Students, artists come to Haiti’s aid

By WilliamPrentiss

Natural disasters expose life at its cruelest, yet they also bring out the best in many people such as University of Illinois at Chicago student Rashida KhanBey, founder of the dance company Infeccionado Productions, who organized a benefit concert and open mic to raise money for the victims of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12.

KhanBey began planning the event the day after the earthquake. Her goal is to raise $100,000 by the end of February and she said she will host several more events to reach that number. One hundred percent of the proceeds raised from the Jan. 22 benefit went to World Water Relief-Haiti. It featured several artists and UIC students including KrisDeLaRash, Yaw, Khari Lumeul and Ugly. Faculty member Sharon Gopfert also performed at the show with her Capoeira dance troop.

KhanBey founded Infeccionado Productions two years ago after studying in Brazil. She said she wanted to bring back the feeling of peace and harmony she witnessed there, so she started a Brazilian samba dance class when she returned to UIC.  That class would eventually become Infeccionado, which drew its name from her mentor, Anthony Hollins. Hollins passed away in 2007 after devoting much of his life to raising awareness and working with those infected with HIV/AIDS.

“He was explaining to a group of ministers that when someone you know is sick with HIV and AIDS, someone who you love and care about, you become infected as well,” KhanBey said. “No one understood the meaning of being infected and no one wanted to take on the issue because of the stigma of being involved with such issues.”

While Infeccionado Productions is a dance company, KhanBey said its main concern is creating art that inspires action, whether it is poetry, dance, plays or films.

“Any medium we can use to get the messages that need to be out there, we will use them,” KhanBey said.

University of Illinois at Chicago Theater Operations Coordinator Neal McCollam said KhanBey approached the school asking if they could use the main stage at 1044 W. Harris St.  The school agreed and went a step further by involving UIC’s department of Public Affairs to publicize the Haitian-aid event and connect other student organizations and departments for the benefit.

“It’s great to see the students come together and work together as one in a single event,” McCollam said.

The school has made a strong donation drive for aid organizations in Haiti including American Red Cross and World Vision. Those organizations are listed In a mass e-mail from the school, which was sent on the day of the disaster. The e-mail also praises efforts from the student community saying, “We are proud of the outreach and concern we have seen so far from our UIC community.”

Musician and UIC student Yaw Agyeman also performed at the benefit. He knew KhanBey before, but didn’t know about her production company until last week. He said he would definitely want to work with her again in the future.

Agyman said many or most of his friends are from Haiti and his parents are from Ghana.

Haiti’s original inhabitants, the Arawaks, were conquered by the Spanish after Christopher Columbus explored the island on Dec. 6, 1492. The French later established their own colony, Saint Dominque, which became a leading sugar cane producer built from the hard labor of Africans bought on the slave trade. It remained that way until the slave population revolted in 1804 and became the independent country known today as Haiti.

Agyman said in any situation where African people or people directly descending from Africa are in need or face disaster, his heart and wallet are open to them.

“I have a deep connection to Africa, but with the devastation that’s going on, I can’t even see how anybody does not have the desire to reach out to that country,” Agyman said.

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