One year ago, Jean Paul Coffy and Yakini Ajanaku, facing the bleakness of quarantine in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, hauled out instruments and amplification to the front steps of their Kenwood home daycare, La Grande Famille.
For half an hour in the afternoon each day, they played loud, joyous music from around the world, as North Kenwood neighbors joined in from their steps, beating back the tedium, anxiety and despair in a singular affirmation of life. The couple played world beats from their neighbors' home countries; on Sundays, they infused the rhythms with gospel music, a balm for those cut off from church.
As spring turned into summer and the shelter-in-place ended, they stopped having "Lake Park Fired Up" every day. Neighbors contracted the coronavirus; one has died from it. George Floyd was killed, and unrest broke out in Chicago.
The block set up a pumpkin patch this fall. Every house put up Christmas displays in December. In January, the small community that had formed celebrated Martin Luther King Day and the inauguration in freezing temperatures, distanced from each other in the streets. Now, they are organizing a block club.
Today, though the couple's daycare is still running virtually as Music Magic Time, Coffy and Ajanaku continue celebrating life. They have both been vaccinated. Spring has begun again in Chicago. And Saturday afternoon for two hours — unless it rains, in which case they will do it on Sunday — Lake Park Fired Up will run again.
"The most important thing for us to be doing is one thing: the celebration of life," Coffy said. "We know so many people who did not make it — close friends, relatives, on the block and beyond — the sadness is so deep in all of us, and when it started, that's actually what prompted this."
For Ajanaku, Lake Park Fired Up was an answer to the question of what she and her husband could do as individuals to uplift the community. "One neighbor said, 'COVID separated people, but what it did for us was bring us together,'" she remembered.
Lake Park Fired Up will run from 2-4 p.m., beginning with a period of honoring a remembering those lost in the pandemic.
"Then we're going to go into a celebration of life," Ajanaku said. Everyone on the block is putting a word on their gate about what Lake Park Fired Up meant to them, "resilience" or "unity" or "neighborly." Everyone is invited; instructions are to wear vibrant colors and to bring drums, pots, pans, skillets, sticks, etc. to play along.
"Tomorrow is a celebration of life," Coffy said. "We're still here. And life is still going on. And we still need to feel good about ourselves. That's exactly what tomorrow is, a life celebration."