BRONZEVILLE — Iysha Jones was a child when she met actor Harry Lennix, then a substitute music teacher at Perkins Bass Elementary School in Englewood.
Lennix was trying to break into Hollywood at the time, enjoying a bit of fame after appearing in “The Five Heartbeats.”
“I remember seeing him in class and thinking, ‘Wow, he was in a movie and he still made time to come back here to the South Side. That’s gotta mean something special,'” Jones said.
This Saturday, decades after being awestruck by Lennix, Jones — now the principal of that elementary school — went to the lobby of Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theater with 25 of her students to see Lennix. They took photos with the star and then watched the Alvin Ailey dancers take the stage — a trip Lennix had funded for the kids.
The past month has been a whirlwind for Jones and her students. The school staff had wanted the kids to see the dancers, so they’d created what they thought would be a modest crowdfunding campaign. Thousands of dollars in donations poured in from all over, and Lennix offered to fully fund the trip so the funds could be spent on school resources.
Doolittle has received more than $25,000, and people were still showing up with money as recently as last week, when a donor visit with a $100 check, Jones said.
The kids had their visit this weekend, appearing on TV news, watching the show and then getting a shutout from the dancers during a Q&A.
For some of the kids, it was their first trip Downtown and their first time seeing a professional dance company perform live. That was the point of it all, Jones said.
A day before Saturday’s matinee, students were treated to a virtual clinic with the dancers arranged by former Alvin Ailey dancer Lisa Johnson. The dancers taught them choreography and technique.
Eighth-grader Layiah Crump, who fell in love with dance when she was 3 years old, said the meeting and the performance were everything.
“Today is pretty important for me because I just love to dance. It helps me express myself for the most part. It’s just a form of art that I really love,” said Crump, who is eyeing a performance art high school after graduation.
Crump’s classmate, Kamarion Coleman, a budding TikTok dancer, said she “will always remember this experience.”
“We learned a lot of stuff when we met them” on Zoom, Coleman said.
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: