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The Power of the Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly on a flower; Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Monarch Butterfly, the Illinois State insect, is a powerful and important pollinator, whose habitat has been threatened.

The generations of Monarchs travel up from Mexico, through the South and Midwest, up to Nova Scotia Canada and back again – a distance of over 3000 miles! When reproducing, they lay their eggs exclusively on the Milkweed plant.

Chemicals such as glyphosate, a weed killer used to control plant growth, are destroying Milkweed. This has contributed to the precipitous decline in the Monarch population. No Milkweed - no Monarchs.

Migration & Me Program Coordinator, Rev. Debra Williams, wears butterfly wings for the celebration!
Migration & Me Program Coordinator, Rev. Debra Williams, wears butterfly wings for the celebration!

On September 22nd, the first day of fall, people of all ages gathered in the beautiful Garfield Park Fieldhouse on the West Side of Chicago to celebrate the Power of the Monarch Butterfly.

Sean Shaffer talks with kids at the festival.
Sean Shaffer talks with kids at the festival.

Amidst festive butterfly themed decorations, attendees were presented with the opportunity to get information and engage in various activities. At fourteen different stations, attendees received information about the power and plight of this magnificent, delicate, yet strong, creature.

From scientists to neighborhood Master Gardeners, information was available about the life cycle of the Monarch, as well as how we need them as a pollinator, and how they need us to help them in their present circumstance of decline.

Some took advantage of the opportunity to make their own bracelets and necklaces in the style of caterpillars. Many helped make milkweed plant “seed bombs” with Elvia Rodriguez-Ochoa of Openlands, and others took seeds home to plant to help increase the Monarch population.

Kids make "seed bombs" with Openlands.
Kids make "seed bombs" with Openlands.

Groups represented at the festival included the following:

ABC Chicago Youth Center, Sidney Epstein Youth Center; 4H Members from the south side of Chicago; Trinity UCC; Greater Institutional A.M.E. Church Daycare Center; J.W. James A.M.E Church; Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church; New Deliverance Presbyterian Church; Greater St. Paul A.M.E. Church; New Mission Temple C.O.G.I.C; Jacob Beidler Elementary School; The University Of Illinois, Chicago; and Rauner College Prep.

The Mobile Art Cart was popular!
The Mobile Art Cart was popular!

Several children sporting canvas bags with butterfly ornamentation were excited to try on the bright beautiful wings of the Monarch costume and mimic flying. The bags were printed with a design which read “Dismantling Border Imperialism,” and decorated by the children at artist William Estrada’s Mobile Art Cart.

The impact of the festival was enhanced and made possible by several partners which included: Openlands, The Garfield Park Advisory Council, Master Gardeners Susan Rashad of St. Benedict the African and Venita McDonald of Trinity United Church of Christ, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, the Chicago Park District, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Dr. Teresa Horton of Northwestern University, and Wilderness Inquiry. Wilderness Inquiry was present with their Canoemobile which provided the opportunity to get folks out on the water.

Attendees canoed with Wilderness Inquiry
Attendees canoed with Wilderness Inquiry.

Guest speaker, Judge Maryam Ahmad, Chief, Juvenile Justice Bureau, shared her own heartfelt migration story, detailing how experiences connected to ethnicity, language and identity have moved her throughout her life.

Judge Ahmad was presented with gifts that included, a Black Butterfly Award, A Faith in Place T-Shirt, and milkweed seeds. The unique Black Butterfly award alludes to Judge Ahmad’s connection to the song, “Black Butterfly,” by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil as sung by Deniece Williams.

Judge Maryam Ahmad receives gifts after her migration story.

The moment was captured in a photo with Keith Kelley of the Garfield Park Advisory Council; Rev. Brian Sauder, Faith in Place Executive Director; Judge Ahmad; Outreach Coordinator/Festival Organizer, Debra Williams, and Veronica Kyle, Faith in Place Outreach Director.

On the Thursday before the Festival, Lori Harris of Salt Creek Butterfly Farm donated a chrysalis to Faith in Place’s Migration and Me program from which a beautiful male Monarch, later named Grace, emerged.

Sean Shaffer from the North Park Village Nature Center provided two female Monarchs to further enhance the festival experience.

Sean Shaffer describes the differences between male & female butterflies
Sean Shaffer shows how male & female butterflies differ.

At the end of the evening all three Monarch Butterflies, Grace, Faith, and Hope, were tagged and released to continue their migration journey.

Tagging the butterflies helps other scientists to identify them for further study.

Just as we humans need shelter, food, and habitat as we move around and journey through life, so do all the other living creatures of the Earth. The Monarch doesn’t have a choice as to whether or not they will have the resources to survive, but we do. The Power of the Monarch Festival was just one step towards highlighting the power and needs of these little creatures.

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