Together We are Monumental

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By Gabrielle Lyon, Executive Director

Read Time 4 minutes
May 29, 2024

There are a lot of forces at work telling us to disconnect from one another and to be dismissive of each other.  They seem louder day by day. They can make us feel like we're at sea and there's no anchor, lighthouse, landmark, or monument to help us find our way.

Illinois Humanities counters these forces with what we know to be true: that we each carry within us the monuments we need. Our monuments are our stories: the experiences and people who shaped us, and the imagination that ignites us.

Most of the time, the monuments we carry are invisible. Which is why it was so important to present our 2024 Public Humanities Awards to people who remind us to look at the stories within us and around us and make our monuments visible.

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    Public Humanities Award recipients Mark and Nadine York. (All photos by GlitterGuts.)

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    In the center, Public Humanities Award recipient Sherry Williams.

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    Left, Beacon Award recipient Jane Saks and Public Humanities Award recipient Dr. Ada Cheng.

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    2019 Public Humanities Award recipient Cheryl Lynn Bruce performs an original piece in honor of Jane Saks.

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    Illinois Humanities Executive Director Gabrielle Lyon pauses for a photo op.

On May 22, 2024 more than 350 people gathered from around the state at the Public Humanities Awards to honor and celebrate Ada Cheng, Sherry Williams, Mark and Nadine York, and our Beacon Awardee Jane Saks.

We design our most important, most public fundraiser of the year with a purpose: it is not just an awards ceremony, it is a profound opportunity to gather and bear witness to the power of the humanities activated by Illinoisians from around the state.

Together we witnessed educator and storyteller Dr. Ada Cheng perform a poem that illuminated her life’s commitment to the importance of telling undertold stories...

...Let the absent be present
Let the silenced be known
Let the unspoken be revealed
Let the invisible be witnessed...

Her call to us to make our monuments visible continues to ring in my ears.

Delight filled the room as Mark and Nadine York, civic leaders and retired school teachers, took us on a guided tour of their home town of Equality, Illinois, population 600. The Yorks held class from the podium, captivating us as they shared the history and heart of Equality: the people who rally around each person's humanity to help the town thrive through endeavors ranging from the 276 Art Exchange sells fine arts and heritage crafts made by local artisans and items unique to Southern Illinois, to a mobile library to food and non-food pantries.

“Everything we accomplish is because of the volunteers,” shared Mark. “It's all about networking, that is our art.” A monument to community.

Through honoree Sherry Williams, founder of the Bronzeville/Black Chicagoan Historical Society, we witnessed the legacy of generations of Black Chicagoans whose stories she brings to light, preserving them so that they, too, can be witnessed. By sharing her family shrine she DID WHAT? I DIDN"T SEE THIS PART

"It serves all of us by preserving the African-American history of Chicago,” Sherry said. In her hands, these histories are transformed into exhibitions, tours, and literature, so that we can see the power of those that came before us. A monument to connection.

Jane Saks, godmother to Project& and Monuments2Movements, said it powerfully: "The arts and humanities deliver on the democratic promise of equitable participation… and that is why the arts and humanities are essential and often threatened." Throughout Illinois and the world, Jane Saks illuminates ways for people to manifest monuments to social movements.

We've been receiving dozens of messages of appreciation about the luncheon. Long-time Illinois Humanities supporter Donna Schatt shared,

"... I was shown a side of Illinois Humanities that highlighted in a clear and profound way that you are there for all people, all over the state, who represent many different, yet wonderful and important facets of the Humanities--that we are all a part of the same whole--a message that cannot be repeated enough."

We ARE all a part of the same whole.

And in this moment we have to create and protect spaces for new experiences and challenging conversations. They won't happen otherwise. That's why Illinois Humanities is so committed to investing in the vitality of the public humanities to bring us together. Putting the humanities at the center makes our state more just, creative, and connected. To each of our supporters who help us to do this work every day, all year long, thank you. And, if you're able to make a contribution today, we hope you will. We will put it to good work.

We encourage you to watch a performance or participate in a workshop by Ada Cheng, take a tour with the Bronzeville Historical Society, explore Gallatin County, Equality Illinois and shop at 276 Art Exchange, learn more about Jane Saks's work with Monuments2Movements and Project &.

As always, keep an eye on our events calendar. The summer will be full of opportunities to be part of the public humanities around the state.

And remember: each of us carries monuments within us. Our monuments help us find our way to one another. Together, we are monumental.

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