African-American community

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

“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.”


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

“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.

Against All Odds to Examine Black Pursuit of the American Dream

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AGAINST ALL ODDS: The Fight for a Black Middle Class, will be screened at 7 p.m. Sept. 26 at Normal First United Methodist Church, offering Twin Citians a chance to examine and discuss challenges to and efforts to overcome racism and discrimination in America.

“Have black Americans had a fair shot at the American dream?” acclaimed journalist Bob Herbert asks. The question is answered in AGAINST ALL ODDS: The Fight for a Black Middle Class, a documentary that probes the harsh and often brutal discrimination that has made it extremely difficult for African-Americans to establish a middle-class standard of living.

A panel discussion will follow the film, which is open to the public.

“Whites talk about working hard and playing by the rules. But blacks have always had to play by a different, hateful set of hideously unfair rules. Working hard has never been enough for black Americans to flourish,” Herbert says in the film’s opening. Then, through dramatic historical footage and deeply moving personal interviews, he explores the often frustrated efforts of black families to pursue the American dream.

Today many African American families are still digging out of the recession that followed the Great Crash of 2007-08, and although some are doing better, black wealth remains meager compared to the white middle class. Nearly 40 percent of black children are poor, and for every dollar of wealth in the hands of the average white family, the typical black family has only a little more than a nickel.

This revealing and sometimes shocking documentary connects the dots of American history to reveal how the traditional route up the economic ladder by attaining a job that pays a living wage and then buying a house — is a financial ascent that has been systematically denied to black families. Reduced educational opportunity, rampant employment discrimination, the inequitable application of the GI bill, mortgage redlining and virulent housing segregation are among the injustices that have converged to limit the prosperity of black families from generation to generation.

Bob Herbert has been covering and commenting on American politics, poverty, racism and social issues for over 45 years through his tenure as a nationally-syndicated op-ed columnist for The New York Times as well as work for other newspapers and broadcast media. Growing up in New Jersey, the son of an upholsterer whose prosperous business was hobbled by banks unwilling to offer loans to blacks, Herbert had an intimate view of the barriers that faced striving black families. His interviews with prominent African Americans, including Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Isabelle Wilkerson, Congressman Elijah Cummings, renowned psychologist and author Alvin Poussaint, and policy activist Angela Glover Blackwell, as well as other accomplished black professionals, uncover generational stories of profoundly damaging economic and social prejudice.

In AGAINST ALL ODDS, Herbert looks back at the uphill struggle facing black families freed from slavery over a century and a half ago and emerging from life as uneducated sharecroppers in the South. He traces the barriers to employment and housing designed to keep black people “in their place” both in southern states and in northern states as African Americans migrated throughout the country in search of opportunity and a better life. Shocking footage from the the 50s and 60s in Chicago shows how black families trying to escape overcrowded ghettos faced riots if they moved to a white block or a white suburb. Beryl Satter, an author whose father, a white lawyer, fought against discrimination in Chicago, tells Herbert, “This whole history of white rioting and white violence has been historically buried. When people think of violence and riots in the street, they always think of the 1960s when black people rioted, but when white people rioted, it doesn’t even have a name.”

For those blacks who have made it, and acquired a middle class lifestyle in suburban neighborhoods like those in Prince George’s County, Maryland, the foothold feels tenuous. Brent and Karla Swinton live there in a lovely home and both have good jobs. But Brent says, “We may have arrived to a degree but we just got here so it’s, it’s still not quite the same.” The reality behind that sense of insecurity was abundantly clear following the Great Recession when widespread foreclosures stripped wealth out of the black community.

Yet through it all, Herbert reports, black Americans have shown time and again a tremendous resilience in the face of cruelty and injustice and a determination to get their fair share of the American dream. Herbert says, “There are no barriers that can’t be overcome. When dreams remain unrealized, it simply means the fight goes on.”

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.

Uptown Christmas Embraces Inclusivity

In the wake of the social media furor over the Minnesota Mall of America's first African-American Santa Claus, Uptown Normal and the NAACP proudly partnered in an inclusive holiday at Santa's Station uptown.

All volunteers Saturday were persons of color, "in the hopes of creating a more inclusive experience for members of our community."

The Mall of America, the largest indoor shopping center in the United States in Bloomington, Minnesota, had never hosted a black Santa for its Christmas festivities since it opened in 1992. This year the owners of the Mall of America’s Santa Experience decided to change that and sought out multicultural Santas to add to their roster.

That search resulted in the discovery of Larry Jefferson, a retired U.S. Army veteran who’s been working as Santa throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1999. After meeting another Santa from the Mall of America at a Santa convention in Missouri, Jefferson was interviewed and hired to work at the shopping behemoth for four days.

Unfortunately, the mall's decision met with a torrent of racist posts and comments on social media. 

"You know, I’m just Santa, and it has been blessing to see all kids smile when they see me," Jefferson responded. "I’m a Santa for all. Whether it’s African-American kids, Hispanic, Asian, caucasian, it doesn’t matter. It’s not about race for me. Santa is Santa. But for kids to see a Santa that looks like them is like, wow!"


Kelley: Is Black Lives Matter A Form of Racism?

Rev. Kelley Becker

Bloomington First Christian Church

When was the last time you felt really uncomfortable?


I’m not talking about physically uncomfortable like after eating Thanksgiving dinner. Or after spending the night in a bed that wasn’t made for you, your spouse, a few kids…and maybe even a pet or two.

I’m talking about the kind of uncomfortable you feel when you tell your mother in law how wonderful her meatloaf is and your child says,

“But dad, you said grandma’s meatloaf tastes like cardboard.”

Or at the family reunion when your sister’s new husband complains about labor unions to your uncle who has worked as a union electrician his entire life.

…That kind of uncomfortable. It kind of sucks the air out of the space and is usually accompanied by a split second of silence that feels like forever.

Today’s sermon topic has a way of making us feel that kind of uncomfortable.

We continue our sermon series, You Asked For It, with a question submitted by one of you, “Is the Black Lives Matter movement a form of racism?”

I will be honest, it has been an uncomfortable week for me. The more I prepared for this sermon, the more uncomfortable I became. I was uncomfortable because so many of the stories I was reading were so far outside my own experience that it was hard to wrap my brain around them. I was uncomfortable because many of the stories point to unjust systems and ways of being that have benefited me my entire life. I was uncomfortable because it is clear to me that many of our brothers and sisters who have black skin are in deep pain, are very angry and frustrated with systemic racism that continues to affect their lives every single day. And I was uncomfortable because the more I read, the more convinced I became that the narrative in the media about the Black Lives Matter movement is creating a smokescreen that is keeping us from fully addressing the real root of the pain and anger from which Black Lives Matter was born. That root is racism. Our country has a problem with racism…and sometimes when we try to talk about it, we get very uncomfortable; sometimes we get angry and defensive.

I remember being a store with my grandma when I was about 8. We were standing at the checkout and an African-American man got in line behind us. As he did, my grandma moved her purse from her side to in front of her and she clutched it tightly. I asked her why she was doing that. Even at 8 years old, I remember how uncomfortable my grandma looked as she very quietly explained that it is good and responsible to be sure you keep an eye on your belongings. Racism makes us uncomfortable.

Today we are going to talk about it though. I hope the result of talking about it here is that we will begin to listen to one another, growing to understand experiences different from our own.

Let’s start with the text Sue read for us. Did this story make you feel uncomfortable? In the story, the woman, a Gentile, hearing that Jesus was traveling around healing people, appealed to him to heal her demon possessed daughter. She bowed at his feet as she begged him to help.

Now, what would you think Jesus might to say to this distraught mother?

I thought of a number of things he might say…all of them filled with compassion, care, and concern.

He said none of them.

Instead, he said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Jesus’ answer was in the form of a metaphor. The children in this metaphor are the children of Israel, the Jewish people. The dogs were anyone who was not Jewish, the Gentiles. Basically, what Jesus was saying was, “My ministry is to people like me, Jewish people.”

That makes me uncomfortable. That is not the kind of thing the Jesus I follow would say. The Jesus I follow was the one who told the story about the Good Samaritan. The question the story answered was, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer, “Everyone.”

The Jesus I follow forgave the Samaritan woman at the well; healed lepers, ate with tax collectors, and challenged religious leaders who cared more about law than love. The Jesus in this story slurred a woman who begged him to help her child, comparing her, not to a beloved pet who is a member of the family, but to a semi-wild scavenger, an outsider, who would eat unclean food. 

I am uncomfortable with that.

While I am uncomfortable with it, I can certainly relate to it. We live in a world where name calling is not uncommon. We live in a world where we separate ourselves from people who are different from us. We live in a world where we fear “the other” will take what is ours. This fear is what keeps racism alive. Racism is so much more than name calling. It is embedded deeply into the fabric of this nation and the Black Lives Matter movement is a response to that reality.

The fact is, in this country, life is easier if you have white skin than if you have dark skin. I am not saying that white skin guarantees a person an easy life. That is not the case. Sadly, people of all skin colors experience poverty, violence, family disruption, and negative encounters with the criminal justice system. However, in our country, people with black skin are more likely to experience these things and experience them to a greater extent. This is a fact.

And that fact means that systemic racism exists in this country. That makes us uncomfortable though…because I think we want to believe the best about our country. We want to believe that all people, regardless of the color of their skin, have the same opportunities to succeed, to contribute, to have the things they need, and to be safe. That is not what many, many black people have experienced.

At a Not in Our Town meeting a few months ago, I heard the stories of black students, in our community, who have been discouraged from taking college prep classes in high school while their white peers, with the same or lower grade point averages, have been automatically placed in those classes. That is racism. I have seen studies that show employers are more likely to hire a white person with a criminal record than a Black person without one, and much more likely to follow up on a resume with a “white-sounding” name than an identical resume with a “Black-sounding” name. That is racism.

And we have heard so many stories of black people in our country who fear encounters with our criminal justice system, including law enforcement officers. Sadly, there seems to be a reason for that fear. It is racism.

And just because I have not experienced these things or you have not experienced them, does not mean our black neighbors have not. We must listen to them when they share from their pain, anger, and frustration.

In this congregation, we have heard Jim and Sharon Warren’s stories about the differences between how their children with light skin are treated versus their children with black skin. This week, I read the story of another parent with a similar family make up. She asked me, the reader, a number of questions:

Do store personnel follow your children when they are picking out their Gatorade flavors?

Do coffee shop employees interrogate your children about the credit card they are using while you are using the restroom?

Do your kids get treated one way when they are standing alone but treated completely different when you walk up?

Do the shoe sales people ask if your kids’ feet are clean?

To all of these questions, and many others, this mother says, “My black children are treated differently than my white children.” We need to listen and believe this mother and every other parent who shares these stories.

 We need to listen to her and others as they have joined voices to say, “Black Lives Matter.”

And that may make us uncomfortable. Some of us might be tempted to respond by saying, “All Lives Matter.” Please don’t.

The Black Lives Matter movement is not “only Black Lives Matter.”

It is Black Lives Matter too.

The movement is about the experiences of black people. It is about black parents fearing for their child’s life when he walks out the front door. It is about black people not having the same opportunities white people have. It is about injustice. Let’s face it, in this country, white people have always mattered…just ask the Native Americans.

Let me say it this way (in the words of Reddit user, GeekAesthete):

Imagine that you're a teenager sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don't get any. So you say, "I should get my fair share." And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, "Everyone should get their fair share." Now, that's a wonderful sentiment — Indeed, everyone should, and that was kind of your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad's comment just dismissed you and didn't solve the problem that you still haven't gotten any!

The problem is that the statement "I should get my fair share" had an implicit "too" at the end: "I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else." But your dad's response treated your statement as though you meant "only I should get my fair share," which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that "everyone should get their fair share," while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.

Just like asking dad for your fair share, the phrase "black lives matter" also has an implicit "too" at the end: It's saying that black lives should also matter. But responding to this by saying "all lives matter" is willfully going back to ignoring the problem. It's a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means "only black lives matter," when that is obviously not the case. And so saying "all lives matter" as a direct response to "black lives matter" is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem.

First Christian Church member Camille Taylor, in her recent WJBC forum, titled Which Lives Matter? said it this way:

“The leaders of this movement already know that all lives matter, but from the beginning, they wanted attention drawn to a disturbing pattern of reports of the over use of force toward black people. They want to end systemic racism across institutions, but particularly in the criminal justice system.”

The Black Lives Matter movement is not a racist movement. It is a justice movement. It is a justice movement that calls all of us to work together to end racism in this country. We must stop being distracted by semantics which serves as a smoke screen, keeping us from engaging the real problem. We cannot word smith the problem away. The problem is racism and it affects real people, with real lives, real families, and real fear about the future.

Semantics is not the only thing keeping us from engaging racism. The media’s portrayal of the Black Lives Matter movement as inherently violent and destructive distracts us from the real work of Black Lives Matter. Violence and the destruction of property are never okay. It’s important to remember, though, that Black Lives Matter is not the first justice movement that has struggled with the actions of individuals within the movement.

In fact, this week I ran across a letter, written to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. The letter was signed by a group of clergy. Here is an excerpt:

“…we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely…”

Just as we formerly pointed out that “hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions,” we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham.

The problem then was not the protests. The problem now is not the protests. The problem is racism.

Other smoke screens include, pointing out that crimes among members of the black community exist in abundance, however the existence and prevalence of “black on black” crime does not change the fact that people with black skin do not have the same opportunities or receive the same treatment as people with white skin. And yes, those black lives matter, too.

Stories about barbeques and ice cream with police officers promote positive interaction between law enforcement and black citizens, but do not solve the problem of systemic racism.

The phrase Blue Lives Matter, adopted by some people to draw attention to the contentious environment law enforcement is working within, is another smokescreen. Yes, the lives of the brave men and women who protect our communities matter. However, it is important to remember that, in our world, policemen have position and power that black citizens do not have.

I identified one more smoke screen this week. As I read parts of the platform adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement, “A Vision for Black Lives”, I was disappointed that leaders entered into the political realm of U.S. foreign policy and views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In my opinion, they created their own smoke screen that distracts from what I understand as their primary message. The problem is still racism.

Despite the negativity that has surrounded The Black Lives Matter movement. Participants have done some important things.

Students on college campuses have rallied to draw attention to racial issues that have plagued their campuses. At the University of Missouri, a protest led to the resignation of the university’s president who failed to institute and enforce policies that discourage racism. On the campuses of Harvard, Brown, Yale and others faculty have taken a deeper look at racial history as it relates to student life. For example, on Georgetown’s campus, administrators renamed buildings that once honored slave owners.

Black Lives Matters activists protested the Confederate flag and have encouraged legislators to act on its removal from public spaces. Much needed attention has been drawn to the school to prison pipeline that exists for black people.

There are many more good and important things happening because of this movement for justice. And we are invited to be part of it.

I know this has been an uncomfortable message for some of you. I hope you will come and talk to me if something I have said has upset you. I want to listen to you as you have patiently listened to me. Know that above everything else, I want us to follow Jesus together. So let’s go back for a minute to where we left our scripture passage.

Following Jesus’ initial derogatory answer to the woman, she responded with, “…even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Jesus, my child matters too.

Jesus’ response was to heal the girl. One scholar I read this week urges us to think of this story, not as a miracle of healing story, but as a miracle of overcoming prejudice and boundaries that separate people. For the initial hearers and readers of this story, this exchange points toward a future in which Gentiles would be included in God’s kingdom. For us, I believe it points us toward a future when we will not have to explain that, of course all lives matter…of course they do. That is the foundation of everything I believe about God. We are all created in God’s image. Every one of us bears God’s likeness.

Right now though, it is the stories of our black neighbors that we need to listen to and believe. We can show them we have heard them by standing together, by lifting our voices with theirs, demanding and working toward justice for everyone because Black Lives Matter today and every day.


Twin Citians United in Face of Nationwide Violence


Residents came together from the community to remember the recent  victims of violence and racism throughout the country on Monday night, as Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church Rev. Frank McSwain led the gathering in the rallying call, “United, we stand; divided, we fall.”

Moses Montefiore Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe and Imam Abu Emad AL-Talla chat with Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner prior to the vigil.

Moses Montefiore Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe and Imam Abu Emad AL-Talla chat with Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner prior to the vigil.

Leaders from five area religious denominations came together at Bloomington First Christian Church for what is becoming a hallmark of Bloomington-Normal’s Not In Our Town efforts -- a bringing together of all faiths and even those questioning their faith. The prayer service included a reading of names, a lighting of candles, and a moment of silence for victims and the families of shooting victims in Dallas, Minnesota, and Louisiana.

"If we don't start living together as people, I promise we are already dead as a community," McSwain warned.

The vigil included chanting, or a Sholka (Song) to bring in light by local Hindu Priest Divaspathi Bhat. Imam Abu Emad AL-Talla of the Bloomington mosque Masjid Ibrahim provided a meditation on light and the service included a later reference to the Martin Luther King quote, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can drive out darkness," while Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of the Moses Montefiore Temple in Bloomington issued a call to action which could be different for each person -- "We can't just stand here after this night. Think about what you can do to make a difference in people's lives."

Imam Abu Emad and Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church Senior Past Frank McSwain join in a gesture of solidarity.

Imam Abu Emad and Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church Senior Past Frank McSwain join in a gesture of solidarity.

First Christian Senior Pastor Jim Warren, the father of a large multicultural family, said he's tired of holding vigils and rallies. "I'm tired of us saying we are going to do something and then we don't." He suggested, "reach out to those who are different from us.  Build a community of compassion."

“We really need to see each other as human beings,” said Mike Matejka from Not In Our Town . “That’s people in the community, that’s people of diverse background, that’s our law enforcement. There is so much tension in our nation right now, this is an opportunity to come together in our diversity and say we’re all human, we all support each other, we need each other to heal .”

“It is really beginning to seem that way, that we can’t find civil ways to discourse,” added Anne Libert, and retired teacher from Unit 5 and Not In Our Town volunteer.  “We seem to want to attack the other and blame the other, no matter who the other is.”

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner said he was heartened by the turn out at First Christian Church and the standing ovation given officers there, but he said the people who need to hear the call for unity, empathy, and tolerance were likely not there to hear it. The challenge, he says, is reaching that group. Heffner is interviewed in an upcoming Twin Cities Stories blog article, along with local NAACP head Quincy Cummings.

Bill Kellett of Normal said he came because he needed reassurance that something like the police shootings in Dallas, Texas, would not happen here. “I know our town is different and I can’t see that happening here,” he said. “Yet, I’m glad that we have people in this community who care enough that show that we won’t tolerate that kind of hatred here.”

Sam Ridgway of Bloomington said people need events like this where they could gather peacefully.

“I want to be around people who are committed to making this area a better place,” he said. “I am thankful that we are a smaller community and can have something like this in a church, rather  than downtown near a courthouse where it’s in an open area and you are a little scared.”

Janet Merriman of Bloomington argued “people are putting their lives on the line just by going out and protesting, but here, we are letting people know that we see what’s going on in the world and we aren’t going to let it happen here.”

“Brothers and sisters, whatever they are.  Black, white, tall, short, rich, poor. They are brothers,” said Imam Abu Emad AL-Talla.

“To claim light in darkness, to remember the lives and potential that have been lost as a result of violence against our brothers and sisters,” NIOTBN Faith and Outreach Chairman and First Christian Associate Minister Kelly Becker of First Community Christian Church maintained. “And to look forward to a different future for our neighborhoods, our community and our nation.”

Blackness: A Beauty Screens Sunday at Normal Library

The anti-racist short film, Blackness: A Beauty, premieres at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Normal Public Library.

Inspired by #BlackLivesMatter, this short film follows the story of a local Indian-American Bloomington teenager as he goes to Africa to explore the power of black culture but instead is confronted by his own emotional insecurities about growing up brown in America, as well as his own inner racist qualities.

This comedic, yet thoughtful short film explores the ago-old spiritual question of "who am I?" in our modern day, racially divided world. Racist qualities live in our society, but have they been transferred to us?

Snack on hot double chocolate brownies and watch the short film followed by a workshop and group conversation on confronting racism.

Listening to Our Ancestors Explores Tragic Hidden History

An Illinois State University professor hopes to raise racial sensitivity by raising awareness of the “missing link in the history of slavery” that began before imprisoned Africans even arrived on American shores and has affected African-Americans many generations later.

Ghana's Elmina Castle, where Africans languished while awaiting shipment to the Americas.

Ghana's Elmina Castle, where Africans languished while awaiting shipment to the Americas.

The slave dungeon.

The slave dungeon.

According to Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum, the upcoming local presentation Why Do Black Lives Matter? Listening to Our Ancestors explores “the journey that people of African descent took to get here,” focusing on the African “slave dungeons” where men and women were held following their capture and sale to American “owners.” Aduonum extensively researched the experiences of African women who were enslaved at Elmina Castle on the coast of Ghana, and her program reportedly will attempt “to connect the dots from pre-slavery to Black Lives Matter Movement.”

The evening program will include a historical powerpoint, a musical dance drama featuring Bloomington-Normal community members, and a community “talk back and civic dialogue.” Aduonum will present the program from 7 to 8:45 p.m. June 29 and 30 in the Normal Public Library Community Room and July 5 and 12 in the Bloomington Public Library Community Room, from 7 to 9 p.m.

Often, individuals were kept in cages for months until slave ships could be filled for passage from Ghana across the Atlantic, and African women faced the same kind of sexual victimization they would experience with U.S. slave owners, Aduonum said.

She believes many of those who fail to understand or appreciate the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement fail to grasp the true depth of “the historical violation of black bodies.” As horrifying as some film treatments of slavery have been, Hollywood has effectively “whitewashed” its tragic, deep-rooted human dimensions, the ethnomusicologist and doctor of philosophy argues.

“What we hear about or see on TV is slaves working on the plantation,” Aduonum related. “We never talk about how they got here. My argument is that once they were captured and sold, it was in these places where they became slaves. It was there where they were controlled and starved or left to die in isolation cells. This was where their psyche was shaped – where they lost their community, their collective identity. Once you are branded, you are a commodity – your identity, your name, everything was stripped away.

“What this also shows us is that the violation of black bodies didn’t just start with the Black Lives Matter movement – it started a long time ago. I’m trying to make a connection between what is going on now and what was going on before. This racism actually started in these dungeons, because it was here where the idea of white superiority and black inferiority started – the objectification of black bodies started here.”

She characterizes the trauma and “anguish” slavery has inflicted on many modern African-Americans as “post-slavery traumatic syndrome,” comparable to general post-traumatic stress disorder but on a genetically ingrained “cell memory” level. Except, however, that “people who have gone through a traumatic situation often get counseling” – an option unavailable to those abruptly freed in the 1860s, some after nearly a lifetime of slavery.

Aduonum began researching the slave dungeons in 2009, during a university sabbatical, developing the script for the play Walking With My Ancestors in 2014 based on her interviews and journey to slave “spaces.” “I stood in this cell and tried to imagine what life must have been for these people who had no voice,” she recalled. “In my script, the spaces are also talking.”

Following its debut in November 2014, the program traveled to Washington last June and was presented last fall as part of ISU Homecoming. Aduonum cited “really intense dialogue” particularly in D.C., and noted ISU students were “outraged” by the lack of public attention given the slave dungeons – a historical aspect they felt was necessary for individuals to truly shape “informed decisions about racism.”

“We always assume that black people are complaining about nothing,” she suggested. “We just don’t know.”

The Bookshelf: Sociopolitics, Sex, and Religion

In tough social, political, and interpersonal times, where do you go? How about the library?

The Normal Public Library's latest nonfiction acquisitions offer in-depth perspectives on the religious conflicts that continue to reverberate in the post-9/11 world, the racial dynamics that spark heated debate and dialogue in our cities, and the gender politics that influence individual rights and opportunities.

Here's a sampling:

Not In God's Name: In this powerful and timely book, one of the most admired and authoritative religious leaders of our time tackles the phenomenon of religious extremism and violence committed in the name of God. If religion is perceived as being part of the problem, Rabbi Sacks argues, then it must also form part of the solution. When religion becomes a zero-sum conceit—that is, my religion is the only right path to God, therefore your religion is by definition wrong—and individuals are motivated by what Rabbi Sacks calls “altruistic evil,” violence between peoples of different beliefs appears to be the only natural outcome. But through an exploration of the roots of violence and its relationship to religion, and employing groundbreaking biblical analysis and interpretation, Rabbi Sacks shows that religiously inspired violence has as its source misreadings of biblical texts at the heart of all three Abrahamic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Why Be Jewish?: Completed in December 2013, just weeks before he passed away, WHY BE JEWISH? expresses Edgar Bronfman's awe, respect, and deep love for his faith and heritage. Bronfman walks readers through the major tenets and ideas in Jewish life, fleshing out their meaning and offering proof texts from the Jewish tradition gleaned over his many years of study with some of the greatest teachers in the Jewish world. Bronfman shares In WHY BE JEWISH? insights gleaned from his own personal journey and makes a compelling case for the meaning and transcendence of a secular Judaism that is still steeped in deep moral values, authentic Jewish texts, and a focus on deed over creed or dogma.

We Too Sing America: Many of us can recall the targeting of South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh people in the wake of 9/11. We may be less aware, however, of the ongoing racism directed against these groups in the past decade and a half. In We Too Sing America, nationally renowned activist Deepa Iyer catalogs recent racial flashpoints, from the 2012 massacre at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, to the violent opposition to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and to the Park 51 Community Center in Lower Manhattan. Author Iyer asks whether hate crimes should be considered domestic terrorism and explores the role of the state in perpetuating racism through detentions, national registration programs, police profiling, and constant surveillance.

The Long Emancipation: Perhaps no event in American history arouses more impassioned debate than the abolition of slavery. Answers to basic questions about who ended slavery, how, and why remain fiercely contested more than a century and a half after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. In The Long Emancipation, Ira Berlin draws upon decades of study to offer a framework for understanding slavery’s demise in the United States. Freedom was not achieved in a moment, and emancipation was not an occasion but a near-century-long process—a shifting but persistent struggle that involved thousands of men and women. Berlin teases out the distinct characteristics of emancipation, weaving them into a larger narrative of the meaning of American freedom. The most important factor was the will to survive and the enduring resistance of enslaved black people themselves. In striving for emancipation, they were also the first to raise the crucial question of their future status. If they were no longer slaves, what would they be?

The Black Presidency: A provocative and lively deep dive into the meaning of America's first black presidency, from “one of the most graceful and lucid intellectuals writing on race and politics today” (Vanity Fair). Michael Eric Dyson explores the powerful, surprising way the politics of race have shaped Barack Obama’s identity and groundbreaking presidency. How has President Obama dealt publicly with race—as the national traumas of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott have played out during his tenure? What can we learn from Obama's major race speeches about his approach to racial conflict and the black criticism it provokes? Dyson explores whether Obama’s use of his own biracialism as a radiant symbol has been driven by the president’s desire to avoid a painful moral reckoning on race. And he sheds light on identity issues within the black power structure, telling the fascinating story of how Obama has spurned traditional black power brokers, significantly reducing their leverage. 

Negroland: At once incendiary and icy, mischievous and provocative, celebratory and elegiac — here is a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, and American culture through the prism of author Margo Jefferson’s rarefied upbringing and education among a black elite concerned with distancing itself from whites and the black generality while tirelessly measuring itself against both. Born in upper-crust black Chicago—her father was for years head of pediatrics at Provident, at the time the nation’s oldest black hospital; her mother was a socialite—Margo Jefferson has spent most of her life among (call them what you will) the colored aristocracy, the colored elite, the blue-vein society. Since the nineteenth century they have stood apart, these inhabitants of Negroland, “a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.” Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments—the civil rights movement, the dawn of feminism, the fallacy of postracial America—Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions. Aware as it is of heart-wrenching despair and depression, this book is a triumphant paean to the grace of perseverance.

Show Me A Hero: Not in my backyard -- that's the refrain commonly invoked by property owners who oppose unwanted development. Such words assume a special ferocity when the development in question is public housing. Lisa Belkin penetrates the prejudices, myths, and heated emotions stirred by the most recent trend in public housing as she re-creates a landmark case in riveting detail, showing how a proposal to build scattered-site public housing in middle-class neighborhoods nearly destroyed an entire city and forever changed the lives of many of its citizens.

Trans Portraits: A fascinating collective memoir of the lives and experiences of 34 transgender people, in their own voices.

The Gay Revolution: The sweeping story of the modern struggle for gay, lesbian, and trans rights—from the 1950s to the present—based on amazing interviews with politicians, military figures, legal activists, and members of the entire LGBT community who face these challenges every day. The fight for gay, lesbian, and trans civil rights—the years of outrageous injustice, the early battles, the heart-breaking defeats, and the victories beyond the dreams of the gay rights pioneers—is the most important civil rights issue of the present day. Based on rigorous research and more than 150 interviews, The Gay Revolution tells this unfinished story not through dry facts but through dramatic accounts of passionate struggles, with all the sweep, depth, and intricacies only award-winning activist, scholar, and novelist like Lillian Faderman can evoke. The Gay Revolution begins in the 1950s, when law classified gays and lesbians as criminals, the psychiatric profession saw them as mentally ill, the churches saw them as sinners, and society victimized them with irrational hatred. Against this dark backdrop, a few brave people began to fight back, paving the way for the revolutionary changes of the 1960s and beyond. Faderman discusses the protests in the 1960s; the counter reaction of the 1970s and early eighties; the decimated but united community during the AIDS epidemic; and the current hurdles for the right to marriage equality.

The Only Woman in the Room: In 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, asked why so few women, even today, achieve tenured positions in the hard sciences, Eileen Pollack set out to find the answer. A successful fiction writer, Pollack had grown up in the 1960s and ’70s dreaming of a career as a theoretical astrophysicist. Denied the chance to take advanced courses in science and math, she nonetheless made her way to Yale. There, despite finding herself far behind the men in her classes, she went on to graduate summa cum laude, with honors, as one of the university’s first two women to earn a bachelor of science degree in physics. And yet, isolated, lacking in confidence, starved for encouragement, she abandoned her ambition to become a physicist. Years later, spurred by the suggestion that innate differences in scientific and mathematical aptitude might account for the dearth of tenured female faculty at Summer’s institution, Pollack thought back on her own experiences and wondered what, if anything, had changed in the intervening decades. Based on six years interviewing her former teachers and classmates, as well as dozens of other women who had dropped out before completing their degrees in science or found their careers less rewarding than they had hoped, The Only Woman in the Room is a bracingly honest, no-holds-barred examination of the social, interpersonal, and institutional barriers confronting women—and minorities—in the STEM fields.

Everyday Sexism: The Everyday Sexism Project was founded by writer and activist Laura Bates in April 2012. It began life as a website where people could share their experiences of daily, normalized sexism, from street harassment to workplace discrimination to sexual assault and rape. The Project became a viral sensation, attracting international press attention from The New York Times to French Glamour, Grazia South Africa, to the Times of India and support from celebrities such as Rose McGowan, Amanda Palmer, Mara Wilson, Ashley Judd, James Corden, Simon Pegg, and many others. The project has now collected over 100,000 testimonies from people around the world and launched new branches in 25 countries worldwide. The project has been credited with helping to spark a new wave of feminism.



Novelist/Poet To Give Reading Wednesday on Campus


Celebrated author and scholar Percival Everett will give a reading of his work at 7 p.m. Wednesday, February 3, in the Prairie Room of the Bone Student Center. The event is free and open to the public.

There will also be a Q&A session at 2 p.m. in Stevenson Hall, room 401.

Everett is a distinguished professor at the University of Southern California, and an internationally renown author of more than 25 novels and collections of poetry. His works include the award-winning Erasure, and I Am Not Sidney Poitier.

He is the recipient of the Pen Center Award for Fiction, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the Academy Award in Literature, the Dos Passos Prize, and the New American Writing Award, among others. Everett’s most recent work are Assumption: A Novel, Percival Everett by Virgil Russell: A Novel, and a collection of short fiction titled Half an Inch of Water.

The event is free, open to the public, and sponsored by Illinois State’s Creative Writing Program, Department of English, the Harold K. Sage Foundation, and the Illinois State University Foundation.

Actor-Director Esposito to Keynote ISU Black History Cultural Dinner

Award-winning actor, director, and education advocate Giancarlo Esposito will be the guest speaker at the Black History Cultural Dinner at 5 p.m. Wednesday, February 24, in the Brown Ballroom of the Bone Student Center.

Tickets for the dinner are available online. Tickets are $20, or one swipe of a meal plan for Illinois State students. Tickets are available online only, and will not be sold at the door.

During the dinner, Esposito will share his journey as an actor and an artist with a will to succeed despite the hurdles many people of color face while trying to break into “the industry.”

The event is sponsored by Illinois State’s University Housing Services, Campus Dining Services, the Association of Residence Halls, Hewett-Manchester Student Association, East Campus Diversity Coalition, and MECCPAC, a Dean of Students’ Diversity Initiative.


Esposito is a celebrated television, film, and stage actor, whose career spans decades and includes more than 60 films. Television audiences know him best for his iconic portrayal of drug kingpin Gustavo “Gus” Fring in AMC’s award-winning series Breaking Bad, for which he won the 2012 Critics Choice Award and earned a 2012 Emmy nomination. Other notable roles include Spike Lee films such as School Daze and Do The Right Thing, as well as Rabbit Hole, The Usual Suspects, Smoke, and The Last Holiday.

In 2007, through his production company, Quiet Hand Productions, Esposito made his feature directorial debut with the film Gospel Hill. He also co-starred with Danny Glover, Angela Bassett, Julia Stiles, Taylor Kitsch, and Samuel L. Jackson. Quiet Hand Productions aspires to make “conscious content” films that focus on the inspirational.

For additional information, contact Michelle Halpin at 309-438-8611.

African-American Hall of Fame Scholarship Applications Sought

The African American Hall of Fame Museum supports African American graduating seniors of Bloomington and Normal high schools who are pursuing higher education at an accredited college or university.   

Toward that end, the Hall of Fame awards scholarships to support and encourage community involvement among African-American students. The scholarships are one-year, non-renewable monetary awards to be applied toward expenses incurred to attend an accredited college or university. The awards will be disbursed to the recipient at the beginning of the fall semesters of the freshman year.  Proof of full-time enrollment (a minimum of 12 credit hours) must be provided. 

Scholarship recipients and their schools will be notified by February 9, 2016, and scholarship recipients will be expected to attend the African American Hall of Fame Museum’s Red, Black, and Green Ball at 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Peoria Riverfront Museum in Peoria. Scholarship recipients must submit an electronic photo for the press release. 

Scholarship eligibility is based upon the following criteria: 

• An African-American resident of the greater Bloomington and Normal School Districts.

• A 2016 graduating high school senior.

• Minimum high school cumulative grade point average of 3.2 on a 4.0 or 5.0 scale.

• Leadership qualities as evidenced by activities, interests, and affiliations within school and the community

• Acceptance at an accredited college or university for the 2016-2017 academic year.

To qualify, complete and sign the enclosed application form below and attach the following: 

• Official high school transcript (through the seventh semester), including cumulative grade point average

• A copy of admission letter to an accredited college or university for the 2016-2017 academic year,

• Two letters of reference (including name, address, and telephone number) - one from a teacher or counselor, and one from an adult (other than a relative or personal friend), who can attest to your character.

• An essay on “How does knowing history help shape your future." The essay must be a minimum 500 words, double-, and written in a 12-point font.

Incomplete applications and/or applications postmarked after January 28, 2016, will not be considered. A completed application and attachments must be postmarked by January 28, 2016, and mailed to Bobby Gray, Scholarship Co-Chairperson, African American Hall of Fame Museum, 309 S. DuSable Street Peoria, Il 61602.

Applications also may be scanned and emailed by January 28, 2016, to

Dietz Sees ISU to Increased Latino, African-American Numbers

Noelle McGee

Champaign News-Gazette

Three weeks ago, Illinois State University Student Trustee Connor Joyce felt a sense of deja vu while talking with an alumnus who was on campus for homecoming weekend.

The alumnus recounted he was tailgating when a man in Redbirds attire approached him, shook his hand and struck up a conversation. During their chat, he asked the man if he worked for the university.

"Yes. I'm Larry Dietz, the university president," the man answered cheerfully.

"The guy was blown away," Joyce recalled, adding the alumnus probably assumed he was talking to a staffer on the welcoming committee or someone enjoying the tailgate. "He couldn't believe the president of the university would be walking around ... shaking hands with everybody."

"I wasn't surprised," continued Joyce, who knew how personable Dietz is and how much he enjoys meeting people. "I would only expect that of President Dietz. At the same time, I was proud to hear that. It's just an example of the great institution we have, and how this school and its top administrator are open and approachable and focused on people ... and giving them a great experience here."

Dietz's appointment as Illinois State's 19th president in March 2014 came at a low point in the history of the state's oldest public university, according to board Chairman Rocky Donahue.

But in the 20 months he's been at the helm, Donahue said Dietz not only restored trust and confidence in the school's leadership, which took a hit under his predecessor Timothy Flanagan's 7-month tenure, but also has "continued the momentum that was built under previous administrations.

Under Dietz' watch:

— "US News & World Report" ranked ISU the 79th best public university in the nation, up from 81 in 2014.

— The school was ranked fifth in the Midwest Best Bang for the Buck category of the Washington Monthly's book, "The Other College Guide: A Road Map for the Right School for You," based on its affordability, financial aid, low student debt and high graduation rates.

— It was named a "Great College to Work For" according to survey by "The Chronicle of Higher Education" in the category of teaching environment, which looks at innovative and high-quality teaching.

— ISU has many nationally ranked sports teams, and more than 350 registered student organizations to be involved in.

— The 2015 freshman enrollment marked a 26-year high with 3,632 students.

— Total enrollment increased 1 percent over last fall. There was an 8 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students and a 6 percent increase in African-American students, and one-fifth of the student population comes from traditionally underrepresented groups.

— The school raised $36.8 million in private funds, breaking its private fundraising record for a second straight year and doubling last year's amount of $19.5 million. The gifts mostly support scholarships and academic programs.

"We're in a good place now," Donahue continued, pointing to ISU's ranking as one of the top public universities in the U.S. and a recent College Scorecard report highlighting the school's 71 percent graduation rate, 82 percent freshman retention rate and 2.8 percent student loan default rate, all much better than the national averages.

"For students ... our competition is the University of Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin. We're in that tier now. That's a result of a lot of hard work and certainly Larry Dietz as well. ... There's a lot of confidence in the university from the community — the alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff — now. I can't say everyone's happy with everything. But everyone says we have the right person at the helm, and they have confidence in him,"

Current and past trustees, faculty and staff, students and alumni say that has a lot to do with Dietz's personality. He's accessible, open and willing to listen, they said. He's also humble, down to earth and has a genuine compassion for students and desire to see them succeed.

"One thing that really struck me about Larry was his human quality and ability to relate to people," said Judge Michael McCuskey, who chaired the board when Dietz came to ISU as vice president of student affairs and later was promoted to the top job. McCuskey has since stepped down as a trustee.

"In everything that Larry does, he goes the extra mile for students," McCuskey said, recalling how in his previous position he handled a student's suicide, reaching out to the parents and presenting them with a diploma in their son's honor and leading the Redbirds community in the grieving process. "I think that's what a president should do — be concerned about students first because they are who we're here to serve. Of course, that's been his passion for over 40 years — serving students."

While Dietz was thrust into the presidency suddenly and unexpectedly after the board and Flanagan decided to part ways, he said he was ready to take the reins due in large part to his four decades in higher education, serving as an administrative staffer, leader and professor.

"It was a good fit for me, and I believed in the values of our 'Educating Illinois' strategic plan," said Dietz, who sees ISU's mission as "being the premier undergraduate university in the state ... in terms of both our academic programs and co-curricular offerings with selective, high-quality graduate programs. That's the lane we swim in ... and within our lane we want to have the most efficient stroke and swim faster than anyone else in the state."

Dietz credits his parents, Herman and Helen Dietz, and his upbringing on a 160-acre dairy farm outside of DeSoto, in Southern Illinois, for shaping his work ethic, values and character traits.

His great-grandfather homesteaded the farm in 1863, and his brother, Clifford Dietz, owned it until his death in September. Today, two nieces and three grandnieces live there, and he visits when he can. As a boy, Dietz rose at 4:30 each morning to help milk cows and feed chickens and hogs before eating a quick breakfast and taking a long bus ride to school. There were more chores to do after school — before dinner and homework.

"You learn a lot about hard work and responsibility," said Dietz, who also developed a business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit on the farm.

He also learned to get through challenging times by keeping a positive attitude, not dwelling on things he couldn't control, having faith and leaning on family and friends for support.

Dietz attended DeSoto Elementary School, where his mother taught for years and his father served on the school board.

"There aren't many of you around, so you got to do a lot of different things," Dietz said with a laugh, adding his class consisted of nine girls and seven boys, many of whom still keep in touch. "I think I played on every sports team."

Dietz enjoyed school and doing homework. He also was a voracious reader. While there wasn't a lot of money for books, he devoured his Scholastic "Weekly Reader" magazine that he got at school.

"It kind of expanded my horizons and told me about other places in the world and other things that were happening outside my family farm, DeSoto and Jackson County."

Finding his calling

After graduating from Carbondale Community High School, Dietz studied political science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He had hoped to attend law school, but a lack of finances led him to a job teaching government at his old high school that summer. When the job was eliminated in the fall, he returned to the farm to help bring in the harvest and applied for various jobs. One offer was for a financial aid adviser at Southern.

"I knew something about scholarships ... and not having a lot of money. And other people had helped me along when I was a student, so I thought this might be a good fit," Dietz recalled.

After two years of working in the financial aid office and on a master's degree in higher education and student personnel, Dietz took on more responsibility in the financial aid division at Iowa State University. He worked there for 13 years, finished his master's program and earned a doctorate degree in higher education administration.

In Ames, he had an opportunity to work as the assistant to the vice president for student affairs.

"That really opened my eyes to some of the other units within the university," Dietz said. "I felt a terrific desire to work in a capacity to help other students and watch them grow and develop."

Dietz went on to serve at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he held various leadership positions including vice chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, and at his alma mater, where he was vice chancellor for student affairs, special assistant to the chancellor and a tenured associate professor in educational administration and higher education.

Then in 2011 he came to Illinois State, which had "a stellar" reputation and gave him a chance to work with then-President Al Bowman, who was well-respected and beloved by the Redbird Community.

"He and I got along famously. I thought I would finish my career working for him."

But after 10 years at the helm, Bowman retired in 2013. Dietz hoped to succeed him but came up short in the lengthy, national search.

"No one really likes to be second," Dietz said, admitting he felt some professional and personal disappointment. But, he said he never thought about bailing on ISU to seek out another university president or chancellor's position.

"I tell our students that leadership is about stepping up and stepping out. It's not about getting what you want all of the time. I needed to model that myself," said Dietz, who had made a commitment to help the university and his division through the leadership transition. "I was committed to being the best VP I could be regardless of who was sitting in the president's chair."

Unfortunately, the transition didn't go smoothly, officials recalled. Flanagan drew criticism for not being responsive or taking advantage of opportunities to interact with students, among other things. The final straw was when he came under investigation for a confrontation with the then-superintendent of grounds over the unauthorized removal of decorative lights at the university-owned president's house.

After Flanagan stepped down, Dietz had to deal with the fallout, including answering why Flanagan walked away with a $480,418 check, negotiated under his resignation agreement — and run the university, which enrolls more than 20,700 students and employs about 3,500, making it McLean County's second-largest employer behind State Farm.

"I'm overall, a very positive guy, and I really do believe we shouldn't spend a lot time on things we can't control," Dietz said on his approach to stemming the controversy and moving forward. "What was history was history. I was hired to look to the future, and that's what I planned to do ... and what I encouraged other people to do. ... We've had great support from the community, from the towns of Normal and Bloomington.

"There's a lot of people who not only want us to succeed, but be excellent," continued Dietz, who wasted no time moving down the hall to the president's office in Hovey Hall and getting to work on filling cabinet positions, increasing diversity and civic engagement, planning the $32.9 million Bone Student Center revitalization project and other capital improvements, launching the "Redbird Scholar" biannual publication showcasing the university's research, scholarship and creative projects, as well as day-to-day operations.

University leaders said they have enjoyed working with Dietz in his new role.

"He has shown great leadership with respect to our budget and ... responding to the impasse at the state level. He has also initiated or bolstered campus-wide initiatives regard to international curriculum and global learning ... and fostering a campus climate that will be more and more inclusive of diversity in our student body and faculty/staff ranks," Susan Kalter, chairwoman of the Academic Senate, wrote in an email.

The 62-member body shares governance with the president in matters regarding academic policy. Officials boast ISU's model has one of the highest student representations with roughly a third of its members being students.

"I've found him to be not only open to shared governance but intensely interested in and engaged in listening to disparate voices on the Senate and elsewhere. He seems to thoroughly enjoy the debates that we have and gives generously of his time and energy in various meetings with faculty, students and staff," Kalter continued of Dietz, who meets with the group every two weeks and with the executive committee in the off weeks to plan the agenda.

"If I have an issue, he's very open to meeting, depending on his schedule," student body President Ryan Powers said, adding the president's calm, friendly and down-to-earth demeanor makes many students feel welcome and comfortable bringing him their concerns or ideas.

"He gives everyone in the room a chance to have a voice and feel like they're being heard," Student Trustee Joyce agreed. "You know that regardless of whether or not he agrees with you, he's going to value your opinion."

"His goal is always to work as a collaborator so we can create an environment where everyone is engaged and focused on student success and a commitment to excellence," said Janet Krejci, vice president for academic affairs and provost. "And one thing he is always saying is the largest room anyone will ever be in is the room for improvement. We'll always be focused on doing what we can to be better. He's very calm and very focused on getting us to be the best we can be and always open to getting better."

Chief of Staff Jay Groves called Dietz an innovator. For example, he said, ISU is already recognized as a national model for engagement education and activity, but the president didn't want it to rest on its laurels, It was his idea to launch a Center for Civic Engagement to help coordinate programs throughout campus and catalog them and serve as a clearinghouse of information for the university and beyond.

"We want to produce folks that are known in their field. But it's also incumbent upon us to graduate solid citizens ... who not only have good jobs but are good community members who will run for office and be leaders in the communities in which they live and work. That's really our mantra," Dietz said.

Rough road ahead

Dietz said the state budget impasse has been, by far, his biggest challenge in office. He's been an integral part of the full-court press on Gov. Rauner and the Legislature by the nine public universities, led by UI President Timothy Killeen, to adopt a FY2016 budget and restore the millions of dollars in funding to higher education that would be cut under Rauner's plan.

When he hasn't been in Springfield or meeting with lawmakers on Eastern Illinois University's campus, he has been meeting with faculty and staff councils, campus groups and students to reassure them that Illinois State remains stable and the crisis hasn't reduced classes, research or other scholarly activity yet.

"We've been in the business of providing a quality education for years, and we're going to continue to stay in business," Dietz said, adding the university's strong enrollment and healthy reserves have allowed it to continue providing tuition waivers to 680 veterans, National Guard members and special education students and Monetary Award Program grants to more than 4,000 income-eligible students this year.

In October, trustees approved the university's FY2016 operating budget of $422.25 million, reflecting a $7.4 million, or 10 percent, decrease in state appropriations from the previous fiscal year. Because of the funding uncertainty, the university has placed a freeze on administrative hiring and eliminated some positions and deferred millions in renovations and maintenance projects and equipment purchases.

Killeen said the silver lining in the budget impasse has been that the relationships between the nine public university presidents has been strengthened. They meet weekly by phone or in person before Illinois Board of Higher Education meetings "to advocate for the collective best interests of our campuses and the 200,000 students that we serve."

"President Dietz's experience and insights have been invaluable to our efforts, particularly for those of us who are still relatively new to Illinois," said the Welsh-born Killeen, who came to Illinois from State University of New York's Research Foundation. "He grew up here, he earned his undergraduate degree here, and he has spent nearly half of his 40-plus years in higher education here."

Killeen called Dietz, who currently convenes the Illinois Public Universities Presidents and Chancellors Group, a consensus builder "who is always willing to share his talents to help guide us forward and make our case that investing in higher education is an investment in Illinois' future.

"His decades of knowledge, his commitment to excellence, his roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic and his student-centered focus are making a difference not just at ISU, but for public higher education in Illinois as a whole."

'Go Redbirds!'

Dietz briefly addressed the budget stalemate at a presentation to 700 high school students — mainly from Chicago and St. Louis and the surrounding suburbs — who were on campus a week ago as part of the I Can Do ISU program, aimed at recruiting prospective students from traditionally underrepresented groups.

Workshops Focus On Financial Education

A pair of seminars -- one sponsored by the Bloomington-Normal NAACP -- are designed to help strengthen individual and family finances.

Cultural Fest in partnership with State Farm Bank will offer Financial Education Possibilities workshops free to the public, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. October 14 at Bloomington's Chateau Hotel. Register for the workshops at

Seating is limited, so early signup is appreciated. A $50 gift card door prize will be given away during each workshop.

Stink at Budgeting -- 6 p.m.: If you don’t know how to create a budget, this session will address tools to help families and individuals create and stick to a budget.

Credit Myths Discredited – 7 p.m.: Credit impacts every facet of our lives. So, this class helps dispel the myths that exist in regards to credit. The workshop will cover facts and fables on topics ranging from credit reports to credit cards.

For further information, contact Tony Jones  at

Meanwhile, the Bloomington-Normal NAACP Economic Development Committee is sponsoring Black Wealth, a Dialogue About Money, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20 at the McLean County YWCA Community Room. The seminar will include "a snack and a discussion on financial issues, attitudes, problems, and solutions."

Doors open at 6 p.m. for the free program.

'Black Eagle' Keynoter at NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet

Joe Madison, civil rights activist and preeminent African-American radio host known as “The Black Eagle,” is keynote speaker for the Bloomington-Normal Branch of the NAACP's Freedom Fund Banquet, Sept. 19 at Bloomington's DoubleTree Hotel and Convention Center.

The event starts at 7 p.m., preceded by a 6 p.m. social hour.

Takesha Stokes of Bloomington will be presented the Roy Wilkins award for her dedicated service to the NAACP, including serving as first vice president, Freedom Fund Banquet chair, and 2014 State Convention chair.

Another local award recipient will be Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner, who will receive the Merlin Kennedy Community Service award in recognition of his efforts in building a stronger community-police partnership in Bloomington.

Tickets for the Freedom Fund Banquet are $50 for adults, and $25 for youths under 12. For information or to purchase tickets, contact Takesha Stokes 309-242-5827 or Chemberly Cummings at 216-570-0549.

Madison, a radio host on SiriusXM's Urban View channel, served as executive director of the Detroit NAACP at 24. He describes himself as "doggedly progressive," having worked on voter registration efforts and led marches and demonstrations to end the genocide in Darfur.

Last year, Joe Madison received the Freedom Flame Award presented by the Selma, Alabama, Bridge Crossing Jubilee Commission, and was named Outstanding Media Personality at the 104th Annual NAACP Convention. Madison has been selected as one of Talker Magazine’s top 10 talk radio personalities for 10 consecutive years and he is the only African-American to be listed in the “talented tenth.”

B/N NAACP Head Named Citizen of the Year

The Pantagraph

Quincy Cummings, president of the Bloomington-Normal branch of the NAACP and a charter member of the Minority and Police Partnership, was named Normal's Citizen of the Year on Thursday.

The Pantagraph

The Pantagraph

"Quincy's tireless efforts to improve this community for all citizens is exemplary," said Mayor Chris Koos. "His dedication to the cause of equality for all residents of Normal and McLean County stands out along with those of the Citizens of the Year who came before him."

Recently, Cummings has been working with Normal and Bloomington to help with the recruitment of minority employees.

"He wasn't critical; he offered suggestions," said Koos.

Cummings, who was clearly surprised at the announcement, said he was speechless. 

"It's definitely an honor; it's definitely not expected," he said.

Cummings, who received the 2013 Normal Human Relations Commission Martin Luther King Jr. Award, said: "The work I do is not to get awards or ink in the paper. It's what I truly believe is right for the community. While I'm here, I will do what I must to make it in better shape then when I found it."

He has lived in Normal for 22 years, first coming to the community to attend Illinois State University. He has worked at State Farm for 14 years, currently serving as a business analyst.

Cummings said Normal and Bloomington have been very receptive to suggestions to attract a diverse pool of employees.

"From the mayor down, they're reaching out to us," he said. "I think in the next three to five years, there will be more diversity."

He said one of the first changes that needs to be made is the perception of police, especially in light of recent happenings around the nation. 

"We've got to change the perception and also change the culture from within," he said.

The local NAACP branch is working with students studying criminal justice at Illinois State University and Lincoln College to show them "doing police work is honorable and needed," he said. 

In 2014, the NAACP recognized Cummings' efforts by awarding him the Roy Wilkins Award, the highest statewide honor.

"Quincy's work in the community is to make sure the family portrait of Bloomington-Normal portrays all of its residents," said Chemberly Cummings, Quincy Cummings' wife.

Cummings worked with the local NAACP chapter to establish the Minority and Police Partnership after he was the victim of racial profiling in a traffic stop. He also serves on Normal's Human Relation Commission.

Arlene: Louisiana Transplant 'Walking History Book'

Arlene Hosea

WJBC Forum

I will begin with a quote by Marcus Cicero:

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.   For what is the worth of human life, unless to be woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

Pantagraph 2014: Arlene Hosea (third from left) and Henry Gay (center)

Pantagraph 2014: Arlene Hosea (third from left) and Henry Gay (center)

August 5, 2015 is a very important day. Why is that, you might ask? Well, it is the 91stbirthday of Mr. Henry Gay.   Who is Mr. Gay you might ask? Well, if you do not know him, I plan to tell a bit about him but if you get a chance to talk to him, please do because it will be an enlightening conversation.   He is a walking history book regarding African American life in this community over the past 70 years.

Mr. Gay is a man who relocated to the Bloomington-Normal area in 1945 from Shreveport Louisiana and he has seen this community grow and change.   I attended the 2015 History Makers Gala with him and realized how much information he has to share. Mr. Gay has known my family for years and has known me since I was a baby.   I used to be at the Gay family home in the mid to late 1970’s all ofthe time as his daughter Peg was my best friend in high school. Mr. Gay and his wife, the late Bernice Gay was always nice and hospitable. They always asked how things were and how school was going. The conversation about education was important to them and is a very important part of Mr. Gay’s conversation today.   I did not realize at 17 years of age, that I was talking to an advocate who helped craft changes in this community and who made my journey easier because of what he did.

During one of our recent conversations, I learned that this husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and longtime member and Deacon of his church believed in the philosophy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and has worked hard to “follow Kings example.” In 1952, Mr. Gay joined the local chapter of the NAACP, and has been “affectionately referred to as Mr. NAACP or the NAACP Man” because of his leadership role within the organization and being one of its most active members.   Mr. Gay is a very humble man who does not desire to be the center of attention, but a man of conviction and one who will speak up to try to ensure equality and equity for others.

Our community was a different community in 1945 when Mr. Gay arrived and was different when he marched and met with others in the community about housing rights, job opportunities, and theimportance of education and other basic rights. Mr. Gay has been recognized over the years for his contributions.   A few of the recognitions that he has received include: A recipient of the 1988 Bloomington Human Relations Award, in 2000 hereceived the NAACP Roy Wilkins Award for service to the NAACP, and most recently, he was presented with a certificate of recognition for his contributions for “the betterment of the African American Community of Bloomington-Normal and McLean County at the June 20, 2015 Juneteenth Celebration. In 2001 the Student Chapter of the NAACP asked Mr. Gay to be the keynote speaker for their first annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration banquet. His keynote was entitled “Martin Luther King – A Lifetime of Peaceful Protest.”

Mr. Gay is passionate about children giving their best and staying in school to obtain their education.   His quote that I will always remember is “get your education because that is something no one can ever take from you.” Mr. Gay fully understands that education is the key to future opportunity.   If you talk to him, he can tell you about earning $4.50 per week and being thankful for having a job. He can tell you about working hard to raise a family and providing opportunity for his children. As I stated to Mr. Gay one evening while sitting on his porch in early June, “I wish all of my nieces, nephews, and grandchildren could speak with you because your story is one that all of our youth should hear.” Then I added, “It really is one we should all hear.”

Happy Birthday, Mr. Henry Gay, and thank you for being committed to making this community a better one over your 70-year residency.

Arlene Hosea was born and raised in Bloomington.  She retired from Illinois State University and is on the Board of Directors for Special Olympics Illinois.  She has also served on the Town of Normal Human Relations Commission, The Baby Fold and the YWCA Board of Directors.  Arlene resides in Normal.

Seven Set to Compete in NAACP Academic Olympics

Kevin Barlow

The Pantagraph

Jordan Stipp has been dancing since he was 3 years old, but the Normal Community High School junior says he has never had much luck in competition. He has danced throughout the state and even appeared in a professional dance video for an Israeli music artist.

Recently, though, he was one of seven Twin City high school students honored as gold medalists in the Bloomington-Normal NAACP Academic Cultural, Technological Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) competition. The seven will advance to the July 9-12 national competition in Philadelphia, receiving an all-expenses-paid trip.

"This means that I will have a better future for myself," said Stipp, who was awarded a gold medal in dance.

"I have been in competitions competing against people who have had more advanced training than I have had and it's been difficult. But winning something because of my dance means that I can continue doing something I love.

"I will probably still stick with computer science as a career, but this shows me that I can also be successful in dance,"he said.

For the past nine months, students from Normal Community West, Normal Community, University High, and Bloomington high schools have been working on projects in the humanities, performing arts, visual arts and business, said Carol de la Cruz, Bloomington-Normal NAACP ACT-SO Chairwoman.

Thirteen African-American high school students were honored as “Olympians” at an awards ceremony and banquet Sunday at the Illinois State University Hancock Stadium Club. The local competition was Saturday in Normal.

“I was able to see the competition firsthand Saturday and to say that these students are truly exceptional is an understatement,” said Bloomington-Normal NAACP President Quincy Cummings. “Everyone did a great job and we are proud of them.”

"It's very excited, and I can't wait for Philadelphia," said Itayjah Phillips, a senior at Normal Community West who won gold in Dramatics. "This means a lot to me."

Also winning gold were NCHS freshman Alexis Starks (Photography) and senior Malik Woods (Music); University High freshman Jordyn Blythe (Oratory); Normal West sophomore Kamryn Crayton (Short Story); and BHS freshman Tierra Schickel (Poetry).

“These students are excellent people and all entered with a 'We are all winners’ type of mentality,” said Meta Mickens-Baker, chairwoman of student recruitment.

Silver medalists were U High senior Darraugh Griffin (Music), Phillips (Dance) and Blythe (Instrumental Music).

Bronze medalists were BHS junior Sydni Harris (Music Composition), Normal West senior LaShuanti Bailey (Sculpture), Stipp (Oratory), Schickel (Performance Poetry) and NCHS junior Christian Baker (Short Story, Poetry and Music Instrumental).

ACT-SO is the principle youth initiative of the NAACP. It is a year-long enrichment and mentoring program that culminates in the competition where students compete for awards and scholarships totaling more than $100,000. It seeks to promote self-esteem, academic and artistic excellence and positive interaction between youth and the adult professional community.

In the five-year history of the Bloomington-Normal program, there have been 13 local gold medalists. There also have been two national bronze medalists and a national silver medalist.

Black and Latino Male Summit April 11 at ISU

Illinois State University Diversity Advocacy is hosting this year’s Black and Latino Male Summit on Saturday, April 11, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Bone Student Center. This summit is a one-day conference focused on issues and community building of black and Latino males at Illinois State University.

This year’s theme is “Men of Steel,” which will feature five pillars including accountability, nobility, resiliency, scholarship, and unity.

Brandon Cottrell, a senior biological sciences major, participated in the summit last year. He said the summit is geared toward black and Latino males, but is open to anyone who is interested in attending. Cottrell enjoyed the support from other participants and found his experience enlightening. He said he learned “how valuable education is for producing and building up black and Latino leaders in our communities.”

Jaylon Joyner, a sophomore athletic training major, also participated in last year’s summit. “All students should attend the summit because it is a great way to meet new people and gain knowledge on different issues that go on in the black and Latino community,” he said. Joyner gained a better understanding for the cultural diversity of the black and Latino communities through group discussions and speakers. He said the summit taught him how “important it is to network and serve the community.” He found this experience to be incredibly motivating.

Registration for the summit is required, and applications are being accepted through April 3. For any questions about the Black and Latino Male Summit or upcoming programs, call Diversity Advocacy at (309) 438-8968(309) 438-8968.

Umoja Celebration Seeking Volunteers

Illinois State University's Umoja: Celebration of Black Graduates is looking for faculty and staff volunteers.

The event, a pre-commencement celebration, will be at 7 p.m. May 7, in the Center for Performing Arts. Umoja honors African American and other students of color who have successfully completed undergraduate and graduate degrees from Illinois State in 2015. Primarily, Umoja seeks to create a unique and culturally rich space that celebrates the successful completion of degrees to graduates with the support of their families, faculty and staff.

“Umoja serves as a unifying symbol of perseverance in the recognition of a shared sociocultural, political, and educational history,” said Pamela Hoff, a member of the steering committee.

The event is free and open to the university and surrounding Bloomington-Normal community. All are welcome. The theme for Umoja 2015 is Sankofa: Lifting as WE Climb.