Black History Month web series sharing stories ‘worth telling’

SHARE Black History Month web series sharing stories ‘worth telling’

At 21 years old, Keven Stonewall, a Chicago Public Schools graduate, has already conducted lab research offering scientists worldwide a breakthrough in their fight to cure colon cancer.

“I decided that enough was enough when it came to cancer,” says the Wrightwood neighborhood native, a junior studying biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Tomeka Reid has played cello since fourth grade. But it was last year that the 38-year-old composer/bandleader/educator took the music world by storm; she was called “a new jazz power source” by The New York Times.

“I feel like it’s my responsibility to do what I’m doing,” says Reid, whose improvisational sound has reached high demand on stages national and international.

“When I’m performing, kids come up to me and they think it’s so awesome. Or some black moms will bring their little girls to my show, and be like … ‘She saw you play, and now she wants to play.’ That’s huge to me,” says the D.C. native who calls the Woodlawn neighborhood home.

Stonewall and Reid are among the four Chicagoans profiled in “Worth Telling” — one of many Black History Month Web series you’ll find with the goal to educate and celebrate. Like more and more such series, they highlight living pioneers as opposed to those in history books in an effort to bridge a growing generational divide.

Reid’s story of toil and accomplishment kicked off the series last week, found on Allstate’s YouTube, Instagram and Facebook channels (#WorthTelling). Besides she and Stonewall, visual artist Hebru Brantley and educator Tim King are well-known Chicagoans featured.

The New York Times has praised cellist Tomeka Reid, who is featured in a Black History Month Web series. | Provided

Raised by a single mother, Reid attended the University of Maryland on a music scholarship, was trained classically, then spent 15 years in Chicago’s jazz arena; playing with its top bands and musicians and working as orchestra director at the University of Chicago’s Lab Schools while completing her doctorate at the University of Illinois.

Last year, her breakthrough year, she appeared with other artists on two lauded records; played Symphony Center, Pritzker Pavilion, Chicago Cultural Center and the Chicago and Hyde Park jazz festivals, and for audiences from Poland to Vancouver; then released her first album, “Tomeka Reid Quartet,” to rave reviews.

The Chicago Tribune named her its Chicagoan of the Year in jazz. The New York Times called her “a melodic improviser with a natural, flowing sense of song and an experimenter who can create heat and grit with the texture of sound.”

Says Reid: “What makes jazz cool is that it’s a space where you can explore. I think it lends itself to how we operate in daily life — improvising. It’s not the easiest journey, but I think nothing that’s really important is.”

Her younger honoree, a graduate of CPS’ Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, concurs.

“I truly believe that with passion, anything is possible,” says Stonewall, whose parents are both CPS educators. “It’s become my passion to find a cure [for cancer].”

His love for science began after seeing cells under a microscope in fifth grade, he says, and his interest in cancer stemmed from watching a close friend’s family member die of colon cancer when he was in high school. In his last year of high school, he sought a lab internship at Rush University’s Department of Immunology/Microbiology & General Surgery, where colon cancer was studied.

Coming across research suggesting the potential of mitoxantrone — a chemotherapeutic agent — to kill cancer cells while promoting a healthy immune response, Stonewall set out to test it as a colon cancer vaccine. His findings? It was successful on younger adult mice, but not older ones. Scientists credit his finding for leading to a search for differentiated adult vaccines by age groups.

“Cancer took a big impact on my friend,” says Stonewall, who has won numerous awards for his research and is listed as lead author for the findings presented before the national Society for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer.

“I know for a fact that we will win this fight [against cancer],” says Stonewall, attending Wisconsin on the competitive, four-year, full-tuition, Posse Foundation scholarship. “It’s all about the mindset. It’s all about the determination and the passion that you have to win.”

You can follow the series at

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