Breakfast Club Designed to Connect Youth and Community

Paul Sweich

The Pantagraph

The divide between some youth and adults in McLean County is being bridged by conversation, activity and hope.

It's happening one Saturday a month in an innovative program presented by the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal, United Way of McLean County, City Life Bloomington, Not In Our Town (NIOT) and ABC Counseling & Family Services.

"The Breakfast Club was an opportunity to create action to bridge that divide," said United Way President David Taylor.

The idea is to connect youth — who may feel disconnected from the community — with the community through discussions, introductions to different places and careers in McLean County, and community service projects. The goal is to decrease youth violence.

While the program has started small, organizers and participants already are seeing some connections.

"Some of the teens are trying to change," Martilisha Harris, 18, of Bloomington, a member of the Boys & Girls Club and the Breakfast Club, said last week at the Boys & Girls Club, 1615 W. Illinois St.

"They need to join a program to help ’em move forward correctly instead of on the wrong path," she said.

"We're trying to build this community connection," said Tony Morstatter, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club. "To see the kids build a community among themselves — that is, in and of itself, successful."

The Breakfast Club would not exist if not for the increase in Bloomington-Normal shootings that began last year. Many of the victims and shooters were teens and 20-somethings.

Last summer, The Pantagraph interviewed teens, young adults and their mentors at YouthBuild McLean County, an alternative school for at-risk youths, and Boys & Girls Club, which has programs for at-risk, low-income children and teens, about what can be done to stop the violence.

Reports of shots fired continued in Bloomington-Normal this year.

In August, United Way and NIOT hosted a community conversation at Miller Park Pavilion about the violence. That was followed by two listening sessions with young people — one at Boys & Girls Club and one with City Life Bloomington that works with teens on relationship-building and social skills.  

While community leaders described McLean County as caring, friendly and diverse, youth described it as boring, unsafe and dangerous.

"We are trying to bridge that disconnect," said United Way consultant Kathleen Lorenz.

Kavya: NIOS has Changed 'My Outlook on the World'

I’ve been in the Unit 5 School System for over 11 years, meaning I have gone to school with the same kids since elementary school. We all used to eat lunch and play during recess together; however, that feeling of camaraderie does not exist anymore.

I've experienced, as have many others, the realities of 'bias' as I've matured.

Ideas, people and the environment that surround us shape our innocent minds in both good and bad ways as we grow older. These external sources of influence could be new-found friends, teachers or even a parent's banter.

Influences that give rise to a negative bias often result in students becoming ignorant about and close-minded toward others.

What caught my attention when I first heard about Not In Our School (NIOS) was the use of the world 'inclusive' in the NIOS mission statement - 'building safe and inclusive environments in schools'.

From my vantage point; most of the uninformed attitudes in school are due to the lack of exposure to other cultures and differences.

So as President of NIOS, I focus heavily on making our club an opportunity for students to get to know more about the diversity of our student body.

We have held a Culture and Religion Fair during school and the one stipulation for the NIOS members was to choose a culture/religion you were not very knowledgeable about to become better informed.

As part of our meetings, we hold discussions on current issues to broaden students’ horizons and to hear different viewpoints.

Furthermore, we conduct outreach to Unit 5 elementary schools to start students thinking of inclusion at an early age.

Most of the funds we raise come from selling signs, posters, and pins with the mantra: 'No Matter Where You Are From, We’re Glad You’re Our Neighbor'. Seeing the signs in almost every teacher’s door has positively impacted our school. Students feel welcome especially because we have many immigrants.

I am overwhelmed by the difference we make in our school environment.

At NIOS, we are bipartisan and firmly believe that through open-minded education and cultural exposure, our school environment will become even more inclusive.

The importance of a school with culturally aware students is a supportive school environment where students are free to unlock their full potential.

On a personal note; NIOS has helped strengthen my leadership and speaking skills. I have gained so many new speaking opportunities which hone my abilities every time I have the chance to speak.

I've also learned that organizing events is tougher than it appears as is applying the art of compromise when dealing with students and adults who share differing perspectives.

If you want to get out of your comfort zone and truly grow, I highly recommend Not In Our School.

It has changed my outlook on the world.

- Kavya Sudhir, Veteran Scholar

McLean County Diversity Project

ISU Reflects on King's Impact

Grace Barbic

Daily Vidette

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Nothing compares to checking the calendar and realizing a three-day weekend is approaching. It is one extra day to sleep in, put off homework and avoid responsibilities before snapping back to reality and starting another busy week full of school and work.

Monday is a national holiday honoring not only the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr., but everything that he stood for. It is a day dedicated to promoting the equality of all people regardless of race, ethnicity, culture or background, yet people fail to acknowledge that this day is actually dedicated to his service. 

Although that idea is what this day was intended to represent, it was not always seen that way. In fact, it was not until 2000 that all 50 states began to officially observe the third Monday in January as “Martin Luther King Jr. Day.” 

Shortly after King’s death, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. A few days after that, a bill was introduced to make MLK’s birthday a national holiday. It took 15 years for the bill to be signed into a law. Many believe this was because of the hatred and racism that plagues our country. 

This day is not only national holiday, but it is the only national holiday that is observed as a national day of service. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, MLK Day of Service is intended to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems and move us closer to King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.” 

For some, it may just be another day off of work, but for Illinois State’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, it is a day on. Graduate assistant for community service projects Paige Buschman thinks that this day is an opportunity for America to show that leadership and change can come in the form of something other than political action in the Senate and Congress, it can come from everyday people. 

“MLK was not particularly different than any one of us. I think he was just compelled to do something because he saw hate and injustice in the world and I think that’s just something everyone can learn from. The fact that we have a day off to, I think, reflect on that is so important,” Buschman said. 

She believes that this should be a day of learning and reflecting on how to move forward around issues of injustice in our country and that everyone should be thinking about non-violence, political action and engagement and civic engagement.

“That is very much at the core of what we do here at the center, but I think it’s something that everyone can benefit from,” Buschman continued. 

This year the center will be honoring this day of service by sorting through donations to find items to be sold at Home Sweet Home Ministries’ thrift store, Mission Mart. Home Sweet Home Ministries is a local, non-profit organization that provides shelter, rehousing and food services, among other things, to those in need in the Bloomington-Normal community. 

Along with their service, those involved will be reflecting on the nature of their work because of the importance of this day. There will also be a presentation to connect to MLK’s mission. The center’s major objective is always to help students understand how to make a change through service. 

The Office of the President, University Housing, the student chapter of the NAACP and the Association of Residence Halls will host a cultural dinner on Jan. 25 honoring MLK and featuring Michael Eric Dyson. Assistant Director of Media Relations Rachel Hatch believes that this event blends very well with the idea of celebrating cultures that are part of the university experience.

What better way to celebrate a man who was dedicated to his community and sacrificed his ability to make a profit than to give back to the community and offer service? Buschman also believes that in order to see social change, society needs to recognize that it is going to be through volunteerism, the giving of time and commitment to something that is not just about one’s job.

“Services benefit everybody. It benefits people in the community and you as a person. I think that was at the center of MLK’s mission as well. I think that is partially why it was changed to a day of service rather than just being a day off where people don’t come into work and don’t think more about it. The idea is you should be taking this time to do something that you might not otherwise be able to do,” Buschman said.

Although having a day off can be enticing, it is important to remember the sacrifice and struggle that MLK and millions of others faced to make a change. Instead of using this holiday as a day to relax and unwind, one may consider the significance of it and how everyone can play a part in making a difference by offering something that many people take for granted: time.

“I think that Martin Luther King’s ideals are really basic to the core values at ISU. The ideas of respect, diversity, inclusion, collaboration, these are all things that Dr. King pushed for. His life embodies that drive for civil rights and I think that it fits very well with ISU to celebrate that,” Hatch said.

Poverty in McLean County is 'Bigger Than We Think'

Colleen Reynolds

WGLT

McLean County’s median household income is almost $65,000, but panelists at a McLean County League of Women Voters forum Tuesday night said despite that, the problem of poverty is creating waiting lists for social service agencies and leaving some people without help.

Lisa Hirtzig was among those who shared their personal stories. Hirtzig was in a women’s shelter with a broken neck when she learned about the YWCA’s Labyrinth House which provides transitional housing for formerly imprisoned women. Hirtzig grew up in foster care and went from one abusive relationship to the next.

"I lost my job. I lost my home which made me lose my car. Losing my car, I had no way to get to anything," she said. "It really put me down. I had nothing ... nobody," she told a packed Community Room at the Normal Public Library. 

Starla Hays has been at Mayors Manor in Bloomington for nearly three years. The 26-unit apartment building provides permanent, supportive housing to formerly homeless, single adults. Hays was married for 22 years and after a divorce, she turned to drugs and alcohol and her downward spiral began.

"Mayors Manor saved my life," she said wiping tears from her eyes.

"I don't want you to feel sorry for me, I just want you to help because there are so, so many out there," she said referring to others who need assistance, often because one crisis was amplified by poverty and a lack of resources.

"We have working poor in McLean County. People are working two jobs and still are in poverty," said Mayors Manor Representative Tasha Davis.

Illinois State University graduate student Jeanna Campbell explained why she started the School Street Food Pantry. While she was an undergraduate, Campbell found herself working for poverty-level wages and scrounging for food. As a Type 1 diabetic, she also had costly prescriptions that she bought instead of groceries, only to find her blood sugar falling to dangerously low levels when she had nothing to eat at the end of the month.

Campbell said she wound up taking an even lower-paying job to qualify for government assistance when she encountered health problems and had no more sick days.

"It was definitely a cycle and a situation that left me in a bad place."

According to the Heartland Alliance, slightly more than 21,200 people in Mclean County live in poverty. Center for Hope Ministries Outreach Coordinator Pat Turner, who fled Chicago public housing, said poverty is a multiplier because those in it can't rely on personal resources to get past a setback.

"It's bigger than we think," Turner declared as she pointed out her ministry served 4,600 individuals in its food pantry last year.

Turner believes lawmakers need to enact legislation that addresses some of the root causes of poverty.

"Racial injustice, ageism, sexism, inequality, classism—those are the things that feed into poverty and leave people feeling hopeless," she said.

Turner, who is also a candidate for Normal Town Council, suggested public policy makers need to initiate systematic changes.

"We've got to get on the preventive end. We've got to start building families. We've got to start investing in our young people and start on the solutions side instead of dealing with it on the crisis side," she said.

Moderator Laurie Bergner of the League of Women Voters of McLean County agreed with an audience member who suggested with so many new minorities in leadership positions in Springfield, now is a good time to start lobbying for legislative changes including raising the minimum wage.

Bergner advised panelists to form a lobbying coalition.

"I think going in groups is important because you have a better chance you'll be listened to," she said.

ISU Prof Helps Students Capture the Tastes of Culture

ISU senior Larissa Summers explored her Cherokee roots through her poster presentation on Cherokee Bean Bread.

ISU senior Larissa Summers explored her Cherokee roots through her poster presentation on Cherokee Bean Bread.

Archana Shekara lives where art, culture, and social justice intersect. This semester, she helped Illinois State University students nourish an appetite for cultural identity and a hunger for social justice and inclusion.   

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Shekara’s spring course, Art 315: Special Topics in Graphic Design, explored multicultural perspectives and social issues through visual artwork. The associate professor, a native of India, assigned her 17 students a trio of daunting projects: Bringing vision and creativity to issues of cultural stereotyping and marginalization; developing soon-to-be-released new posters and related graphic materials for Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal (NIOTBN) Not In Our School anti-bullying/anti-bigotry programs; and Food For Thought, an examination of individual cultures and their histories through their cuisine.

Food and culture are inextricably intertwined – the staples and delicacies of global societies reflect their geographies and climates, their agriculture and economic lifeblood, their beliefs and folkways. As part of the ISU Food For Thought exhibit, which ends Monday at ISU’s Milner library, created information design posters about one dish from their ancestral country and traced its history, ingredients, and relevance.

“When you break bread together with people who don’t look like you, all of a sudden, something fascinating happens,” said Shekara, a NIOTBN Steering Committee member.

ISU's Evan Morris presents a series of proposed new designs for NIOTBN's Not In Our School programs, developed as part of Archana Shekara's Special Topics In Graphic Design course.

ISU's Evan Morris presents a series of proposed new designs for NIOTBN's Not In Our School programs, developed as part of Archana Shekara's Special Topics In Graphic Design course.

Students conducted research about national identity, pride, language and art. Subjects included German pfannkuchen (pancakes) and landjaeger (sausage), Greek saganaki (flaming cheese), Lebanese hummus, Italian cannoli (a sweet confection stuffed with ricotta cheese), Irish colcannon (a hearty potato/cabbage/onion/bacon dish), and Polish pierogi (dumplings).

Senior Larissa Summers highlighted Cherokee Bean Bread, an indigenous staple that embodies the indigenous American struggle against cultural appropriation and dilution.

“My Cherokee heritage is very close to me,” the native Oklahoman relates. “I did bean bread because I didn’t know about it, I hadn’t tried it before, and I wanted to get more in touch with something I was not familiar with. I have two different versions of the bread in my piece – the original version of the bread, which is just mashed-up corn and beans; and the kind of recipe you find now. It’s kind of like cornbread with beans in it. It’s very ‘westernized.’ The Cherokee used to have simplistic meals, simplistic lives, and then (non-native settlers) came over, and everything started getting more complex.They started getting moved around; their food started being influenced. There’s flour in it now, milk, honey. I wanted to show the journey not only of the food, but of Native Americans, as well.”

Rock Island’s Evan Morris meanwhile explored his Scottish ancestry through haggis, which blends ground sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs with oats, cooked inside a sheep’s stomach. While according to Morris the unique dish was once considered “a poor man’s food,” he noted haggis today is celebrated as a culinary symbol of Scottish nationalism and pride – his poster incorporated the verse of Scots poet Robert Burns, whose piece “The Address to Haggis.”

“I found out my ancestors came over probably about 200 years ago – that’s when there was a huge emigration from Scotland because of the Highland Clearances (a mass eviction of tenants across the Scottish Highlands during the 18th and 19th Century),” reported the senior, who applied his research as well in Shekara’s stereotyping/marginalization project. “I still have to do some more digging on it. I’m going to try to go on Ancestry.com and trace everything back.”

Food For Thought is but one graphic exhibit running through the weekend at ISU's Milner Library.  TELL relates through visuals and narrative the experience of young, local English language learners from a variety of cultures

Food For Thought is but one graphic exhibit running through the weekend at ISU's Milner Library.  TELL relates through visuals and narrative the experience of young, local English language learners from a variety of cultures

Food For Thought Exhibit Explores Culture Through Cuisine

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The exhibit Food for Thought: Understanding Cultural Identity and Heritage Through Food, will be presented April 19 – May 14 on the second floor of Illinois State University’s Milner Library. An opening reception/presentation will be held at 3:30 p.m. April 19 at the library.

"As part of their coursework in ART 315: Special Topics in Graphic Design, Illinois State University School of Art students created information design posters about one dish from their ancestral country and traced its history, ingredients and relevance,” ART 315 Prof. Archana Shekara relates. “Students conducted research about national identity, pride, language, and art.

“Through conversations with their family, students discovered the significance of the food they had long taken for granted. Each poster expresses the designer’s unique cultural background. Food for Thought invites audiences to celebrate different heritages thorough diverse cuisine."

Mike: March Students Represent 'Thoughtfulness and Reason'

Mike Matejka

WJBC Commentary

On Saturday, March 24, there (was) a march in downtown Bloomington against gun violence.  The main organizers and adherents of this event are area high school students, propelled and frightened by school shootings.

As I’ve followed these young people in the local media and having met a few, I’ve been totally impressed, not only by their passion, but also by their thoughtfulness and reason.   Guns are not an easy issue, yet it seems these high school students should be a model for us all.  They don’t all share a uniform viewpoint.  At the same time, they’ve been able to respectfully listen and dialogue on a difficult issue that’s divided the nation for generations.

This may be presumption, but I’ve considered them Obama’s children.  Our current high school students were born during George W. Bush’s presidency.  They came of age during Barack Obama’s two terms.  Reflecting their classroom’s diversity, they saw a multi-racial President with a multi-hued administration.   They also witnessed a passionate leader projecting a calm and reasoned presence.

Racial, gender and ethnic tensions still live in school hallways, just as they are in our society.   Our younger generation does not simply accept these, but instead they actively dialogue.

My contact with them is through the Not In Our Schools program.   A very diverse group meets regularly in our junior and senior high schools.  They talk about what they witness; they reach out to students who might be marginalized or bullied.  They talk to their teachers and school administrators, sharing concerns that might run beneath the surface.   Most impressive, they’ve decided they will not be by-standers, but “up-standers,” speaking up when other students are not treated with consideration and equality.

Watch their Saturday march, join them if you can.   You’ll see that youthful energy, tempered by thoughtfulness.   If we older Americans can support our youth, we’ll be building a firm foundation for the future.  We don’t have to agree with all their stances, but we should take every opportunity to encourage their debate and their welcoming spirits.  They are a breath of fresh air in our current politics, which attempts to score points against the opposition on issues, rather than grappling with those concerns carefully and moving our nation forward.

Mike Matejka is the Governmental Affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council, covering 11,000 union Laborers in northern Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. He lives in Normal. He served on the Bloomington City Council for 18 years, is a past president of the McLean County Historical Society and Vice-President of the Illinois Labor History Society.

NIOTBN Continues to Seek Welcoming Message

Gabe Pishghadamian

CIProud

The discussion continues in Bloomington to make the city a welcoming place for immigrants. 

Local groups for immigrant protections and rights are coming forward to pressure city officials to continue the conversation about a potential ordinance. 

The groups say city council members aren't listening. 

Bloomington PD say it's their job to serve and protect all under the law, but local activists involved with "Not in Our Town" say they want their city to be safe for everyone, including so-called Dreamers. 

"The main motivation is to build a positive relationship between city services and the immigrant community," says Mike Matejka, Not in Our Town.

Bloomington is home to colleges, busy streets, local shops and Dreamers. 

"Not it Our Town" has always stood for an inclusive community," says Matejka. "Everybody is a part of the community. Everybody should be respected. Everybody should be welcome."

The group believes city leaders are not having the conversation of protecting immigrants after dropping the topic from their agenda. 

"Too often our immigrant community lives in the shadows and even though they are very much a part of daily life," says Matejka. "They need the full protections and the full involvement that's available to them."

The Illinois Trust Act is a state effort to make Illinois a welcoming place for immigrants, but there are citizens who do oppose the idea saying the ordinance would go against federal law.

"If you pass this, you will handcuff the police even further."

There will be demonstrating outside city hall in Bloomington this Sunday at 6 pm and again on Monday.

Activists also plan to fast as part of their demonstration. 

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner says no one has been deported by his department since before he became chief. 

March For Our Lives Participants Seek Action on Gun Violence

Julia Evelsizer

The Pantagraph

Claire Lamonica has had enough.

“I was sure it would get better after Columbine and I was sure it would get better after Sandy Hook, but here we are. I hope all the young and old people work together for a change and Congress gets a clue,” said Lamonica of Normal.

She joined a multi-generational crowd of hundreds Saturday at the March for Our Lives event outside the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington to advocate for stricter gun laws in the country.

About a dozen counter-protesters held signs and flags.

The local March for Our Lives event was one of more than 800 rallies around the world that was organized following last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead.

Photos by Camille Taylor

Photos by Camille Taylor

Despite the blowing snow and ice, the crowd met for over an hour to hear speakers, sing songs and sign letters to state lawmakers on the museum steps. Then the crowd marched to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts for a final song.

The march was organized by Voices of Reason, Indivisible McLean County, YWCA McLean County, Not In Our Town and the Normal Community High School Peace and Justice Group.

“We want to send a message that a majority of Americans want sensible gun reform, safe schools and safe communities,” said Jodie Slothower, event coordinator. “We’re not saying to get rid of guns, we’re saying guns need better regulations. We should get rid of bump stocks, improve the way guns are registered, increase background checks and work on mental health issues.”

Megan Michalski of Bloomington waved signs with her sons Felix, 8, and Murray, 6.

“I don’t want my children to be afraid to go to school. I’m worried about my youngest learning how to read, not hide. I hope the community can push aside their personal agenda,” said Michalski.

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Many of the speakers and attendees were Twin City high school and college students.

Normal Community West High School juniors Francesca Riley, Abby Ramsey and Mary Kelly waved signs as they stood in the snow.

“Guns have no place in schools. It genuinely makes us uncomfortable,” said Riley. “I think about the possibility of a shooter all the time. Like, if they came into this classroom, what window would I run to. That’s messed up.”

University High School students and sisters, Elizabeth and Katherine Raycraft used plastic bags to protect the messages on their rally signs.

“It’s not OK to have guns in school. Stand up for what you believe in and don’t let others, or the weather, stop you,” said Elizabeth, 16.  

As a gun owner, Jerry Moncelle of Bloomington said he’s tired of gun violence and “something needs to change.”

“It’s the government’s responsibility to take care of people and they’re dropping the ball. We aren’t against guns, but we need more control to keep them out of the wrong hands,” he said.

John Boch of Bloomington and Ryan Sweeney of rural Armington attended to show support for the Second Amendment.

“We’re here to try to make people aware. There’s a lot of work that should be done before gun reform. Mental health reform is a huge issue and so is parenting. Criminals don’t follow laws anyway,” said Sweeney.

“We’re out here to show we won’t lay down as the other side marches to ban our guns,” said Boch.

Aishwarya Shekara of Bloomington said marchers want to protect everyone in the community, “including the counter-protesters.”

“I encouraged the crowd to contact their representatives, write letters, send emails and post more on social media about the cause,” said Shekara, a freshman at University of Illinois. “My fear is that students will lose hope. What about tomorrow and next month and next year? This movement isn’t over until we see better gun control in Congress.”

Asian Heritage Week Offers Rich Palette of Culture

Illinois State University's Asia Connect in April will offer "series of events where you can experience a variety of Asian cultures," in observance of Asian Heritage Week.

Monday, April 2, 5:30 p.m.
Chinese Calligraphy Demonstration and workshop
ISU Center for Visual Arts, Room 311
Enjoy warm Chinese tea, and learn the history of calligraphy and participate in the workshop.
Miranda Lin, Associate Professor, College of Education, ISU
Shihwei Chiang, Lecturer, College of Arts and Sciences, ISU

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Tuesday, April 3, 6:15 p.m.
Kannathil Muthamittal {a peck on the cheek} Indian {tamil} film
Caterpillar Auditorium, State Farm Hall of Business, Room 139
Question and Answers after the film.
Archana Shekara, Associate Professor, College of Fine Arts, ISU
Li Zeng, Associate Professor, College of Fine Arts, ISU

Wednesday, April 4, 5:30pm
Bangla parbon: Celebrating Bengali poetry
Blangladesh Student  Association, ISU
DeGarmo Hall, Room 551
Refreshments, Question and Answers after poetry recital.

Thursday, April 5, 5pm
Indonesian Cuisine Demonstration and Workshop
Food Lab Kitchen, Turner Hall, Room 131
Learn authentic Indonesian cuisine and taste right after!
Rini Stoltz

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Friday, April 6, 6:15pm
Cape Number 7, Taiwanese film
Caterpillar Auditorium, State Farm Hall of Business, Rm. 139
Panel discussion after the film.
Wei-Zan Wang, Director, Overseas Community Affairs Council
Cultural Center of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Chicago
Hsiu-Ling Robertson, Assistant Professor,
Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, Northwestern University
Shihwei Chiang, Lecturer, College of Arts and Sciences, ISU

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Fast Designed to Bring Council Back to The Table

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Twin Citians on March 25 & 26 will fast in solidarity with undocumented families "who don’t have a seat at the table" and call on  Bloomington City council to come back to the table to pass the “Welcoming City” ordinance.

"Immigrants in our community are living in fear," event coordinators advise. "Some are workers who endure exploitation from bosses, who use their immigration status as a threat. Others are children, who from a very young age, know the risk and fear that their parents might be torn from them at any moment. Others are dreamers, brought to the U.S. as children, living in D.A.C.A. limbo, watching their dreams fade away as the program expires. Some are women, who suffer in abusive relationships but are too afraid to call out for help. But ALL are human beings who deserve to live and love in safety and in the abundance of a community that truly welcomes them."

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Across many faiths and social movements, fasting has been used as symbol of sacrifice for a moral purpose; and food, as a way of bringing community together. After his 25-day-fast with the United Farm Workers in 1968, Cesar Chavez expressed, “I am convinced that the truest act of courage, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice.”

Starting on Sunday, March 25 at 6 p.m., community members across McLean County will come together outside of Bloomington City Hall to begin a fast in solidarity with undocumented families, and in support of the “Welcoming City” ordinance. The fast will continue into the following day. On Monday, March 26 at 6 p.m., they will invite Bloomington City Council members to “come back to the table” with a commitment to work with us to pass a “Welcoming City Ordinance” and "break the fast."

To become involved, visit https://keepfamiliestogether.wixsite.com/home/take-action.

Local Students Join National Walkout To Address Gun Violence

The Pantagraph

Photo by Mary Aplington

Photo by Mary Aplington

Students at several Central Illinois schools joined their peers across the nation Wednesday by walking out of their classrooms to send a message about gun violence.

Photo by Diane Peterson Mather

Photo by Diane Peterson Mather

The nation-wide walkout began at 10 a.m. and lasted for 17 minutes.

The event was organized to occur exactly one month after 17 students and faculty were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., by a former student wielding a semi-automatic rifle.

In wake of the massacre, students have risen to be some of the loudest activists for stricter gun control.

Hundreds of students at Normal Community High School, Normal West High School and Bloomington High School participated in the peaceful protest. Several schools in neighboring communities also joined.

“I am so moved by the students in our community,” Bloomington-Normal Not In Our School coordinator Mary Aplington said. “Their voices, their actions, their messages today have power and inspiration beyond their schools.

At NCHS, nearly 400 students left their classrooms and crowded on the sidewalk behind the building. Their event was organized by the Not In Our School group, Social Studies Club and Peace and Justice Club.

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Senior Faithe Wenger spoke to the crowd, reminding them of the 2012 shooting that happened in a classroom at NCHS.  The shooter was a student. No one was injured and the building was evacuated.

“NCHS remembers. Our town remembers. When the practice tornado siren goes off the first Tuesday of every month, we shake,” said Wenger. “For the first 10 seconds our hearts drop to our feet. For that short period of time, we feel the fear that was present at Sandy Hook, Parkland, Las Vegas and Orlando. How can we make government feel that?”

Junior Tristan Bixby told the crowd how her brother was held hostage in the classroom at NCHS by the shooter six years ago.

 “I consider myself lucky. I still get to see my brother every day. I get to be a part of his life. That is not always the case in this country. It terrifies me to think that thought could have been a reality within my own community,” said Bixby.

As for future change, Bixby said “start small.”

 “Talk to leaders, send an email, sit down and have those difficult conversations. Find kids who don’t have anyone and be there for them,” said Bixby. “Before today we were just kids, but we are the future and we will be the change.”

As she encouraged her peers to vote and speak up, Wenger’s hand shook but her voice was strong.

 “We still need stricter background checks, need to raise the age to 21 for all guns, not just rifles, we need to focus on mental illness and protecting student lives and all lives,” said Wenger. “This is just the beginning for us, the generation of change.”

The students ended the event by chanting “spread love, not hate, we just want to graduate."

For the final minute of the walkout, the crowd took a moment of silence to honor students killed by gun violence.

Nearly 300 students at Kingsley Junior High School also participated.

Before the walkout, Kingsley eighth-grader, Sam Gathright, said she planned to hold a sign and have conversation with her peers to understand their views on the issues.

She said she chose to join the national walkout because “our generation has some of the most lives lost due to school violence and suicide.

Normal Community junior Ajitesh Muppuru, 16, organized students Wednesday in a demonstration in support of stricter gun laws following the deaths of 17 people in a school shooting in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14.

I’m not so much thinking about me and my peers, but for every generation after me that will benefit from my actions,” she said.

Students at BHS participated in a different way, leaving their classrooms to line the halls and stay silent for 17 minutes.

"It was a somber mood," said Fiona Ward Shaw, junior. "There's a time and a place for sitting in remembrance but we have to take action through legislative changes."

Freshman Jaylyn Haynes said it is "inconsiderate" for older generations to not take the students seriously because of their age.

"You're never too young to learn and express an opinion. That's one of the reasons behind so many of these shootings; people feel like they have to go to horrible lengths to get attention because they feel their voices aren't being heard," said Haynes.

School officials in some parts of the country have told students they will be disciplined for participating in the walkout.

But superintendents at Bloomington District 87 and McLean County Unit 5 said students weren't disciplined for practicing free speech without seriously disrupting the school day.

Young Voices From B/N Want to Shape Gun Debate

Ryan Denham

WGLT

Ellie Diggins and her friends can’t drive a car. They can’t vote. They’re not even in high school yet. But they want to influence the public debate over gun violence.

Diggins is an eighth-grader at Kingsley Junior High School in Normal. Along with friends Ari Whitlock, Courtney Sims, and Maddie Beirne, they’re planning a school walkout demonstration March 14 as part of a nationwide movement sparked by the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida. They were inspired in part by the young Florida survivors who’ve lobbied publicly for stricter gun control.

Beirne said she moved to act after seeing the names and ages of those killed in Florida. Many of them were 14, just like her.

“I’m just kind of watching and wondering if my school is going to be the next one that’s going to be shot up or terrorized in some way,” Beirne said. “And I feel like I shouldn’t be afraid of that. I feel like I should be worried more about my next social studies quiz or what high school is going to be like next year, as opposed to whether or not I’m going to die when I walk into (school).”

At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14, the four friends and other students say they will walk out of class, then out the front door at Kingsley. They’ll hold signs during a mostly silent protest (so they’re not disruptive) focused on more gun control.

They want to see universal background checks, a full ban on bump stocks and assault weapons, and additional measures to stop those with mental illness from buying weapons, said Whitlock. They also hope to attract the attention of state lawmakers like state Rep. Dan Brady and Sen. Jason Barickman, who’ve visited their school before.

“We’ll be high schoolers next year, and after that we’ll be adults, and we’ll be voting,” said Diggins, who created an online RSVP for the event. “And right now we can’t hold office. But we want to change things that people in office can change.”

Sims said she wants to make a difference, regardless of her age, noting the impact the Florida survivors have had on the public debate around guns.

“I personally think it’s quite inspiring to see kids as young as we are stand up for themselves and try to make a difference in the world,” Sims said.

Whitlock agreed. During an interview with GLT, Whitlock name-dropped several court rulings and laws that she says gives the students precedent to act.

“I feel that the youngest generation can always make the most change. We’re taking control of our futures. Just because we’re not old enough to vote yet doesn’t mean we have no say,” Whitlock said. 

Ellie Diggins’ mom, Aleda, said she was very proud of what her daughter was doing.

She said they’ve talked about what happens if she’s disciplined for organizing the walkout. (Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel said last week that peaceful protesters who are not disruptive will not be disciplined, calling it a learning opportunity.)

“She has decided it’s worth it. And I back her on it,” Aleda Diggins said.

Demonstrations are expected at both Unit 5 high schools as well as Bloomington High School on March 14. Another rally on gun control is planned for March 24.

Amara: 'The Worst Part Is Being Unheard'

Knowing that it could be anyone is terrifying. The people in my school who are irresponsible and immature can at any time purchase a gun. They can bring that gun to school, and kill people. Knowing that any person in the classroom could be carrying a weapon on them at any time creates a paranoia that I wish I didn't have to feel. When I'm sitting in the classroom, I should be thinking about what's for lunch, my grades, the topic at hand. When I'm in the classroom, I should be thinking about my future, not the lack thereof. 

But this is not the worst part. The worst part is feeling unheard. The students from Florida have done a remarkable job of forcing politicians to take a stance on reforming gun laws and making this a national issue, but we still have so far to go. Now arming teachers is being pitched, but that's not what we're pushing for. Guns belong nowhere in school, and it is so frustrating that grown adults are unwilling to give up their their toys for our lives. It's like they're not even trying to hear our point of view. 

When you're sitting in the same place every day, feeling threatened, and you're told there's no problem, it starts to get to you. How can you learn if you feel scared but ignored? How can you live if you feel scared but ignored? I just wish I could get my education and make it out alive. 

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts, and thank you even more for the support. It means so much. Thank you for your time.

Amara Sheppard

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Heartland Students, Faculty Debate Gun Violence

A gun control protest brought proponents on both sides of the debate to Heartland Community College in Normal on Monday. The protest is a prelude to a national walk out on March 14th. Some H.C.C. faculty and students say it's important to take action now.

Armed with neon signs it was hard to miss the messages about gun control from a small group of students and faculty at Heartland Community College on Monday.

"I don't personally own a weapon. I wouldn't have one in my personal life. So the idea of being asked to have one in my professional life is very concerning. I wouldn't feel comfortable. I wouldn't feel like I was the expert in that," said Heartland Community College employee Jenny Crones.

"I'm retired military. I just don't see any place that high velocity or assault weapons have any place in the general public's hands," said Heartland Community College faculty member Mark Finley.

But not everyone attending the protest want to see tougher gun control laws.

"I think that we have the right to own the guns, what guns we want when we want, that says it in the constitution and the bill of rights second amendment and that's the whole argument for everybody," said Heartland Community College student Garrett Conaty.

Faculty member Ericka Hines organized the protest ahead of the national walkout scheduled for March 14th. She also reminded students of their right to vote in the upcoming elections.

"A lot of people didn't vote in the last presidential election, 49 percent and that as a nation is pretty pitiful. I hope a lot of kindness and common sense gun laws come out of it. The world can be a lot more kind and we could be better educated about guns and background checks could be better," she said.

Another national protest will take place March 24th in Washington D.C.

ISU Umoja Ceremony To Recognize Black Graduates

Illinois State University is hosting its annual pre-commencement recognition ceremony Umoja: Celebration of Black Graduates at 7 p.m. May 10.

A celebration of African-American and other students of color, the event honors those with unyielding determination who have successfully completed undergraduate and graduate degrees from Illinois State in 2018.  Students interested in taking part in the recognition ceremony can register until April 1 at http://umojaisu.weebly.com/.

“This is a time for everyone to experience a celebration of African American culture,” said senior Daniel Jackson, who has volunteered for the ceremony since his freshman year. “Celebrations are such an important part of African American culture, and there is no one way to celebrate. Each year is new and exciting.”

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After volunteering for years, Jackson will take part in the ceremony as a senior. “Now it is my turn to hear my name called, and I hope the campus community will join us,” he said. “Umoja is a way for the campus community to embrace the diversity Illinois State represents, and be part of honoring a black excellence.”

Faculty, staff, and community representatives are needed to assist with the event, and with the Harambee Circle, which functions similarly to a circle of elders for the event. The circle consists of those who have supported, advocated for, taught and/or encouraged students to reach this important goal.

For those interested in volunteering, please sign up by April 13. For those interested in taking part in the Harambee Circle, while the Circle remains open we would like if people sign up by May 1 at http://umojaisu.weebly.com/.

“This is a chance to do more to support our students of color,” said Professor Beth Hatt of the College of Education, who has been part of the Harambee Circle since Umoja began at Illinois State. “It’s very different than the formal graduation ceremony. At Umoja, audience participation and celebration is encouraged. It is a wonderful cultural experience.”

This year’s Umoja theme is: Transgress * Transcend * Transform. The theme reflects the graduates’ abilities to go beyond limitations and make dramatic change. “This year’s theme pays homage to our fortitude, resiliency, and ability to enact social change,” said Tamekia Bailey of University College, which helps plan the graduation recognition ceremony.

Book, Address Relate ISU Prof's Journey From Fields to Scholarship

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The life of Illinois State University’s Professor Mildred Pratt was a fascinating one, leading from the rural cotton fields of Texas to the hallowed halls of academia.

Pratt’s daughter, Menah Pratt-Clarke, chronicles her incredible path in a new book, A Black Woman’s Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor: Lessons about Race, Class, and Gender in America. Pratt-Clarke will visit Illinois State and give a talk on the book Thursday, March 29, in the Old Main Room of the Bone Student Center.

There will be a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by the book talk and signing from 6:30-8 p.m. Proceeds from the sale will benefit the Mildred Pratt Student Assistance Fund at Illinois State.

Sponsored by Illinois State’s African-American Studies program and School of Social Work, the event is free and open to the public.

Raised by her mother as one of eight siblings in rural east Texas during the Great Depression, Pratt became a college professor when less than one percent of full professors were black women. Pratt-Clark’s book explores her mother’s journey through Texas, Indiana, Kansas, Los Angeles, Michigan, Pittsburgh, and Illinois. Teaching at Illinois State for decades, Pratt is credited with first suggesting a child care center at the University in 1970. “Her inspirational story from the outhouse to the White House, lifting others as she climbed, provides an insightful look at issues of race, class, and gender in America,” said Pratt-Clarke.

“My hope is that this book inspires high school and college students, regardless of their race, gender, and economic status, to dream of more and to believe that more is possible,” said Pratt-Clarke, who is vice president for strategic affairs at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, vice provost for inclusion and diversity, and a professor in the College of Education. To learn more, visit www.menahprattclarke.com.

For additional information on the speaker, contact the School of Social Work at (309) 438-3631.

ISU Academy Programs Begin This Week

Illinois State University’s Academy of Seniors programs begin this week and continue through May, with sessions focusing on community building, women's rights, and immigration.

The classes are sponsored by the Senior Professionals organization and will be held at the ISU Alumni Center, 1101 N. Main St., Normal.

Academy classes are $35 for members and $45 for nonmembers for four sessions, and $15 for individual session walk-ins, where available. Mornings classes are $35 for members and $45 for nonmembers for five sessions, and $15 for individual sessions. Participants can preregister for full sessions or pay at the door for individual sessions.

To register, visit www.seniorprofessionals.illinoisstate.edu for online registration or printable registration form. Call 309-438-2818 for more information.

Academy classes include:

“Building our Community,” 1:30-3:30 p.m. March 6, 8, 13, 15; various topics and instructors; walk-in available.

“More than the Vote: Women’s Rights Activism in the United States”; 1:30-3:30 p.m. March 20, 22, 27, 29; Kyle Ciani, associate professor of history and core faculty for women’s & gender studies, ISU; no walk-ins.

“Immigration: Political, Legal, Moral and Human Implications”; 9:30-11:30 a.m. May 8, 10, 15, 17; various topics and instructors; walk-in available.

BCAI Event Highlights Latin, Indian, Hip-Hop Cultures

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MixFuzeEvolveFamily, a BCAI School of Arts fundraiser, will offer a "culturally infused" celebration of Latin, Indian, and hip-hop influences as well as a variety of culinary treats.

The April 14 event, 3-6 p.m. at the Hansen Student Center, 300 East Beecher Street, Bloomington, will feature live music and stage entertainment, raffles, and 12 Indian and Latin dishes on a sampling basis.

Admission includes $10 entry (Ages 6 and up); $6 for a small meal ticket (up to 5 food samples);
$10 large meal ticket (up to 10 samples); and $25 VIP admission (includes entry, a sample of every dish, front row seat reservation for stage events, and one free raffle ticket).

Children under 6 years old enter for FREE, but they must have either a large meal or small meal ticket.

The event is sponsored by State Farm, Not in our Town: Bloomington-Normal, and Willie Brown.

For more info, visit the event website at https://bcaischoolofarts.wildapricot.org/MFEF/.