The legacy of Black Ensemble Theater founder Jackie Taylor

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As ABC7 Eyewitness News celebrates Black History Month, we take a look at the legacy of Jackie Taylor, founder of the Black Ensemble Theater. (WLS)

Jackie Taylor, founder of the Black Ensemble Theater, is a Chicago legend, but she is still most recognized for just two words: "Cooley High."

Taylor's role in the classic movie will always bring her fond memories.

"You know, 'Cooley High' was so much fun. I was a young girl, but I wasn't really a teenager. I was an adult with a daughter and it was a time in my life, it was my first film," she said.

She grew up on Chicago's North Side in Cabrini Green, and always knew her passion was acting.

"You know, I've always been theatrical. I've always made up stories," Taylor said. "I'm an actress, I'll always be an actress. When the opportunity arises and when I have time I'll do another film, but right now the focus is on theater and making my theater sustainable to last beyond Jackie Taylor."

Taylor founded the Black Ensemble Theater in 1976 with one mission in mind.

"I had experienced such racism in the film industry and in Chicago. Living in my North Side, my enclave of Cabrini Green, we couldn't go past Wells Street and Division and North Avenue, and if you did you were called names even though you were a little kid. So we experienced racism all the time," Taylor recalled. "I said hell no, I want to eradicate racism, wipe it out totally! I'm going to start an organization to do it and that was the Black Ensemble Theater."

Over the last 42 years Taylor has been an educator in Chicago Public Schools, an actress, singer, director and a playwright, with more than 100 plays and musical biographies. But it's still her first play that means the most.

"Well of course my first one is going to stick out every time, and that's 'The Other Cinderella.' It's such a wonderful message of acceptance and understanding. So out of all of the plays that I've ever written, that one was my baby," she said.

When asked what she'd like history to say about her legacy, she considered it carefully.

"Isn't that, that's the question. What will the history books say, hmmm," Taylor said. "What would they say... They will say she came, she saw, she conquered."

The Black Ensemble has new show that opens up later in February called "Hail, Hail Chuck: A Tribute to Chuck Berry."

Click here for more information on "Hail, Hail Chuck: A Tribute to Chuck Berry."

WATCH: Jackie Taylor discusses why the theater is in Uptown and what it will take for Chicago to become one
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Black Ensemble Theater Founder, Jackie Taylor discusses why the theater is in Uptown and what it will take for Chicago to become one.

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societytheaterblack history monthChicagoUptownNear North Side
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