Aurora crowns inaugural Mr. and Miss Black teen pageant winners

Eight Black teens from Aurora made history Saturday as contestants in the city's inaugural Mr. and Miss Black Aurora Pageant.

Peter Eta, a senior at Waubonsie Valley High School, and Charitee Bouchee-Cocroft, a junior at East Aurora High School, were crowned Mr. and Miss Black Aurora.

Eta is a poet and president of the National Society of Black Engineers Junior local chapter. Bouchee-Cocroft plays the saxophone in the high school band and is a member of the National Honor Society. Both are mentors committed to being positive role models for their peers and the next generation of young leaders.

The event was hosted by the city's African American Heritage Advisory Board at the Copley Theatre. The pageant aims to provide a platform for Black students to express their talents, culture and heritage.

Students represented several of Aurora's high schools while competing in three categories — talent, fashion and public speaking — after a choreographed opening dance routine by all the contestants.

The top scorers took home the crowns and a cash prize, and they will represent Aurora's Black community as Mr. and Miss Black Aurora for the year, including by raising the Juneteenth flag at a city ceremony June 19.

Aurora's Black history

Aurora Alderman Sherman Jenkins will give a presentation “African Americans in Aurora: 1921-1955,” from 7 to 8 p.m. today at Santori Aurora Public Library, 101 S. River St.

Jenkins will discuss how the city's Black community lived during the decades leading up to the national civil rights movement.

The public is invited. Admission and parking are free.

Women's voices

Marcia Hermansen, director of the Islamic World Studies program at Loyola University in Chicago, will give a presentation on “The Voices of Women in Islamic Thought: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” Feb 20 at this year's al-Ghazali Lecture at Elmhurst University.

Hermansen teaches courses in Islamic studies and the academic study of religion as a professor in Loyola's Department of Theology. She has written numerous academic books and articles on classical and contemporary Islamic thought, Sufism, women and gender in Islam, Muslims in South Asia and Muslims in America.

The al-Ghazali Lecture Series is part of the university's Religious Literacy Project. It honors notable Muslim scholar and theologian Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, who was born in Iran in 1058 and spent much of his life as a teacher in Baghdad. His prolific writings on religion, philosophy and Sufism have influenced scholars from a variety of faith traditions.

The lecture begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Frick Center, Founders Lounge, 190 Prospect Ave., Elmhurst. Admission is free but reservations are encouraged at

Underground Railroad

In honor of this year's Black History Month theme, “Black Resistance,” the North Suburban YMCA is highlighting Chicago's role in the Underground Railroad.

The program includes visual displays throughout the YMCA's facility at 2705 Techny Road in Northbrook.

“Black Resistance” explores how African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, including slavery and racial violence such as lynching, pogroms, and police killings.

The Underground Railroad refers to the network enslaved Black Americans used to obtain freedom in the 30 years before the Civil War. The railroad became a catalyst for propaganda as abolitionists and slave owners used tales of escape to gain popular support for their causes.

“Black history is American history. We not only celebrate Black astronauts, scientists, inventors, artists, and activists of the past, we also celebrate the rise of Black business, arts and literature that will influence the future,” said Megan Vazquez, North Suburban YMCA senior wellness director.

Uplifting Black Illinoisans

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's annual Black History Month campaign aims to honor and uplift the contributions of Black business owners and leaders.

The agency has launched a webpage to support Black-owned businesses, including a social media tool kit, information on events and other resources. Visit

This includes a new partnership with urban historian Shermann Thomas designed to highlight the many contributions of Black Illinoisans and their history. The 2023 theme, “Roots and Achievement: Celebrating Black Businesses in Illinois,” pays tribute to the rich history of excellence and entrepreneurship among the state's 141,000 Black-owned businesses, which contribute more than $1.8 billion annually to Illinois' economy.

“We are proud to celebrate their achievements while providing support and services to help them grow and thrive,” said Matthew Simpson, DCEO's African American business development manager.

Cultural awareness

Hoffman Estates' Cultural Awareness Commission will host a special celebration in honor of Black History Month at 2 p.m. Feb. 25, at the Hoffman Estates Village Hall, 1900 Hassell Road.

It will feature entertainment, light refreshments and a performance by Jamaican singer-songwriter Char.

Char, whose name means “singer, song, delight,” has a dynamic voice and style ranging from gospel, pop, R&B, jazz to classical.

The event is free, but reservations are required. Register online at

Black history trivia

The College of Lake County will host an African-American Trivia Bowl from noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 23, at its Southlake Campus Atrium.

Participants can learn more about Black History Month and test their knowledge to compete for prizes.

The college also will partner with the Jesus Name Apostolic Church for its 38th annual Salute to Gospel Music Program at 7 p.m. Feb. 25 at the church, 208 Lake St. in Waukegan.

It will feature performances from Grammy Award nominee Jekalyn Carr and CLC's Gospel Choir.

Tickets are on sale now at

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These eight Black teens from Aurora made history Saturday as contestants in the city's inaugural Mr. and Miss Black Aurora Pageant. Courtesy of City of Aurora
Marcia Hermansen
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