In the days and weeks after the assassination of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton, the racial tumult between black and white students at Proviso East High School, where Hampton graduated just three years earlier in 1966, grew to such a fever pitch that administrators canceled classes until after Christmas.
This year, which marks the 50th anniversary of Hampton’s assassination, a multiracial coalition of students at Proviso East tapped their various talents to pay homage to the civil rights leader, who wasn’t much older than they are when he was murdered in an unlawful police raid on Dec. 4, 1969.
The students competed in three different categories: oratory, essay writing and art. Each category was sponsored by The Need to Know NFP, a local nonprofit dedicated to spreading awareness about African American history in Proviso Township. Wintrust Bank, which recently opened a new branch in Maywood, sponsored cash prizes for each of the winners.
“The students had to search and study former Black Panther Party Illinois Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton’s life and work with the NAACP, the Panther Party and the Rainbow Coalition,” said Proviso East English teacher Jennifer Moore, describing the oratory competition. She said the contest took place in October and was judged by members of the Maywood Toastmasters club.
“The competition was so steeped in excellence that when senior Marseilles Burton emerged as the winner, there was a one-point difference between her and the second- and third-place contestants,” Moore said, adding that Burton will receive a $500 cash prize. “Prior to the contest, students were given a Fred Hampton quote and asked to interpret the quote, within the context of Hampton’s life, and express their thoughts on what it will take to end racism in the United States in a three- to five-minute speech.”
“Do you fight hate with hate?” Burton asked the audience. “No, you fight hate with love. Hate confines and separates us while love liberates and unites us. Solidarity helps bind people together as one and that is what we need right now.”
Don’tae Buford won the essay contest. Rhonda Sherrod, the president of The Need to Know NFP, said that 17 students at the school submitted essays in October that were judged by Dr. Kenneth W. Warren, the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English at the University of Chicago.
Francis Vazquez, a senior at Proviso East, won the $250 first-place prize in the art competition for his piece, a graphic novel titled “Fred Hampton’s Legacy.” Senior Kaela Delgado won the $100 second-place prize for “Fred Hampton – Life and Legacy” while three students — juniors Vanessa Fulgencio, Kaylen Griffin and senior Michael Julian — won the third-place $50 prize. The students’ artwork was on display during a temporary exhibition at the high school that was open to the public last week.
“I did a lot of research on him and learned quite a few things,” Vazquez said. “I found out that his son grew up to be an activist like him. The police took the approach of trying to eliminate these revolutionaries altogether to try to silence everyone. You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.”