, or Signature India, or online at

BCAI provides an expression platform and arts education to everyone, regardless of income or background. Racki noted “we’re doing huge things at BCAI,” but although youth has always been a special focus, she stressed “BCAI’s vision is to education all generations.”

Guests at the Nov. 4 event will have the opportunity to submit positive “affirmations” for BCAI students and post “I am” statements that express their dreams, talents, and goals.

Entertainment will include performances by BCAI’s fall Indian and African dance classes. Bloomington’s Reality Bites restaurant plans an international menu for the evening, including:

•Akara & Rice

•Ata DinDin

•Tikka Masala Chicken

•Garbanzo & Potato Curry

•Black Beans & Rice

•A taco bar with an assortment of toppings and salsas

•Berry Pudding

•Baked Pumpkin


•Lamb & Toasted Nuts

•Ayam Goreng

•Pork & Vegetables Spring rolls


•Fried Thai Bananas

•Tres Leches Cake

•An assortment of globally inspired candy and treats

The event is co-sponsored by Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal.

Documentary Features Indigenous Americans' Musical Gifts

Rumble, a new film on indigenous American contributions to music, plays 7 p.m. Sept 8, 10, 13, and 16 at the Normal Theater.

Rumble tells the story of a profound, essential, and, until now, missing chapter in the history of American music: the Indigenous influence.

Featuring music icons Charley Patton, Mildred Bailey, Link Wray, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jimi Hendrix, Jesse Ed Davis, Robbie Robertson, Redbone, Randy Castillo, and Taboo, Rumble shows how these talented Native musicians helped shape the soundtracks of our lives.

Cultural Fest Continues to Wring Changes

Dan Craft

The Pantagraph

Quite a lot has changed for Bloomington's Cultural Festival over 38 summers.

But quite a lot has stayed reassuringly steadfast, too.

Just ask two of the folks who were there at the beginning and who are still on board for Saturday's 2017 edition in ISU's Bone Student Brown Ballroom (10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.).

Gary Muhammad, who co-founded the festival in the summer of 1979 with Lee Otis Brewer, is no longer involved with the festival's administration.

But he does lead local smooth jazz group Soft Spoken, a presence on the Twin Cities music scene for many years, scheduled to head up the entertainment stage at 6 p.m.

Elaine Hill, who was one of those volunteering to lend Brewer and Muhammad a helping hand for that premiere event, has been the person coordinating the vendor end of things in the years since, a role she'll be continuing Saturday, and, she adds, "hopefully many more" festivals to come.

"It was a vision that Lee Brewer and I shared," recalls Muhammad of that first festival, which, with the help of city fathers, secured Bloomington's downtown square as its location.

That vision: a celebration of cultural diversity and heritage in a positive, family friendly, life-affirming context.

"It was pretty nice ... we didn't know what our expectations were because there were no festivals being done on the square," recalls Muhammad.

Compared to what would come, the first Cultural Festival was a modest, small-scale affair, lasting around three hours on a Saturday and attracting around 200 people.

There was a steel drum band from Northern Illinois University for an added tropical flair. Some of the merchants held sidewalk sales.  

"For me," recalls Elaine Hill, "it was more like 'wow, people are embracing this,' even though it was a small, intentional group of people, and it was the diversity of it that was important to me."

That small, but heartfelt, debut led to a new location for the sophomore edition in 1980.

"The biggest thing that came out of that first year is that we found out that some of the merchants were uncomfortable with the crowds of young blacks coming downtown," says Muhammad.

Some of them, he adds, lobbied to have the festival moved elsewhere, which resulted in the move to Miller Park, which would become the festival's home for the next three decades.

"I was resistant at first," confesses Muhammad. "I didn't like it. It felt like it was a snub, in a sense, for a festival that was mean to celebrate and highlight our culture. It kind of felt like we weren't welcome."

In the end, though, the park, with its spacious room and easy access, proved itself the perfect setting for the event.

"It was more room, more of a festive atmosphere and more people could bring baskets and food and come out with the whole family and make a day of it," he says.

"It also attracted more vendors and provided the room for much more growth. It took a year or so to get the bad taste out of my mouth, but the move to Miller Park really helped it grow," says Muhammad.

Indeed, by the time of the event's 15th anniversary in 1994, attendance had ballooned from 200 in 1979 to around 4,000; and the fest's duration had expanded from three hours to three days (Friday evening through Sunday).

Rising costs, loss of sponsorship and other facts led to the festival leaving Miller Park for more economical environs, with one year spent inside at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum followed by three in ISU's Brown Ballroom.

With that space scheduled to be under renovation next summer, the festival is currently looking for an alternate home for 2018, either inside or outside, says current festival organizer Tony Jones.

Though locations and duration have changed over the decades, other aspects of the Cultural Festival have remained constant.

"I'm very, very excited about the festival has grown over the years," says Hill.

"What I love about it is that every aspect of our community, as diversified as it is, has its own thing going on ... and what's wonderful is that we are able to bring them all together, which speaks volumes for our community."

Disorganizer United for Black Lives Matter Fundraiser

Jon Norton


"Whenever I call it a jazz band I do air quotes. 'Jazz.'" said Disorganizer mandolin player Stefen Robinson, gesturing with the index and middle fingers of both hands over his head.


"Because I don't even know what that means anymore," continued Robinson. "Are you talking about Miles Davis? Are you talking about Wayne Shorter? Are you talking about Kneebody?

We're all influenced by jazz, and the other three dudes, (bass player) Ryan Nolan, (drummer) Michael Carlson and (saxophonist) Travis Thacker are influenced by jazz," said Robinson.

Robinson was self-deprecating while describing the group's serendipitous origins. He and Thacker connected at Carl's Pro Band Center in Bloomington and eventually brought in Nolan to play bass during jam sessions.

"It got to the point where very quickly I said 'I'm a terrible drummer ... do you know a drummer?'" laughed Robinson. "That's how I met Michael.  They called in Michael. At first it was two drummers, I was playing drums, Michael's playing drums, and then it just became kind of stupid. So I said 'I play electric mandolin.' I'm actually way better at that than drums."

That self-awareness extends to the rest of the group. It's a trait that has them playing an April 15 fundraiser at The Bistro in Bloomington for Black Lives Matter BloNo. Robinson, who teaches social studies, sociology, and history at Normal Community High School, says the group is intentionally anti-racist.

"Not just, as I describe in my sociology class as passively anti-racist, but actively anti-racist in any context we can," said Robinson. "to try work toward a just society without the racial stratification that we see."

Black Lives Matter. The name itself repels many, especially, but not exclusively, non-blacks.  When I mentioned to Robinson that a local blogger recently questioned "don't white people know that Black Lives Matter hates white people?," for once he paused. "I am intimately involved with the people working with Black Lives Matter. None of them hate white people." chuckled Robinson.

Some believe the term implies that white lives or police lives don't matter. Many respond to "Black Lives Matter" with "All Lives Matter."

"I have to have conversations with my students about this, often," said Robinson. "I wear my Black Lives Matter shift to school. Weekly. I do it so we can have these conversations. I'm not doing it to promote a specific agenda I have outside of school, but to raise conversations so students can have these dialogs."

Disorganizer is inspired by some of the free-jazz players from back in the day, including Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Ornette Coleman. Some of the same players composing music in reaction to or inspired by events in the 1950's and 60's that Black Lives Matter and others are shining a light on today. Robinson said he has used some of that music in his classroom, but said that today kids react more favorably to politically charged hip-hop. But he credits Coleman for the melody on "It shoots, It Hits," one of the four songs on their recently released untitled EP.

"That title comes from the 'Zen and the art of Archery,' this really famous book in the Zen world. It's this concept that this guy was studying archery and couldn't get it right. And his teacher was trying to get him to the point where he didn't think he was shooting the arrow. I wanted to compose this song where it built in a way where the tension keeps increasing. And then like this guy holding the bow, all of a sudden, the arrow just shoots. The guy doesn't ever let the arrow go, it just shoots. And that's the right moment to end the song." said Robinson.


Tenth Festival of India September 17 on ISU Quad

McLean County India Association cordially invites everyone to the 10th Festival of India, Saturday, September 17 from noon to 6 p.m. on the Illinois State University Quad.

The annual event is an opportunity to showcase and share Indian culture and tradition with the community. It gives visitors the chance to learn about the history of India, and what makes the country unique.

Admission to the festival is free and open to the entire community.

The festival will present Indian States Parade, Children and Adult Cultural Program, Bollywood Band, Workshops on Yoga, Meditation, Pranayama, and BollyX (Bollywood Dance Fitness). The day will also offer Henna and Face painting, Crafts and Jewelry, Indian sports for children, Balloon art and a Bounce house.

A variety of North and South Indian, and street food will be offered.

The Festival of India was awarded a Mirza Arts and Culture Grant from Illinois Prairie Community Foundation in 2016 and Harmon Arts Grant Award from Town of Normal in 2012! MCIA thanks both organizations for their generosity.

Sponsors include MCIA, Illinois State University’s Office of the President, College of Fine Arts, and Indian Student Association.

Cultural Fest July 23 at ISU

The fun-filled Cultural Fest will bring music, dance, and more to the Brown Ballroom on Saturday, July 23.

The festival runs from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. with performances throughout the day, including the Adam Larson Quartet at 6:30 p.m. and the band Miles Ahead at 7:30 p.m.

Showcases during the festival will include a jump rope team, belly dancing, a Kendo sword demonstration, and a salsa demonstration. Find a full schedule at

This is the 37th year of the festival, designed to promote and foster appreciation of cultures through entertainment and educational activities. The day also provides a forum for community organizations to promote positive activities for civic, educational, and social purposes.

The festival is free and open to all ages.

Local Youth Create Visual, Musical Accompaniment to NIOTBN Efforts

Maria Nagle

The Pantagraph

When 16-year-old Oskar Urquizo saw his silhouette Friday on a retaining wall across Olive Street from the Bloomington Public Library and City Hall, he was taken aback.

"It's kind of scary because how accurate it looks like me," said Urquizo.

But more importantly for Urquizo is why his silhouette and those of six other McLean County Diversity Project students — known as "scholars" — are being painted on the wall.

The silhouettes anchor a 115-foot-long section of a mural the youths are creating to spotlight efforts by Not In Our Town of Bloomington-Normal to end hatred and bigotry in the communities.

Local artist Vince Bobrosky is guiding the students to allow their personal narrative to become visual art. Each scholar's silhouette is the centerpiece of a section the scholar will complete his or her own way.

"Me and my dad were racially profiled here in Bloomington, so that is one of the main reasons why I wanted to be part of the project," said Urquizo, who grew up not far from the wall.

"There are so many things you wouldn't know about a person unless you talked to them," added Urquizo. "This project is kind of showing the differences between all of the different people in our community."

Other silhouettes are of Oskar's sister Olivia, 12, Abhiru Raut, 13, and Ved Lombar, whose age was unavailable, all of Bloomington; brothers Richie Beck, 16, and Max Beck, 13, both of Colfax; and Molly Klessig, 13, of Downs.

Klessig said she wants to use the image of a Protea, a South African flower, in her portion of the mural.

"It's really kind of perfect,” said Klessig, who was among four scholars at work on the mural Friday. “It represents diversity."

After the students complete the mural over the summer a dedication ceremony will be announced.

To go along with the mural project, two other scholars — Kristin Koe, 18, and Ethan Clay, 13, both of Bloomington — formed a piano-cello combo to record "Vicissitudes," a piece featuring music they composed. David Rossi, owner of Bombsight Recording Studio, donated his time and and facility for the project.

"'Vicissitudes' actually means 'change,'" said Koe. "I think it is representative of the song itself, but also the mural and what Not In Our Town stands for."

Camille Taylor, a retired educator and a NIOT member, and Jeff Schwartz, founder of the the Diversity Project, also worked with the youths on the project.

It was the scholars' idea to do a mural, which they are calling "Let Our Light Shone," said Taylor.

The students met over four Fridays after school at the city's Creativity Center to put the project together. They also had help from the Downtown Bloomington Association, which also has a public art program.

Rays extending from the silhouettes contain each student's personal message about NIOT. The rays also shine on depictions of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, the Normal Theater and other iconic Bloomington-Normal buildings.

"When you think about the youth and the messages that they are going to have inside each of the silhouettes, their message is the light," said Taylor.

"They are basically filling our community with hope for the future," she added. "They are generating from their hearts and heads their hopes and dreams for this community and the world. There can't be anything better than that."

The musical recording will be uploaded along with pictures of the mural to NIOT's website,

The duo will perform the song at the Not In Our Town Festival from 6-9 p.m. June 28 on the downtown Bloomington square, said Taylor.

“I think it is super cool that when I have kids and they have their kids that they are going to be able to go to this wall and say, 'Hey, grandma painted that; mom painted that.' I want it to be a memory,” said Klessig.

Normal West Comunity Showcases Talent, Passion

Not In Our School and its anti-bullying/anti-discrimination efforts received a bow during Normal Community West High School H.Y.P.E.'s (Helping Youth Progress and Excel) recent Showcase Talent Show.

The May 13 program focused on inclusion and diversity, featuring dance, musical performances, spoken word, stand-up comedy, and overall talent from students expressing their creativity and passion. The BCAI-Breaking Chains & Advancing Increase School of Arts provided a special guest performance.

Proceeds from the show were directed towards the hosting school clubs H.Y.P.E. and Not In Our School. H.Y.P.E. will be using half of their proceeds for a Wildcat Fund dedicated to students helping other students with basic unmet needs.

Enjoying NCWHS's showcase were, from left, BCAI Director Angelique Racki, Normal West Not In Our School sponsor John Bierbaum, and NIOTBN's Phani Aytam, Camille Taylor, and Mary Aplington.

Enjoying NCWHS's showcase were, from left, BCAI Director Angelique Racki, Normal West Not In Our School sponsor John Bierbaum, and NIOTBN's Phani Aytam, Camille Taylor, and Mary Aplington.

Cultural Festival 36 Years of Family Fun

Cultural Festival will celebrate 36 years as a community summer tradition on July 25 at the Illinois State University Ballroom in the Bone Student Center. This year the festival theme is “The Happiest Place in Central Illinois”

The festival’s primary purpose is to promote and foster appreciation for a variety of cultures through entertainment and educational activities. It’s also a forum for community organizations to promote and conduct positive activities for civic, patriotic, educational, and social purposes. It is further intended to provide good, wholesome fun activities and entertainment in a family atmosphere.

The free festival is a wonderful time with a little bit of something for everyone. One festival highlight is the main stage entertainment, featuring nonstop performances and activities throughout the day.

Entertainment & Activities
The lineup of talent will be an exciting mix this year, ranging from the Sugar Creek Cloggers to the first Cultural Fest Lip Synch battle. The Children’s Village is another big hit with both parents and youngsters. The village is a special kid zone filled with fun activities and crafts, a big bounce house and face painting by the Zoo Lady. Also Sponge Bob Squarepants will make his first appearance at Cultural Fest, he will be roaming around the Children’s Village with some great giveaways for the kids.

Health & Wellness

Health and wellness will also be promoted during this year’s festival, the McLean County Health Dept. and the 100 Black Men of Central Illinois are partnering to provide a variety of fun and educational health and wellness focus activity and information including Health & Wellness Bingo at 2 p.m. (ISU Circus Room).

 For more information about Cultural Fest, booth registration, or Lip Synch contest entry visit our website:

Local Musician, Food Truck Open for Los Lonely Boys

                                                Marcos Mendez

                                                Marcos Mendez

Twin Citians will be offered a taste of local Latin food and music at Thursday's Los Lonely Boys concert at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal's Marcos Mendez, who also chairs the community advocacy group Conexiones Latinas, will open at 6:30 p.m. for the Texas band, which won a 2005 Grammy as best Pop Vocal Duo/Group. Mendez plans to perform blues, roots, rock, and some Mariachi tunes "mixed in for good measure."

Oogies Food on Wheels, a mobile restaurant, will serve Mexican-inspired foods from 5 to 7 p.m. outside the center. The food truck was launched last year by Kerry and Felipe Urquizo, with help from their three children, Oskar, Olivia, and Gus. Kerry works at Heartland Community College and Felipe is a cook at a local restaurant.