Kamau “Maui” Jones lives to tell the stories of people who haven’t had a voice.
Maui, an African American and a resident of Forest Park, made his debut as the director of Fiddler on the Roof last year at an Oak Park elementary school.
“Our mission at Echo Theater is to tell the stories of and to shine a light on groups of people which haven’t had their stories told, and to use theater as a platform for social justice,” he said.
Maui also produces what might be loosely called concerts. “Two weeks after the close of Fiddler, we planned an event called Sing Unite, which we intended to be a “pop-up choir” concert,” he said.
But after the election, he and the event organizers changed what they had planned into a community sing-along of protest songs and songs of redemption.
Another sing out event is planned for 7 p.m., March 11 at The Outta Space, 6840 32nd St., Berwyn. This 60-minute event will celebrate women with 30 percent of the proceeds benefiting the Chicago nonprofit Traffic Free, which helps women who have gone through the sex trafficking industry.
The 36-year-old’s appreciation for the power of words and his passion for telling stories comes from his experiences growing up in Maywood and Oak Park. For the first part of his life, he said the narrative he heard over and over about his identity was that black males are “monster, thugs and criminals.”
“It’s really hard to be proud of yourself when all you hear is this different story. If you tell people that they’re terrible enough, eventually some of them are going to give in to that,” he said.
After his family fell on hard times, he was taken in by Muriel and Bill Henning of Oak Park and heard a different narrative about his identity. Without the stability of that family and the advantages afforded by Oak Park River Forest High School, he said he would probably be in jail right now.
That’s the story he wants to tell people like him who haven’t heard a positive story about their identity.
“Sadly, something that we are constantly fighting to change is that to be black in this country is to be disappointed. To use a football analogy, we’re in the game but we have to go 12 yards to get a first down,” he said.
A religious person, Maui talked about the role that faith in God plays in motivating him to do what he does without making a dime from his work. “You have to pair faith in God with action,” he said. “I think it’s important to not expect a happy ending. Don’t do it for the rewards, just be happy with the journey.”
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