by Cheryl Coons, Program Manager of the Temporary Lockdown Ensemble

“No one has forgotten you. There is reason to hope, and you guys give me hope.”

Those are the words that the legendary civil rights activist Congressman John Lewis spoke to our Temporary LockDown Ensemble when he visited the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center at the end of May. The 18 members of our ensemble came face to face with history, in a never-to-be-forgotten exchange of ideas, wisdom, and words of comfort with the Congressman.

The special visit began with the ensemble’s presentation of “Imagine More,” a collection of original stories and songs on the theme of heroes and mentors. Congressman Lewis shared how moved he was by the presentation, then answered individual questions from the participants. “What was it like to be on the Freedom Ride bus?” “How do you feel about juveniles being tried as adults?” “What is your advice on how we can get out of this system?” The Congressman spoke directly to each young person who asked a question, and gave thoughtful and compassionate answers.

In preparation for his visit, the JTDC Foundation provided copies of the Congressman’s graphic novels to the Nancy B. Jefferson School within the Detention Center. Reading and discussion of the books were woven into the English and Social Studies curriculum for the roughly 250 young people currently residing there, and the hallways of the school were decorated with special displays and titles like, “Congressman John Lewis: getting into good trouble since the 1960’s.”

The effect on members of our Temporary Lockdown Ensemble was electric. They have sent letters to the Congressman, who urged them to stay in touch. One resident wrote, “I wanna say thank you so much for coming to see us perform at the JTDC. I like how you answered our questions. I was so nervous to meet you, but thank you for coming and meeting me and shaking my hand.”

In addition to our ensemble, dignitaries such as Chief Judge Tim Evans, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, and States Attorney Kim Foxx were in attendance. Philippe Magloire, Deputy Executive Director of the Detention Center, described the whole experience as “one of the most significant events in the history of the JTDC.”