Guests stand in front of a DreamWeek poster at the Coates Chapel. Photo by Scott Ball.
This year's DreamWeek, themed "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness," kicks off Thursday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

This article has been updated.

Following a significant news year that saw the reawakening of the Black Lives Matter movement, this year’s pandemic-adjusted DreamWeek will focus on telling the generational stories from local communities of color as well as defining “Blackness.”

San Antonio’s ninth annual DreamWeek will kick off Thursday, Jan. 14, with a small live opening ceremony with remarks from Mayor Ron Nirenberg and a recital by San Antonio Poet Laureate Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson, and will continue through Jan. 24. This year’s theme will be “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” with a focus on celebrating civil and civic engagements, said DreamVoice President Shokare Nakpodia.

“Coming off a year in which many lives were lost in a global pandemic, in which the struggles and challenges of Black life in America were brought to focus through protest, and in a time in which many believe that government action infringes on their individual liberty, we as a community seek more than ever a pathway for the pursuit of happiness for all,” Nakpodia said.

The 10-day summit will consist of roughly 110 indoor, outdoor, and virtual events and will include exhibits, panel discussions, and individual presentations at six locations with COVID-19 precautions in place, said DreamWeek Program Director Lillian Guindy.

Guindy said she is particularly excited about this year’s DreamHour Speaker Series, which will feature 25 to 30 individuals from the community who will share their experiences as descendants of important, underrecognized African Americans starting at 4:30 p.m. from Jan. 16 to Jan. 20. This event will be virtual via Zoom, with a link to be posted on the DreamWeek website in the upcoming days.

“They will be sharing their experience as descendants of either African Americans, or Native Americans, and they basically are going to share their entire family legacy being in the U.S.,” Guindy said. 

Another key event will be a panel called “Black is…” Nakpodia said. This panel will aim to help people understand that Black has become a blanket term, when within “Black” exist thousands of languages, cultures, and personas, Nakpodia said.

“We tend to define what [Black] is, and that [came out of] the protests in the summer and spring. … We just wanted to talk about what Blackness is, and we reserved five people who identify as Black who are going to be part of that panel.”

Each of these individuals has a unique identity as well, Nakpodia explained, hailing from all over the world.

“It’s kind of extraordinary when people are saying ‘Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter,’ globally, and now we ask ourselves, ‘What is Black?’” he said.

The “Black is…” panel will be prerecorded and available on the DreamWeek website, Guindy said. A full schedule of DreamWeek events can be found here.

Nakpodia said the goal for this year’s DreamWeek changed from making the summit a prelude to next year’s 10th DreamWeek to making sure it happened at all, with the pandemic. While many major events were canceled or postponed this past year, that didn’t make sense for DreamWeek, he said.

DreamWeek typically consists of over 200 panels and events, but this year’s was scaled back to around 100, he said. Still, Nakpodia said one benefit is that it has forced their team to become more tech-savvy. 

“Although a lot of [the events] are going to be livestreamed, we now have the ability to also document them, and people can go back to the website and relive those events,” Nakpodia said. “So we think there’s something that we want to do going forward.”

Nakpodia added he and his staff are already preparing and getting ready for a big DreamWeek next year.

“[We want] to make sure that the 10th year [is] a major step up and try and get as many outside or out-of-community resources, individuals, and corporations involved for the 10th year anniversary as possible,” he said.

Nakpodia’s inspiration for creating DreamWeek was the life and work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., with the city’s MLK Jr. Day march normally being a major focus of the summit. This year’s march has been canceled and replaced with a virtual event, much to the dismay of the mayor, who in September had hoped the health crisis would ease, and others. 

The MLK Jr. Day virtual event will be held at 10 a.m. Jan. 18. Typically, San Antonio’s march is among the largest in the nation, with an estimated 300,000 people participating last year.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...