I met Pierre Lockett at a 4th of July party at Mimi Pritzker’s home. Although 70% of our friendship was spent either long distance or with me ill, he visited often. Pierre essentially said, “You need something to do. Why don’t you help with my new organization.” He encouraged me to channel my health crisis. This is really his nature — push, motivate, and work with the underdog because that underdog was him. 

At the Joffrey Ballet, as director of community engagement, he saw that some of the children selected from his dance program were being phased out because there was no space available for them to train. Wanting to provide a way for kids who were not top of the dance class to be able to participate in an enrichment program through dance, he created a program to include them and give them the same opportunities as the fortunate few. Helping them develop life discipline skills through dance was his goal at the Joffrey. He did this simultaneously while setting up a separate program so that no child was left behind, calling it Forward Momentum Chicago (FMC). 

But this was not a surprise to anyone who knew him. As a professional dancer with Joffrey Ballet and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, he was a middle-class African-American kid from 1960s and ’70s Mobile, Alabama. Initially majoring in pharmacy at the University of Montevallo, he discovered dance was his true love, auditioned, and was accepted to a dance school with no dance experience.

His father, though concerned about what his career path would look like, especially for a man of color constantly in a dance studio dominated by European silhouettes, decided to fully support him anyway. He cared so much about his opinion that, had his father told him not to pursue dance, he would not have done it. Respect for parents ran deep in his veins and he understood the importance of wisdom from elders. This became his motivation for fulfilling his dream and paying it forward. This is why he can relate to the students’ insecurities and frustrations on days they feel like quitting.

Since 2015 FMC has seen a steady rise in services provided to the community’s children, providing one area in Englewood with an after-school program for more than 5,000 children annually over multiple communities in the Chicago Public School System. The mission is to inspire possibilities through dance education to schools and communities with limited arts access. While helping to change the trajectory of kids’ lives, he says he has learned from the children too. They perform citywide all the time (forwardmomentumchicago.org).

Pierre says he wants to be remembered as someone who changes lives.

EL Serumaga is a resident of River Forest and founder of ecovici.com.

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