Red Bull Music Festival has returned for its 2019 Chicago edition, bringing in Windy City legends like Lupe Fiasco to the stage along with rising hometown stars like Valee to stages. One of the events sure to bring in tons of fans and support during the November Chicago culture celebrations is John Walt Day, a two-day concert celebrating the memory of Pivot Gang member John Walt.

Walt was killed in February of 2017, but his legacy has lived on through his Pivot Gang family, Saba, MfnMElo, Frsh Waters, and more, along with his mother, Nachelle Pugh, who leads the John Walt Foundation. The John Walt Foundation’s mission is to empower and enable youth across artistic platforms. The foundation has changed the lives of many participants in its short existence, evident at DinnerWithJohn, a fundraiser that serves as a celebration for the progress of those involved and provides resources for the nonprofit.

After this year’s dinner, Pugh spoke with The Source about how the organization has evolved, the upcoming John Walt Day celebration in Chicago and more.

The Source: A couple of weeks back, you, Pivot Gang and a host of guests celebrated the upcoming foundation participants. What is the lasting memory from that night?

Nachelle Pugh: One of the last memories I have is when we played the recap video from the first DinnerWithJohn Awards ceremony. All of the recipients that participated that evening had never seen that recording. They never had the opportunity to see that and just know from where they started to where they ended up during their year as far as their artistic goals and how much they accomplish that.

How impactful is it for you to have an event honoring your son and giving back to the city, grow at this rate?

I think it’s extremely eventful and impactful for our community. My son was a community builder and just everything that has to do with building our community, our youth, the whole pivot gang is a group of community builders. They actually had been doing things like that the whole time. I think they would just have fun and just networking and learning how to be who they have become as a unit.

So what makes the process of this year’s event different from the past when you have like a partner like Red Bull with you?

Well, in the past we didn’t have a sponsorship. The John Walt Day celebrations, we’ve been doing it all on our own. Red Bull took notice of how we’ve been impacting the youth in the city of Chicago and wanted to help out with John Walt Day. The assistance and their desire to take part are amazing to us.

Participants in this foundation’s program often pick up skills from their partner and mentor, but have you learned anything from observing the interactions and hearing the stories?

Just talking to and working with them over the past year, a lot of them didn’t feel like they were being recognized in balancing normal day to day activities with school, work, different things that they did that was outside of the arts community. But being a part of the foundation, they feel a sense of home and working with somebody that believed in them and believe they are what they can accomplish with their arts. That’s what they always express to me.

So now that it’s a two-day event, how far would you like to see this event expand?

I wanted to expand as large as possible. One day we might be in the United Center or Soldier Field or something, but what we want to just keep on building. Like I said earlier, our boys are community builders, which in turn made me one. I did not set out to do that. That was not a goal in my life. But right now I feel like I’m just being someone that’s able to use what was given to me. I may have lost my son but he has his legacy, which is to continue to build for our community. There’s so much violence in the city of Chicago that takes away from the youth, take away from parents such as myself that had a young person that’s thriving in our community. We are able to give back to other people and make a way for youth to not only have resources to do something positive with their lives but to be that positive element in their life.

There will be many moments that stand out throughout the upcoming celebration. Are there any thoughts, feelings or concepts you want attendees to go home with?

Yes, that the John Walt Day celebration as a whole is just a big community event. It gives life to each one of his brothers when each one of them gets up on stage. They take a little piece of John with them on that stage. I hope it gives other youth an inspiration to continue on with whatever they’re doing.

You mention that every member of Pivot Gang will have a piece of John on that stage. Even though this is a celebration, I can understand that this could be a trying time for you. How do you operate with the connect this has to you?

My son, I feel like he’s a legend and then I feel like his legacy – it doesn’t give me a sense of relief because I’m still fighting. Being his voice in court because we still have not finished with the hearings and the trial. But when we are doing these events it gives me a sense of peace. It gives me a sense that even though he is physically not here with us anymore, that he stands on that stage with his brothers each year during that time. And he’s a family guy, you know, he has a sense of family, the bond that he had with his brothers. It can’t be broken. It wasn’t broken when he was here and it hasn’t been broken since he’s no longer on the Earth.

Saba & Pivot Gang Present: John Walt Day
Friday, November 29th & Saturday, November 30th
LINE-UP: Saba, Joseph Chilliams, Frsh Waters, MFn Mello and more
VENUE: Metro (3730 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60613)
TIME: 8:00 PM

Learn more about the John Walt Foundation here.