For nearly 15 years, West Side native Briahna Gatlin has worked behind the scenes as a publicist representing some of Chicago’s brightest musical talents such as rapper and singer-songwriter Tink, rapper Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan, and collaborations between brands such as Zenni Eyewear and the Chicago Bulls through her public relations agency Swank Public Relations (PR). She also lists music festivals and conferences such as South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, the A3C Festival and Conference in Atlanta, Georgia and the homegrown AAHH! Fest among her clientele. 

This weekend, Gatlin is stepping into the spotlight for a passion project she’s curating: the Purple Block Party, with Dipset rapper Jim Jones as the headliner. It’s a community and cultural festival that she hopes is reminiscent of the block parties she experienced growing up in L-Town off North Leamington and West End avenues.

Graphic courtesy of Swank PR
Graphic courtesy of Swank PR

“The whole idea is just to create that environment where people can feel comfortable, feel at home, and just celebrate,” Gatlin said. “It’s the beginning of the school year, too. Most block parties happened around that time, too. So it’s like taking that entire block party concept and creating that experience. I miss being the kid at the block party and having fun with dance contests.” 

The Purple Block Party will take place on Sunday, Aug. 28, from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. at Garfield Park Music Circle Center, a.k.a. “The Circle,” off West Monroe Street and South Central Park Avenue. The block party is family-friendly and will include health and wellness activities such as a sound bath, meditation, cardio and yoga. 

Additionally, there will be a dedicated Kids Blue Zone where children can have their own experiences with custom snow cones, a candy bar, improv and creative theater. Adults ages 21 and up will have the Red Zone, featuring snow cones with spirits, a cannabis-infused candy bar, and more. Some elements of the block party also include double dutch, live music, food and spades.

Tickets start at $55 for adults, and tickets for children start at $25. Children under the age of five can get in for free. In addition to Harlem rapper Jim Jones, many Chicago artists will take the stage at the block party: including the West Side’s own Pivot Gang, Vic Lloyd, Baha Bank$, Nia Kay and more. Power 92.3 media personality Bree Specific will host and Chicago house music legend Ron Carroll will be on the ones and twos at the Purple Block Party his DJ set starts at 11:15 a.m. Here is the link to purchase tickets. 

“So there’ll be some art installations there. We’re doing some live paintings as well. We’re partnering with Paint the City to do some art projects around the whole entire event. Of course, we’re going to have a bar, we got food, we got an artists lounge, all those different things that encompass a block party,” Gatlin said. 

The Purple Block Party is nine years in the making, Gatlin said. She had the idea to create a festival while serving as a board member of rapper and fellow West Side native Lupe Fiasco’s foundation, the Lupe Fiasco Foundation, now known as MURAL Chicago

Gatlin’s mother, Carol Johnson, encouraged her to follow through and host the festival independently. Johnson is the founder of the 1865 Fest, which celebrates the Juneteenth holiday. Seeing her mother host and organize the Juneteenth event for the last two years inspired Gatlin. So in 2021, Gatlin applied for a festival permit and got the green light to proceed. 

“If my mama can do this, why can’t I?” Gatlin said. “Because I was, like, if she has the boldness to step out and just do something like this, then I can do this.” 

At publishing time, sponsors for the Purple Block Party include the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, a group of residents, faith-based institutions, nonprofits and other stakeholders that identify, promote and implement strategies to increase health and wellness in Garfield Park; and the Black Culture Collective, a group providing opportunities through events  for people to celebrate, commemorate and collaborate to make new contributions to Black culture. 

Some of the food vendors for the Purple Block Party include Mister Rogers’ Kitchen, Synergy Foods, Dixie Pura Kitchen, and more. 

Gatlin hopes the Purple Block Party caters to people and communities who feel left out when large-scale music and cultural festivals are hosted in their public parks and neighborhoods but aren’t always inclusive. 

Musical festivals such as Riot Fest have kept community members from accessing Douglass Park for days at a time during the summer months. This year, West Siders petitioned to move Riot Fest, Lyrical Lemonade and Heatwave out of Douglass Park. 

Community members want their local alderpeople to stop letting private companies behind the music festivals fence off the park, which displaces youth and adult sports leagues. More than 1,400 people have signed the petition.

Gatlin hopes to continue hosting the Purple Block Party and similar events in communities like Garfield Park in the future. 

“I want to specifically do it in these communities because we don’t have this. I think the other thing is that the ones that we do know in our communities aren’t for us, and that’s me being honest,” Gatlin explained. 

“So why can’t we get into this space and have the same type of events, and they see Black people doing it. They see people that look like them,” Gatlin added. “We’re not in those spaces, and we need to be, especially if you’re gonna come into the neighborhood and make money off of us.”

Gatlin wants to represent her side of Chicago, letting attendees know how much the West Side shapes Chicago’s music culture. 

“If you look at recent West Side artists like Stunt Taylor and Sicko Mobb, all of their songs are about partying. The West Side is the fun part of Chicago. We’re Mississippi. We sit on our porch. We know our neighbors,” Gatlin said. “We still have all those elements that make up what a community is, and we always love to have fun and we have a very strong community and family structure.”

For more information about the Purple Block Party, visit thepbparty.com.

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.