BY TRICIA DESPRES | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
Abdul Brimah was born and raised in Ghana. He learned to speak six languages and lived a life that his ancestors would be proud of. In1971, he moved to Chicago, got a job and made new friends, but little did people know the true story of the life he left behind – until now.
For the past six years, Brimah and a dedicated team from Chicago’s Africa International House, where he alsoisa board member, have headed to Chicago’s Navy Pier to participate in the “Neighborhoods of the World” event, created to teach people of all ethnicities about the very personal cultural stories of so many who call Chicago home.
NAVY PIER’S 6TH ANNUAL NEIGHBORHOODS OF THE WORLD When: Noon – 4 p.m. Sundays, through April 17 Where: Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand, Chicago Tickets: Free Info: Navypier.com
“Chicago is such a diverse city,” Brimah begins. “Being able to watch visitors stop and get a taste of our culture is a wonderful thing to see. For a handful of weeks at this time of the year, Navy Pier is about much more than just a Ferris Wheel.”
Brimah will be on hand with various members of Chicago’s African-American community on February 28 for “Celebrate Africa,” which will bring together everything from business owners selling wares such as jewelry and clothing to African dancers performing for passersby at the free event.
“For the second year in a row, we will be doing a food demonstration in which we teach people about an African dish called Jollofrice that people can learn how to make and try for themselves,” explains Brimah. “Once they give it a try, many people find that they really love it and end up making it for their own families, no matter what culture they might be from.”
It’s all part of Navy Pier’s sixth annual“Neighborhoods of the World,” a free nine-week series of cultural programming that will include weekly tributes to countriessuch as China, Lithuania, Mexico, Poland and more. Drawing from the sheer diversity of Chicago’s many neighborhoods and held within Navy Pier’s Crystal Gardens, the event will feature various examples of everything from cuisine to costumes to crafts.
“This event has really turned into a favorite at Navy Pier,” explains Jen Kramer, Director of Entertainment and Events at Navy Pier. “It’s a wonderful way to celebrate Chicago’s rich and ethnic communities, along with highlighting each communities’ best and brightest.”
And instead of being a static exhibit, Navy Pier visitors are invited to delve into the experiences held within each weekly cultural program. “Visitors will be able to do everything from sample food to participate in art projects to watch a wide array of dancing,” Kramer explains of the Sunday-only events. “It’s the perfect way to experience a vast cultural institution in the course of an afternoon. And for Navy Pier, it’s the perfect way to engage people at a cultural level.”
This year’s celebration also will include the unveiling of a mural entitled “A Cultural Conversation.” Spanning 100 feet long and 16 feet high, the mural is hand-painted by local artist Pete Nawara, and brings together images of the world-wide guests, partners and employees that play a part in the popularity of Navy Pier each year.
“In one piece, we can see all of the people who make up this amazing community,” Kramer says of the mural, which is located in the southwest corner of the new food experience at the event. “It’s a amazing thing to see.”
Fora man who was born and raised 5,675 miles from Chicago, the mural and this event as a whole holds much more of a special meaning. For Brimah, it’s downright breathtaking.
“In years past, we have featured dancers from the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center and now they are on the mural that people can see on the wall,” Brimah says. “Seeing my culture represented on that art piece makes me feel really good that I am helping to share the story of my ancestors with others.”
Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.
Below is the schedule for “Neighborhoods of the World” (which kicked off Feb. 21 with a celebration of Chinese New Year):
February 28: Celebrate Africa; Presented in partnership with Africa International House USA
March 6: Celebrate Italy; Presented in partnership with the Italian Cultural Institute and the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans
March 13: Celebrate Lithuanian Independence; Presented in partnership with the Consulate General of Lithuania
March 20: Philippine Celebration; Presented in partnership with the Consulate General of the Philippines and the Philippine American Cultural Foundation
March 27: Greek Celebration; Presented in partnership with the Consulate General of Greece
April 3: Celebrate Mexico; Presented in partnership with the Consulate General of Mexico and the Mexico Tourism Board
April 10: Celebrate Poland; Presented in partnership with the Polish American Chamber of Commerce
April 17: Celebrate Amazing India; Presented in partnership with the Consulate General of India and the Indo-American Heritage Museum