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North Lawndale event rebrands into hip-hop festival at the request of local teens

The FireFest Hip Hop Block Party slate will include breakdancing, 3-on-3 basketball, art and a performance from the LowDown Brass Band. 

The FireFest Hip Hop Block Party kicks off Saturday in front of North Lawndale’s Firehouse Community Arts Center.
Firehouse Community Arts Center

The youth in North Lawndale wanted a change when it came to an annual musical event that takes place in the neighborhood.

They wanted the event to be more inclusive to everyone in the community.

Hip Hop Revival — the event’s original name — had a religious connotation to it so it was rebranded into the “FireFest Hip Hop Block Party,” which is scheduled for Saturday at North Lawndale’s Firehouse Community Arts Center (the block party starts at noon). The block party also features breakdancing, 3-on-3 basketball, art, and a performance from the LowDown Brass Band, among others.

“Oftentimes, in a community like Lawndale where there’s 100 churches, people may think it’s a church thing and I don’t really want to come to church — a ‘revival’ thing,” said Firehouse Community Arts Center founder and CEO Pastor Phil Jackson. “We just shifted it because of the prompting of the young people, and to give it a different kind of edge to it. It doesn’t mean it won’t be the same kind of experience, our intent by Hip Hop Revival was to revive hip-hop back to the roots of peace and having fun. But then people didn’t actually get that initially due to the saturation of churches.”

Desiree Lopez, a block party volunteer and youth advisor at the community center, echoes Jackson’s sentiments, and describes the block party as a way to “activate” the community.

“We didn’t like the corners, but I feel like there’s not really any activity,” said Lopez. “People can go there for basketball but there’s really no life to it. So what we’re trying to do is bring life and activate the community so people feel like a community corner and not just a corner.”

Jackson aims to get the community involved also by adding resources such as COVID-19 vaccinations and unconventional engagement.

“The neighborhood has been experiencing this event for the last 14 years, so it’s one of those kinds of things where there’s always an anticipation,” said Jackson. “The narrative of North Lawndale has been for years one of the second or third most violent communities to live in. We constantly work with violence reduction, seeking change, and here’s a public event that been in force for 14 years.”

Chicago-based collective Lowdown Brass Band is scheduled to perform at the FireFest Hip Hop Block Party.
Chicago-based collective Lowdown Brass Band is scheduled to perform at the FireFest Hip Hop Block Party.
Anthony Norkus