WASHINGTON PARK — One of the city's largest parks was turned into an oasis of peace for South Side youth Tuesday night as community leaders came together to offer free showings at Universoul Circus.
Tuesday night's circus, which was organized by Project Hood, brought 4,000 kids under the age of 15 to Washington Park. The goal? A safe, fun night for kids and an opportunity to combat perceptions of violence in South Side communities.
Pastor Corey Brooks, who spearheaded the circus, said it was an "effort to inspire optimism, reflect the positive atmosphere of Washington Park and relieve some tension in the South Side community."
Kids from Englewood, Woodlawn, Roseland and West Pullman, communities especially beset by violence, got free tickets to the show, which featured Zeke the pint-sized sidekick, Onionhead the Clown, several elephants, tigers, dancing poodles, magic acts and the show's MC, Carl Payne of the 90s television show "Martin."
Nearly 150 students from Johnson Elementary in Austin attended the circus, wearing t-shirts read "Keep Calm and Carry On."
None of the students had ever been to Universoul Circus and were clearly delighted at the opportunity, explained Talisa Martin, the school's assistant principal. "The kids understand" Brooks' push for non-violence in the community, she added.
"We want the community to know that you can come to the park and be safe," said Warren Thomas, national tour promoter for Universoul Circus. "We didn't want to focus on the violence — they know it exists."
And while the event went the extra mile not overburden attendees with talk of violence —instead choosing to put on an exciting show in spite of it — the city's struggle with violence wasn't lost in translation.
Brooks, Luz and Zeke then led a chant of "No Chiraq" before a troupe of performers wowed the crowd with high-flying acrobatics. Elephant rides, tightrope walking and a dance competition, among others, filled the remainder of the night.
"You can see all the smiles and the good atmosphere here ... we can be safe tonight," he said. "I don't just want to see more of this, I want to create more of it — grab the bull by the horns and make it happen."
According to Thomas, the circus performs about 14 times per week for 10 months in different cities nationwide. They partnered with Project Hood, the Chicago Police Department, the Black McDonald's Operators Association and local alderman for the special performances Tuesday.
"Parents, we are are losing our kids to senseless violence," Carl Payne told attendees while summing up the night, "So it's important we love and appreciate our kids every day."