Laughing in anticipation about the party that’s about to go down when he joins his homeboy Common at this weekend’s AAHH! Fest, comedian Deon Cole loses the jokes when he speaks to their shared mission.
Bringing awareness to Chicago’s violence is no laughing matter.
“I have to say it: It’s a shame. I think we’re lacking guidance, you know, and we’re lacking role models and people to step into the community,” says Cole, who will emcee the festival’s all-star concert at Union Park (1501 W. Randolph) on Sunday (a role fellow comedian Dave Chappelle filled in 2014).
“We’re lacking as well those who can help us figure out who we are as a people and gain an understanding that this is a crucial moment. Not only are we killing each other [with black on black crime], but other people are killing us, too. If we can get people to understand, ‘Let’s stop killing each other because other people are killing us,’ maybe some type of unity will come. That’s what I’ll be playing up on Sunday.”
The fest, conceived by rapper/actor Common as a means of providing a bit of hope and inspiration to the city’s beleaguered young people, returns after taking a year off, this year expanding to two days of events.
“I’m excited to bring this expression of love back to Chicago,” says Common. “Music brings us together and allows us to celebrate all that is great about our city, the people, and culture.”
New this year is Saturday’s Community Day (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), featuring performances at the West Loop park by Chicago-area talent (open to all ages). Featured artists will include Tink and Taylor Bennett; myriad community groups offering family resources will also be on-site. Local acts from the pool of Saturday’s Chicago-area talent will audition for the chance to perform at Sunday’s event (open to ages 18 or older) on a mainstage that features headliners Common, Ice Cube, J. Cole, The Roots, Bilal, Vic Mensa and Jeremih. Sunday’s daylong concert showcase also boasts The Internet, Sir The Baptist and a live DJ battle.
“Community Day brings together over 20 local community organizations to create activities centered around art, health and wellness, and college and career pathways. It culminates with a youth showcase,” says Leslie Pappas, executive director of the Common Ground Foundation, one of several local organizations sponsoring the festival. “We are a festival with purpose. We want to give back to the youth in our community, highlight their talents and celebrate their accomplishments, rather than focusing on the negative.”
Community Day is sponsored by Allstate, Google, the Black McDonald’s Operators Association, iHeart Media, Coors Light, Aramark, Starbuck’s and DO312, with monies raised supporting year-round programming by both Common Ground and Donda’s House, rapper/activist Che Rhymefest’s teen arts program.
“Donda’s House is proud to partner with the Common Ground Foundation to support AAHH! FEST 2016 and give back to the city we love. While it’s easy to point out the negativity that has affected Chicago, we sometimes forget to celebrate the amazing people that make this place a world-class city,” says Donnie Smith, executive director of Donda’s House, which also curated the Community Day youth showcase.
Cole grew up in both Englewood and Roseland, now among the city’s most crime-challenged neighborhoods. He currently plays the hilarious co-worker Charlie on ABC’s hit comedy “Black-ish.” He also has a lead role in TBS’s “Angie Tribeca,” was recently in the movie “Barbershop 3” (filmed in Chicago) and appears as a guest correspondent on the late-night gabfest “Conan.”
“I get home pretty often, not as much as I would like, especially while filming ‘Blackish,’ maybe a weekend every other month. So I’m looking forward to this,” Cole says.
About the festival, Cole added: “Man, we’re just gonna have fun. I wanna bring unity. I want comfort and unity. This will be one moment in Chicago ain’t nobody gotta look over their shoulders. I want all the youth to know that there is another day, and whatever you’re going through is temporary. We’re gonna have some jokes and laughs, but I’m going to keep it moving and let the music speak. That’s really what we’re here for.”
Tickets, $15.90-$50 for Saturday (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and $65-$250 for Sunday (1 p.m. to 11 p.m.), are available at www.aahhfest.com.