Voices of Pride to Present New Dramas

New Route Theatre is excited to present its second annual Voices of Pride new play festival. This festival, featuring LGBTQ-themed works, is produced in partnership with the Prairie Pride Coalition.

These staged readings will run from May 4 through May 7:

May 4 at 7:30 p.m. - A PEFECT FIT by Lia Romeo and directed by Kat Gregory. Featuring Connie Blick, Heather Ann-Marie Morrow, Genevieve Pilon, Carolyn Stucky, and Chloe Szot.

May 5, 7:30 p.m. - POSTCOITAL VARIATIONS by Alex Dremman and directed by Joe McDonnell. Featuring - Paige Brantley, Jennifer Cirillo, Mathew Frederick, Lauren Hickle, Elante Richardson, and Wesley Tilford.

May 6 will include readings of all four plays throughout the day:

A PERFECT FIT - 11 a.m.

HIS/HERS ESCAPADES - 1 p.m., by Christoper Van derArk and directed by Don Shandrow. Featuring Kyle Berry, Ramsey Hendricks, Rachel Hettrick, Timothy Jefferson, Everson Pierce, and Austin Travis.

A BEAUTIFUL BUILDING - 6 p.m., by Peter Macklin directed by George Jackson. Featuring Everson Pierce and Joe McDonnell.

POSTCOITAL VARIATIONS - 9 p.m.

May 7 will conclude the festival with A BEAUTIFUL BUILDING at 2 p.m. and HIS/HERS ESCAPADES at 6 p.m.

This year’s festival will be held at the Chateau Bloomington Hotel and Conference center in the Jesse Smart Auditorium.

Ticket prices will be $10 per reading or $5 for students and seniors and $25 for festival experience ticket for all four readings.

To reserve tickets e-mail us at new.route.theatre@gmail.com. Tickets will also be available at the Garlic Press, 108 West North St. in Uptown Normal, starting on April 25, or may be purchased at the door based on availability.

A cash bar will be available before and between readings with appetizers available at a modest price. There will be dinner breaks on Friday and Saturday evening.

A reduced room rate is available for those attending from out of town. For more information on room rates contact the Chateau by calling 309-662-2020 and mentioning Voices of Pride, New Route Theatre, or Prairie Pride.

BPD Embracing Aspects of 'Community Policing'

Jon Norton

WGLT

The advocacy group Black Lives Matter BloNo has been asking the Bloomington Police Department to adopt "Community Policing" rather than what it characterizes as a "Broken Windows" approach to policing. Broken Windows theory argues that focusing on small crimes such as vandalism and toll-jumping helps create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, which leads to less serious crimes being committed.
 

Community policing has a number of core tenants, including assigning officers to specific geographic locations over long periods of time, even decades. It also involves requiring officers to walk or bike their beats as much as possible, and to emphasize problem solving over reactionary policing. Bloomington police chief Brendan Heffner said his department employs all of those tenants, albeit in a limited fashion. For example, he said officers have assigned patrol areas every time they are out.

"We have officers that bid (per their shifts) their patrol areas, so they are actuallyin certain areas for long periods of time, so that helps," said Heffner. "What I think the public doesn't realize is, say, you're an officer on the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift, or the day shift and you change shifts, your patrol area might change as well."

So those officers may essentially patrol a neighborhood for up to a year, which proponents of community policing might say is short of the desired "years" or even "decades" where an officer can really get to know an area and its residents. As for foot patrols, Heffner said his offers do get out on both foot and bike, and said he would like to increase the time they spend out of their cars in the coming months. He also said officers on foot increases their response time when dispatched to other crimes.

"We encourage officers to get out of their cars when they can to talk and engage with people" said Heffner. "Sometimes people are a little taken back because they've only seen or heard things and never had an officer say hello. And we have some officers who are a little shy about that because of the atmosphere, they don't know how to be treated."

Heffner says he tells his officers to be consistent, in that consistency, professionalism, and being genuine reflects on the officer, and those overtures comes back to the officer. 

One of the criticisms of community policing nationwide is that it gets embraced at the upper levels of law enforcement agencies, but the concept itself, such as how how to talk with or approach citizens while on foot patrol doesn't get down to the street level officer. A YouTube video from two years ago filmed by a man walking in west Bloomington has made its rounds on social media. It shows the man and and another interacting with Bloomington police officer who had stopped his car after noticing the two walking. The man filming immediately asked if they were being detained or under arrest as the officer walked up to them. They explained in a direct manner that they don't answer questions from police. The officer explained he wanted to talk with them and get to know them under the guise of community policing. The conversation quickly devolved into the pedestrian clearly stating he didn't trust police, and the officer continuing to talk with the pedestrian in a belittling manor.  Heffner said he has been aware of the video for awhile.

"I actually told that officer 'do not stop doing what you were trying to do.' That obviously was not the best contact, but that is not how everyone feels. If you want to know if our officers try to get out there and do that ... they do," said Heffner.

Acknowledging that the conversation was adversarial from both parties, Heffner said his officers have to act in a more professional manor.

"One thing people have to realize is that we are human too. But we try to be above that. Can we do better? Yes we can, and we strive to do that, and we learn from it. And I hope people understand no matter what you think of the video, it was one video. Because we have a LOT of positive contacts with the public," said Heffner.

Click "Listen" below to hear Heffner talk more about how the Bloomington Police Department approached community policing, including his reaction to data released last year showing blacks stopped and frisked more often than whites during the first six months of 2016, despite finding less drugs or illegal weapons on blacks than whites.

Matejka Second Consecutive NIOTBN Leader to Receive Peace Prize

The Pantagraph

Mike Matejka and wife Kari Sandhaas. Photo by Archana Shekara

Mike Matejka and wife Kari Sandhaas. Photo by Archana Shekara

A labor official involved in anti-discrimination efforts and other community activities has been named this year's recipient of Illinois State University's Grabill-Homan Peace Prize.

Mike Matejka of Normal, governmental affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council, was recognized for his work with Not in Our Town: Bloomington-Normal.

The 1974 ISU graduate also is a member of the Normal Planning Commission and former member of the Bloomington City Council. He serves on the boards or committees of the Autism Friendly Community, Easterseals, McLean County Museum of History, the Illinois Labor History Society, the Children's Christmas Party for Unemployed Families and Secretary of State Jesse White's “Life Goes On” organ donation effort.

He also is a member of the Humanitarian and Social Aspects Committee of the town of Normal's 2040 Planning Commission. He was a founding member of the Central Illinois Food Bank.

Noha Shawki, director of Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies at ISU, said Matejka “has impressed me with his empathy, his compassion, his leadership and his commitment to peacemaking and to community service.”

The award was presented Monday at ISU's Alumni Center. First given in 2011, the annual prize goes to a member of the Bloomington-Normal community who has demonstrated commitment to community peace and justice activities.

Previous recipients have been former Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal Faith and Outreach Committee Chair Kelley Becker, Mary Campbell, Tina Sipula, Rick Heiser, Barbara Stuart, and Deborah Halperin.

The peace prize is named in honor of history professors Joseph Grabill and Gerlof Homan, co-founders of the Peace Studies Program at ISU.

Disorganizer United for Black Lives Matter Fundraiser

Jon Norton

WGLT

"Whenever I call it a jazz band I do air quotes. 'Jazz.'" said Disorganizer mandolin player Stefen Robinson, gesturing with the index and middle fingers of both hands over his head.

Why?

"Because I don't even know what that means anymore," continued Robinson. "Are you talking about Miles Davis? Are you talking about Wayne Shorter? Are you talking about Kneebody?

We're all influenced by jazz, and the other three dudes, (bass player) Ryan Nolan, (drummer) Michael Carlson and (saxophonist) Travis Thacker are influenced by jazz," said Robinson.

Robinson was self-deprecating while describing the group's serendipitous origins. He and Thacker connected at Carl's Pro Band Center in Bloomington and eventually brought in Nolan to play bass during jam sessions.

"It got to the point where very quickly I said 'I'm a terrible drummer ... do you know a drummer?'" laughed Robinson. "That's how I met Michael.  They called in Michael. At first it was two drummers, I was playing drums, Michael's playing drums, and then it just became kind of stupid. So I said 'I play electric mandolin.' I'm actually way better at that than drums."

That self-awareness extends to the rest of the group. It's a trait that has them playing an April 15 fundraiser at The Bistro in Bloomington for Black Lives Matter BloNo. Robinson, who teaches social studies, sociology, and history at Normal Community High School, says the group is intentionally anti-racist.

"Not just, as I describe in my sociology class as passively anti-racist, but actively anti-racist in any context we can," said Robinson. "to try work toward a just society without the racial stratification that we see."

Black Lives Matter. The name itself repels many, especially, but not exclusively, non-blacks.  When I mentioned to Robinson that a local blogger recently questioned "don't white people know that Black Lives Matter hates white people?," for once he paused. "I am intimately involved with the people working with Black Lives Matter. None of them hate white people." chuckled Robinson.

Some believe the term implies that white lives or police lives don't matter. Many respond to "Black Lives Matter" with "All Lives Matter."

"I have to have conversations with my students about this, often," said Robinson. "I wear my Black Lives Matter shift to school. Weekly. I do it so we can have these conversations. I'm not doing it to promote a specific agenda I have outside of school, but to raise conversations so students can have these dialogs."

Disorganizer is inspired by some of the free-jazz players from back in the day, including Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Ornette Coleman. Some of the same players composing music in reaction to or inspired by events in the 1950's and 60's that Black Lives Matter and others are shining a light on today. Robinson said he has used some of that music in his classroom, but said that today kids react more favorably to politically charged hip-hop. But he credits Coleman for the melody on "It shoots, It Hits," one of the four songs on their recently released untitled EP.

"That title comes from the 'Zen and the art of Archery,' this really famous book in the Zen world. It's this concept that this guy was studying archery and couldn't get it right. And his teacher was trying to get him to the point where he didn't think he was shooting the arrow. I wanted to compose this song where it built in a way where the tension keeps increasing. And then like this guy holding the bow, all of a sudden, the arrow just shoots. The guy doesn't ever let the arrow go, it just shoots. And that's the right moment to end the song." said Robinson.

 

Passover Celebrates Freedom

Howard Packowitz

WJBC

Moses Montefiore Temple, Bloomington

Moses Montefiore Temple, Bloomington

Jews around the world are celebrating freedom as the eight-day Passover holiday began at sundown (Monday), and one local man is remembering the lessons his late father taught him about the Israelites escape from Egyptian bondage.

McLean County Board member and retired professor George Gordon shares the story taught to him by his father, Rabbi Ted Gordon, who died in 2005 at age 96.

Gordon says the Torah, which is the Jewish law, is not clear how long Israelites were in bondage. It could be anywhere from 30 to 400 years.

Gordon’s father suggested the Torah might be intentionally vague.

“Dad speculated that was done by someone whose identity we’ll never know to emphasize the point even harder that slavery was not something we enjoyed or that anybody should enjoy and that freedom is a major point, but a point made more significantly by the addition of the number 400,” George Gordon said.

Gordon says each Passover, his father reminded him that no one really knows how long Israelites were in bondage.

“Emphasizing 30 years and 400 years makes the point more poignantly and more convincingly that the Israelites were in slavery for such a long time,” Gordon said. “That’s why we value freedom so much.”

Rabbi Ted Gordon was a reform rabbi in Philadelphia. In his 90’s, he led Bloomington’s Moses Montefiore Temple for two years.

Hindu Festival of Colors Lights Up Fairgrounds Saturday

Dan Craft

The Pantagraph

If a rainbow suddenly turned to powder and poured down in Technicolor torrents over the McLean County fairgrounds this Saturday, you'd get something close to the second annual Festival of Colors.

The event, a local version of Holi, the ancient Hindu religious festival, is brought to us in living color ... literally.

"For the first event last year, we had a little over 250 pounds of colored powder," notes event co-organizer Vinod Nambiar. 

It was completely gone before the event was scheduled to end ... "up in the air, on the floor, everywhere."

Color, you see, is the whole point of Holi, a spring-based festival celebrated mostly India and Nepal in February or March.

As part of the celebratory rituals, colored powders are flung every which way ... dabbed over faces, smeared on clothes, tossed into the air, thrown underfoot and generally left permeating every pore and molecule.

The Twin Cities' version of Holi debuted in late March of last year inside Bloomington's Interstate Center.

It was the brainchild of fellow State Farm Insurance employees Nambiar and Leyons Philip, both members of B-N's Indian fusion band, Exit 167 (named after the I-55 exit ramp into town where the men found their fellowship and music).

Hoping to spread the music of Exit 167 outside their built-in audience of B-N's Indian-Asian community, the men decided to branch out into event management.

Their first endeavor was last year's initial Festival of Colors, a many-hued success for all concerned.

"Holi is basically a celebration of friendship, unity and togetherness ... a festival of love," says Nambiar. "In recent years, they've started spreading out of India and into Europe and the United States."

Nambiar and Philip put their heads together. "Let's try to do this here in a big way the first time."

Hence their choice of the Interstate Center, where they figure around 500 or 600 people would turn out to toss colored powder and enjoy some food and music on the side. 

To their surprise, double that number turned out. "People were ecstatic ... they loved it. And the kids had a ball," recalls Nambiar.

Best of all, he says, the crowd mix wasn't exclusively Asian-Indian, with an estimated 35 to 40 percent of the attendees hailing from outside that community.

For the second fest, the organizers decided to move the event into April and outdoors, the McLean County fairgrounds.

A large, 5,500-square-foot tent will provide protection of the weather doesn't cooperate.

About that colored powder, which is central to the festival's hourly "Throwing of Color" rituals: "It is 99.97 percent cornstarch-based," notes Nambiar, meaning it won't stain or wreak other fabric havoc.

The powder comes in five colors representing love, forgiveness and other matters of the heart and soul: red, neon green, yellow, orange and blue.

During the throws, the power will be tossed into the air and allowed to permeate the atmosphere as well as cover the floor, says Nambiar.

In addition, everyone entering the festival gate will be marked with a dab of color on the forehead or skin area of your choosing (not mandatory).

Thereafter, you're on your own.

"There are some do's and don'ts," Nambiar adds. "We discourage people from bringing in any outside colors. That's to assure that we know everything is 100 percent safe and organic."

In addition, "We do tell people not to dress in their best." Though the colors won't stain, the substance will cling to clothes and shoes.

"So we try to tell people to make sure you shake really well before you get into your car to leave," he says. "And then take a warm shower when you get home."

Women's and Gender Studies Symposium Friday at ISU

The Women’s and Gender Studies Symposium will highlight the student research by WGS minors, Queer Studies students, and other students in the Illinois State University campus community. This year the keynote speaker will be Mariana Ortega.

The annual symposium, now in its 22nd year, will be held between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, April 14, in the Old Main Room of the Bone Student Center at Illinois State University.

The symposium showcases the scholarship being done by students at Illinois State University and neighboring institutions. The event is free and open to the public. The symposium, much like

Women’s and Gender Studies discipline, is committed to a transformative analysis of gender as it intersects with class/caste, sexuality, race, ethnicity, ability, age, coloniality, and transnationality.

Ortega will give the  symposium keynote address “Bodies of Color, Bodies of Sorrow, and Resistant Melancholia” at 1 p.m. Ortega is a professor of philosophy at John Carroll University, who works on Latina feminisms. Her most recent book is In-Between: Latina Feminist Phenomenology, Multiplicity, and the Self (2016). Ortega studies questions of self and sociality, identity, and visual representations of race. She will be on campus interacting with Visual Culture students and members of the WGS community during her visit.

The WGS scholarships will be presented at the symposium. This is the inaugural year for the Rhonda Nicol Memorial Book Award. Nicol taught WGS courses in the English department for over ten years. She passed away suddenly last year. The book awards will be presented for the outstanding graduate and undergraduate papers.

The symposium is sponsored by the Alice and Fannie Fell Trust, History Department, Philosophy Department, MECCPAC: A Dean of Students Diversity Initiative, Office of the President, Harold K. Sage Foundation, the Illinois State University Foundation, College of Arts and Sciences, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and Latin American and Latino/a Studies Program.

Asian Heritage Week Wraps Up With Indian Cuisine/Show, East Asian Films

Illinois State University's Asia Connect this week is celebrating the first annual Asian Heritage Week, running from April 10-15. All events are free unless otherwise noted.

Monday's celebration included “Iran: An Ancient Civilization,” a presentation by Amir Marmarchi, Department of Economics, and Elahe Javadi, School of Information Technology; and a Japanese tea ceremony presented by Jennifer Gunji of Japan House in Urbana,

Tuesday's events included “Korean Alphabet Design and Historical Context,” presented by Alice Lee, School of Art, and "The Battle for Human Rights in North Korea: Is There Any Hope for Change?” by North Korean policy expert and human rights advocate Suzanne K. Scholte. Wednesday's offerings were Asian Film Festival entries The Color of Paradise (Iran) and How to Win at Checkers Every Time (Thailand), at the Normal Theater

Thursday's observation featured “Vietnam: From Lotus Pond to Dragon Land,” presented by Tuyen Tonnu, School of Music, followed by Vietnamese cooking class demonstrations by Tonnu.

A Friday Asian dinner and show will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the ISU Center for Performing Arts, including Indian cuisine and the play Harvest by Manjula Padmanabhan. Tickets are available at $30 for paid AsiaConnect members and $35 for non-members -- payment can be made to Miranda Lin, School of Teaching and Learning, care of DeGarmo Hall, Room 212.

Heritage Week ends Saturday with the Asian Film Festival entries The Boy and the Beast (Japan), at 1 p.m., and Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass (Vietnam), 7 p.m., both at the Normal Theater. The Boy and the Beast is a fantasy anime about a young boy named Kyuta orphaned after his mother’s death, who finds himself on the streets of Shibhuya in Tokyo and ultimately taken by Kumatetsu, a grumpy and lazy warrior beast as an apprentice to learn Kendu, a Japanese martial art. Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass, set in Vietnam in 1989, explores the relationship between two brothers as they seek to uncover the truth about the myth of the princess of the enchanted forest and the man-eating tiger that guards her. It was the Vietnamese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards.

Asia Connect, an affiliated group at Illinois State University, strives to promote cultural diversity across campus.

IWU Workshop/Dinner Focuses on Religious Diversity

Tahera Ahmad, associate chaplain and director of interfaith engagement at Northwestern University, will lead a workshop from 4 to 5 p.m. in Illinois Wesleyan University's Memorial Center Davidson Room.

This workshop is for all students, faculty, and staff, and is designed to sharpen skills in both recognizing religious intolerance (especially anti-Semitism and Islamophobia) and supporting a religiously diverse campus where all worldviews are welcome.

The campus community is also invited to a 6 p.m. dinner and keynote address.

MixFuzeEvolve Day of Multicultural Celebration

16832204_1068721439904986_2685580644733673810_n.jpg

BCAI School of Arts's 2nd annual MixFuzeEvolve fundraising and community-unifying event fused local cultures Saturday at Illinois Wesleyan University's Hansen Student Center.

In addition to exhibits and performances featuring a variety of international cultures, the event included Native American, Indian, Latinx, Indonesian, Nigerian, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Hands-on crafts helped participants learn how to concoct tactile creations from China, India, Nigeria, and elsewhere.

Bilingual Education/Entertainment Focus of Library Event

The 10th Annual El Día de Los Niños/El Día de Los Libros will celebrate bilingual education at 11 a.m. April 29 at the Bloomington Public Library.

Attendees will enjoy bilingual storytelling with Mama Edie, Bilingual Storyteller, dance performances with Ballet Folklorico de Central Illinois, crafts, the Clothespin Puppets, face painting with the Zoo Lady, and community exhibits.

The Oogies Food On Wheels and Healthy in a Hurry food trucks will also be present selling their fare.

Preview the event on Facebook.

Latson, Jani To Be Honored at Leadership Graduation

McLean County's Multicultural Leadership Program will honor Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal leader and McLean County YWCA Director Dontae Latson at MCLP's April 22 Class of 2017 Graduation Celebration.

Jani and Latson

Jani and Latson

The Graduation Celebration is an event that recognizes the hard work of service-oriented local citizens. Latson will be awarded the MCLP's Community Service Award for a Local Community Leader, while Tejas Jani will receive the Community Service Alumni Award. Jani is State Farm android test lead and a 2014 MCLP grad.

Kira Hudson Banks

Kira Hudson Banks

Speaker for the graduation is Kira Hudson Banks, Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Louis University and racial equity consultant for the “Forward through Ferguson” Ferguson Commission. The Edwardsville native will address diversity and inclusion; her work has been published in journals such as Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology and American Psychologist.

Banks argues inclusivity "requires the vulnerability to have an acknowledgement and a humility to realize that we all have biases.”

Reservations for the celebration are available through Thursday. Visit http://public.bn-mclp.org/even…/graduation-celebration-2017/ for information.

Cummings Makes History for Town of Normal

Chemberly Cummings last week made local history as the first African-American elected to the Town of Normal City Council. Cummings is a major supporter of and volunteer with the McLean County YWCA, chiefly through the Y's Girls BE U program.

Cummings, a 34-year-old State Farm business architect who lives at 1416 Montgomery St., said she's running to "provide diversity of thought, experience and knowledge." She was the only female candidate for council.

"Many residents feel diversity and inclusion is just (tongue in cheek)," she said. "How (do) we make all citizens feel welcome?"

Cummings said she hopes to help officials keep "making the town of Normal not just a place to live, but a place to work and play."

"(That's about) finding new ways to attract businesses that can provide jobs to our community, as well as making our community attractive to where people want to live," she said.

May 1 March Aimed at Unity With Immigrants

The Day of Resistance/Keep Families Together March, 5:30 p.m. May 1 at the McLean County Historical Museum, marks a day of solidarity with immigrants and their families aimed at resisting human rights abuses, racism, and oppression.

The event will be hosted by the Immigrant & Refugee Support Network of Central Illinois, Illinois People's Action, and YWCA McLean County.

"Most of us never have to think about what our children would do if they arrived home from school and we weren’t there — just vanishing from their lives," event organizers state. "But that is the reality for some members of our community. Just last year, 53 people were transferred to immigration custody directly from our county jail and many more have been torn apart by deportation."

The new administration’s immigration policies are placing families under increasing threat of being "devastated by an unjust immigration system, and immigrants in our community are living in constant fear," they report. "As a community, we must stand up with and for our neighbors and take action to ensure immigrant families are protected in McLean County. March with us for justice, dignity and freedom for all!"
 

Anti-Hate Rally Commemorates Kansas Murder, Seeks Unity

Lenore Sobota

The Pantagraph

and Camille Taylor

Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of the Moses Montefiore Congregation in Bloomington asked people attending a Not In Our Town anti-hate rally Thursday at Illinois Wesleyan University to join hands and repeat after her.

"We are not here to protest or rally against any group or individual, but to educate ourselves and our children and become more aware of what is happening around us. After you leave these doors, remember tonight, remember our stories, our cheers, our emotions and friendship, remember that we our one. Together, Let us be compassionate, kind, and respectful towards each other. We must see people for who they truly are and teach our children to take a stand against racism, bigotry and all forms of intolerance. Let us celebrate our diversity together and inspire and honor each other as brothers and sisters. -- Archana Shekara

“We are here. We are your brothers and sisters. We hear you. We believe you,” she said as the crowd of more than 150 people echoed her words. “Hatred and intolerance have no place here. We shall not fear. Love will hold us together as one family of humanity."

The gathering started with a mantra recited by a Hindu priest and the lighting of a candle to symbolize removal of darkness from the community.

Aishwarya Shekara (Photos by Mike Matejka)

Aishwarya Shekara (Photos by Mike Matejka)

Speaker after speaker talked about the need to support each other, to speak out against hatred and bigotry and to work for peace.

Imam Khalid Herrington

Imam Khalid Herrington

The rally took place in IWU's Hansen Student Center where the two dozen flags of other countries that ring the upper level took on special meaning.

“We are all here in solidarity as a community to stop hate together,” said IWU Provost Jonathan Green. “We are gathered here tonight to express love for our neighbors.”

But it was the personal stories of insults and slights, particularly those of high school students from Bloomington District 87 and McLean County Unit 5, that seemed to touch the crowd.

A student whose family is from India told of being asked in a social studies class what caste her family was from.

Another who is Muslim said the day she decided to wear her hijab to school she received "weird looks" or was ignored by people she knew.

A Hispanic student said she was told not to speak Spanish in school — “you're in America now,” they said.

And a student of mixed race related how, when she was only 6 years old, her mother, who is white, came to school for a program and another student asked if she was adopted.

Imam Khalid Herrington of the Islamic Center of McLean County experienced racism growing up in the 1970s with a mother who is white and a father who is black. When he became a Muslim in the mid-1990s, he encountered other bigotry, especially after the 9-11 attacks.

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner and local law enforcement officers were on hand at the event. Below, Normal Mayor Chris Koos, right, and Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner stress the need for community solidarity.

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner and local law enforcement officers were on hand at the event. Below, Normal Mayor Chris Koos, right, and Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner stress the need for community solidarity.

One day, Herrington, whose parents both served in the U.S. military, was told to “Go back to your country,” he said.

“I didn't know whether to laugh or cry,” he recalled.

But amid the stories of rude comments — or worse — there were also stories of feeling welcome in Bloomington-Normal and staying far longer than they ever thought they would.

Archana Shekara, a Not In Our Town member and one of the event's organizers, lived in India for 19 years, but she has lived in Bloomington-Normal for the last 24 years.

“Bloomington-Normal is my town. It's where I live. It's my home,” said Shekara, prompting applause from the crowd.

A number of speakers, representing different races, religions and nationalities took the stage at one point — immigrants and children of immigrants from countries such as France, Brazil, Bangladesh, India and Venezuela.

“This is what Bloomington-Normal looks like,” said Shekara.

The Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard of rural Bloomington warned that hate speech is becoming hate action in parts of America, but she emphasized that hate should not be answered by hate.

“We have to guard against lowering … our behavior to that of the haters,” she said.

Shekara urged people to report instances of hatred.

Her daughter, 17-year-old Aishwarya Shekara, said, “See us as the next generation of leaders who have the power to change our nation, even in these polarized times.”

Baller-Shepard said, "Let's continue to celebrate diversity, not just tolerate it, not just moan about it, but celebrate."

Herrington reminded the crowd: "We are not going to agree all of the time. We can still respect each other all of the time. We can try to understand each other all of the time."

Four of NIOTBN's nine Not In Our School (NIOS) schools also were represented at the rally. An Indian student translated the gathering's Hindi prayer into English, while students from Bloomington Junior High and Bloomington High School read a post-election letter written to them by their teacher assuring them of their safety.

Another BHS student read a prepared statement from the Bloomington District 87 School District affirming its support of all students. A Normal West High School student read a similar statement prepared by the Normal Unit 5 School District.

Other Indian, Muslim, biracial, and Latina students shared personal stories about being stereotyped, feeling singled out, and wanting to be seen as a human being first and foremost. Some of the students were the leaders of NIOS clubs; others were members/students from their schools.

A group of children from BCAI (Breaking Chains Advancing Increase) performed with dances reflecting the Indian culture. Their sponsor, Angelique Racki, is on the steering committee of NIOTBN, as chair of its Arts and Culture Committee.

Stop Hate Together Event Counters Recent Violence

A NIOTBN “Stop Hate Together” rally is planned for Thursday, March 9, 6:30 p.m., at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Hansen Center, 300 Beecher Street, Bloomington.

March 9 would have been Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s 33rd Birthday; Kuchibhotla was the young Indian engineer shot in Olathe, Kansas on February 22.  On Friday, March 3, a Sikh American was shot and wounded in his driveway in Kent, Washington.  Meanwhile, threats against Jewish centers and the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis have also raised concerns.

“As a South Asian community, we are tense and apprehensive,” said Illinois State University professor Archana Shekara, immediate past-president of the McLean County India Association.  “We appreciate Not In Our Town and the community coming together to affirm our positive presence in McLean County and to uphold our rights within this country.” 

Shekara estimates there are over 5,000 South Asians in Bloomington-Normal.

 Various faith leaders, immigrants from diverse backgrounds and area high school students will speak during the event.

 The event is free and open to the public

Janet: Message of Mutual Love Central at Mosque

Janet Guaderrama

Voices of Reason, Action for a Better Tomorrow, and Indivisible IL-18

Members of local politically progressive groups joined Feb. 10 to visit the Masjid Ibrahim (Mosque) for their 1 pm Friday service at the invitation of  Shaikh Imam Abu-Emad Al-Talla (our first speaker at the Not In Our Town rally Feb. 1 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts). The mosque is located at 2407 E Washington St. in Bloomington.

 Shaikh Imam Abu-Emad Al-Talla chats with Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe, left, and former First Christian Church Associate Minister Kelley Becker during last summer's Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal 20th Anniversary. 

 Shaikh Imam Abu-Emad Al-Talla chats with Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe, left, and former First Christian Church Associate Minister Kelley Becker during last summer's Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal 20th Anniversary. 

My experience began with "Hello," as I introduced myself to the Imam after the rally. He was very gracious and welcomed anyone to visit their service on Fridays. He was pleased when I told him that I had taken a photo of him during his speech and he asked that I share it with him. I sent the photo from my cell phone to his and that began the conversation about a visit to Masjid Ibrahim.

When we arrived today, we discovered several rituals that occur. The women enter through the left door in the back of the building, and men enter through the door to its right.

Several men graciously welcomed us and the women in our group removed our shoes and were seated in a room separate from the men. The Imam came back to welcome us before his service. We were joined by a gathering group of women worshipers coming from their homes and jobs for prayer. We could see the Imam speaking through windows and hear him through intercom. One of the women turned on a television on the wall and we could view him there also.

We were told that prayers happen 5 times a day in the building, but that Fridays are special, like Sundays are for Christians.

Most of the service was in Arabic, however, occasional English was used to convey the message so that we could understand.

I was particularly taken with the words, "Fly to Allah." We were urged to "Fly to Allah" as Allah (God) is everything and all praise to him. We fly to him to leave our worldly cares and worries, to thank him. We were urged to care for one another, to love each other, to befriend each other, to do charity, to accept everyone, Black and White, Muslim and not as we are all created by Allah.

The women welcomed us after the service was completed and we all had very warm and interesting conversations. The Imam came back after the service to thank us all for coming and welcomed us to come back. He also welcomed anyone to come to join them in prayer any Friday at 1 pm. (The service lasts 45 minutes).

We thanked our new friends for the kind welcome and agreed that we were all moved by our experience.

I Am Not Your Negro Completes Baldwin's Vision

The documentary I Am Not Your Negro is scheduled at 7 p.m. Feb 28, March 2, and March 5 at the Normal Theater, and at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at the AMC Starplex in Normal.

In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends — Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.

At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript.

Now, in his incendiary new documentary, filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished. The result is a radical, up-to-the-minute examination of race in America, using Baldwin’s original words and flood of rich archival material.

I Am Not Your Negro is “a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter.” It questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond. And, ultimately, by confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassination of three leaders, Baldwin and Peck have produced a work that challenges “the very definition of what America stands for.”

'White Talk' Topic for Saturday Talk at IWU

“White Talk, Social Justice, and Ignorance,” a discussion of interracial dialogue and white evasiveness, is scheduled at 11 a.m. Saturday at Illinois Wesleyan University State Farm Hall 101.

Illinois State University’s Dr. Alison Bailey will address how she believes “white talk” – fear- or anxiety-based evasiveness regarding race -- insulates white individuals from having deep discussions about racism and social justice by expanding.

Bailey will explore Fairfield University education specialist Alice MacIntyre’s argument that such white talk persists because it has an “enduring moral payoff” for white people, and that the defensive and goodness-centering habits of white talk can be explained in terms of how vulnerable they feel in the face of our racialized fears. Bailey suggests white individuals learn to recognize white talk, and replacing it with “a discourse of vulnerability.”