Closing out the first year of the "Chicago Voices of a People's History" arts and education initiative, a live performance of "The People Speak" will take place at TEAM Englewood High School May 31. Bringing to life the extraordinary history of ordinary people who made the United States what it is today, the evening will feature students engaged in "people's history" curriculum alongside noted Chicago poets and activists, for dramatic readings and musical performances of the words and songs of rebels from America’s past.
Earlier this year, Damon, along with hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco headlined a benefit Chicago performance of "The People Speak, Live!," carving out time in the day to meet with TEAM Englewood students in the process of planning the May 31st performance. As student Jerome Wade said of the visit, "This project is really important to me because of my community. I mostly try to better my community with my poetry and music. To see people come here and make a big deal of it, motivates me to keep doing it.”
An executive producer of The People Speak
film, Damon talked about the project's educational character with Chicago Teachers Union
, saying "At [my] age now, I can read Frederick Douglass and be really excited about it," he said "But to have Morgan Freeman reading a great Frederick Douglass speech, it's a way for kids to connect more viscerally to American history."
"The People Speak, Englewood" will feature the words of abolitionist Sojourner Truth and Chicago Black Panther Party Captain Fred Hampton; songs by Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye; original writing from TEAM Englewood poets including the poem "Stuff Black Kids Say to Racists," and a speech from the late historian Howard Zinn, author of the bestselling A People’s History of the United States, whose work forms the basis of the entire project.
The May 31st performance is produced by the national non-profit Voices of a People’s History, in conjunction with TEAM Englewood High School and Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival. Since 2003, Voices of a People's History has produced more than 100 performances across the country with casts that have included local students, parents, civic leaders, and actors alongside celebrated artists such as Black Thought of The Roots, Josh Brolin, Diane Lane, Danny Glover, Sandra Oh, Steve Earle, Robert Redford, Mark Ruffalo, Patti Smith, Kerry Washington, and Alfre Woodard—on stages ranging from small classrooms to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Sundance Film Festival.
Alongside Louder Than a Bomb, Voices of a People's History initiated the yearlong Chicago Voices pilot project in September 2011, bringing free educational material, teacher workshops, and public arts programming to classrooms and communities across the city. Since the Chicago Voices pilot project launched, 1,000 Chicago educators have received the free Chicago Voices Educators Toolkit, suitable for middle and high school and introductory college classes. The toolkit includes The People Speak DVD, a preloaded USB flash drive with standards-aligned lesson plans, teaching guides, primary source material featuring Chicago history, as well as several books by Howard Zinn.