This year, as you tune in to the iconic Chicago Thanksgiving Parade, you’re in for a stellar treat. Making its vibrant appearance will be none other than the renowned Black Ensemble Theater (BET), a cornerstone of Chicago’s arts scene.

Founded in 1976 by the remarkable Jackie Taylor, a dynamo actress, producer, playwright, and more, BET isn’t your run-of-the-mill theater group. With a mission to eradicate racism through the magic of theater arts, this group has consistently offered the city enthralling original musicals and transformative educational outreach programs. From the days of its inception, Taylor’s dream was grand: to “create a theatre that would destroy racism.” Ambitious? Certainly. Impossible? Not for Jackie Taylor.

BET has garnered international acclaim, evolving from a small community arts group to an institution that’s undeniably monumental in its impact. Housed since 2011 in the diverse Uptown neighborhood, the theatre has continuously offered up some unparalleled productions like “The Jackie Wilson Story” and “The Other Cinderella.” If you’re nodding along, reminiscing about that sold-out run at the Apollo Theater in New York, you know exactly the kind of magic we’re talking about.

The theater’s commitment to fostering the arts doesn’t stop at their mainstage productions. They’ve launched an array of successful outreach programs targeting low-income, underserved communities, aiming to reinforce the value of education, empowerment, and artistic expression. The Black Playwrights Initiative (BPI), for instance, has since 2004 been a pivotal platform for aspiring writers to develop scripts that resonate with the heart and soul of Chicago and beyond.

Jackie Taylor, with her infectious energy, has worn many hats: writer, director, mentor, and more. Her roots, originating from the Cabrini-Green housing project, give her an authentic connection to Chicago’s soul. And while she’s dipped her toes in films like “Cooley High,” “Hoodlum,” and others, her heart’s true calling has always been the Chicago theater.

The BET, under Taylor’s leadership, has celebrated the lives of iconic Black performers, presenting their stories as captivating musicals. From “The Jackie Wilson Story” to the recent hit tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire, BET ensures that audiences are entertained, educated, and profoundly moved.

What’s even more delightful? Post-show, you might just catch Jackie Taylor in the lobby, greeting patrons with warmth, sharing stories, and, in her words, making the theater experience “just like going to church.” There’s no denying that her spirit is the heartbeat of BET. As Chris Jones (theater critic) aptly puts it, “There’s only one Jackie Taylor and she’s a real treasure in this city.”

So, here’s our call to action: Tune into the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade to witness the captivating acts of the Black Ensemble Theater, among others. And to immerse yourself further into the rich tapestry of BET’s history, stories, and upcoming events, make sure you head over to Dive deep, discover more, and be enchanted by the magic that is Black Ensemble Theater.