Smile Politely

Five performers of color to celebrate during Women’s History month

It seems that we in the U.S. have a tendency to lift up one voice at a time. June is Pride Month; November is Movember; February is Black History Month; and this month is Women’s History Month. But there’s no reason why we can’t bring each of these celebrations with us into the next month, and the next, and the next. In the spirit of uplifting POC community members all year round, let’s take a look at five women of color who are making huge impressions on the performing arts scene in Champaign-Urbana in 2021.

Ja’Naea Modest/DJ Silkee

Photo of DJ Silkee. Photo courtesy of Ja’Naea Modest.

Photo courtesy of Ja’Naea Modest

While only having been in business for a few years, DJ Silkee is already known as one of the most versatile and engaging DJs in the area. She has experience playing in bars, clubs, festivals, corporate and school settings, and private events. She has opened for several artists including Tink, Mystikal, and DJ Self; and even appeared as a guest on the Steve Harvey Show after going viral for something you just have to watch to enjoy at its fullest. Her humorous and approachable personality resonates with community members who are just looking for a place to celebrate, connect with friends, and jam out. Follow her on Facebook to stay in the loop on her upcoming projects.

Kahlilah Lane

Photo of Kahlilah Lane side view. Photo courtesy of Kahiliah Lane.

Photo courtesy of Kahlilah Lane 

Known to most as ‘Li’, Kahlilah Lane is truly a connoisseur of movement in myriad forms. Lane’s background lies in hip hop, theatre, and Indian dance, but is manifested in a variety of other disciplines such as pole fitness, boxing, and stunt work. She also understands movement at a clinical level with a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from the University of Illinois. She is also an actress and most recently appeared in Men on Boats’and Together/Apart at the Station Theatre. Stay up to date on Lane’s work at her website.

Sophia Byrd

Head shot of musical artist Sophia Byrd. Photo from the Lyric Theatre at Illinois.

Photo from the Lyric Theatre at Illinois website

Sophia Byrd has already accomplished as a senior in college what many musicians never reach in a lifetime: two Grammy nominations.

In 2018, Byrd participated in an oratorio by the name of Place that explored the gentrification of Brooklyn neighborhoods, and premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival. She is a lyric theatre major at the University of Illinois with a special interest in contemporary opera. Watch the 2021 Grammy Awards this upcoming Sunday, March 14th to support our local nominee.

Ashanti Files

Ashanti Files became widely known in local circles after she was named this year’s Poet Laureate by the City of Urbana earlier this year. She has since begun working with the Mayor’s Office and Urbana Arts & Culture Program to promote and facilitate the work of other writers in the community. Her work often focuses on racial justice, Black Womanhood, and other important social issues such as mental health. She is the founder and leader of Writers of Oya. Her most recent work has been shown in Together/Apart at the Station Theater, the Sounds Like Community’series at the Independent Media Center, and the 2021 Black Herstory Slam at the Urbana Free Library, just to name a few. Follow her journey as Urbana’s Poet Laureate here as she continues to serve as a role model and source of empowerment in CU.

Latrelle Bright

Photo courtesy of Latrelle Bright

Director and educator Latrelle Bright has had a consistently powerful influence on the CU theatre scene since arriving here in 2009. She currently serves on the Celebration Company of the Station Theatre Board of Directors and works as a full-time faculty member for the Theatre Studies department at Illinois Theatre. She has often explored the world of social justice theatre with projects such as For Colored Girls Who Weather Storm and The Water Project. She is also directing a piece from Piano Lesson set to debut with Illinois Theatre’s Great Scenes from American Kitchen Sink Theatre in mid-April.

Perhaps her most notable attribute, however, is not one you could find on her resume. Bright is known by her students as a patient, measured, attentive, and explorative teacher whose passion for artistry knows no bounds. Wherever her work takes her, she will always be known in Champaign-Urbana as a model of creativity and leadership in the theatre world. Learn more about Latrelle Bright’s work on her website.

Top photo from Urbana Arts & Culture website.

Related Articles