On the record with Shaylee Hester

DeKALB – Shaylee Hester and her DeKalb Chamber of Commerce Leadership Academy 2020 graduates are hosting a new free community event Sept. 18 in the name of belonging.

The inaugural DeKalb County Culture Celebration will kick off from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Hopkins Park in DeKalb, near the Dee Palmer Band Shell.

The free festival is open to all in the community, anyone who wants to learn more about their neighbors and embrace the different cultures that make DeKalb unique, said Hester, who works as marketing and development coordinator for Opportunity House.

A live music lineup at the bandshell will feature the Klong Yao Thai Music Ensemble from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Mira Silva from 12:45 p.m. to 1 p.m., and Arcomusical presents “um, dois, três!” from 2 to 2:45 p.m. Northern Illinois University’s Banda group will perform from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m., and the Northern Black Choir will play out the rest of the day from 4:45 to 5:30 p.m.

DJ Toxic with Behind the Beats Productions will also play music from around the world throughout the day.

Jerk Fuzion will offer Jamaican cuisine from 1 to 6 p.m., and a variety of cultural booths will be on hand to help participants learn more, including: the Northern Illinois University Latino Resource Center, DeKalb Public Library, NIU Bangladeshi Students, NIU Muslim Student Association, Belonging DeKalb, NIU Center for Black Studies and NIU Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Shaw Media editor Kelsey Rettke spoke to Hester about the event.

Kelsey Rettke: Tell me how an idea for a local festival celebrating different cultures in DeKalb came about?

Shaylee Hester: I am actually half Black and half Asian, and I grew up in DeKalb. I am a townie and growing up with that background I real understood the importance of feeling a sense of belonging in the community you live in. That’s where my passion for this project started.

Rettke: What’s your hope for people who come to the festival? What do you want them to get out of it?

Hester: I really want to form an event that allows the community to come together regardless of background, ethnicity or where you came from. It’s a chance to get us to know each other more. Because I do feel like your culture is a very big part of who you are. Like I said to just really better understand those who live within our community, break down walls through greater understanding.

Rettke: How did your experience going through the chamber’s 2020 Leadership Academy help inform how you took this project on?

Hester: Leadership Academy has taught me that I have the power to create change. Leadership Academy has allowed me to build many great connections and I have had the opportunity to learn from them and they inspire me to be a leader like them.

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke is the editor of the Daily Chronicle, part of Shaw Media and DeKalb County's only daily newspaper devoted to local news, crime and courts, government, business, sports and community coverage. Kelsey also covers breaking news for Shaw Media Local News Network.