Bloomington-Normal Humanist Group

Personal Stories Raise Awareness of Racism

Edith Brady Lunny

The Pantagraph

Racism is a mean and unwelcome visitor to many lives in McLean County and ignoring its presence allows it to linger and scar those who may not be able to defend themselves from the pain it leaves behind.

That was the sentiment expressed by panelists at a forum Tuesday sponsored by the McLean County League of Women Voters and several other groups. They used their personal stories to illustrate a need to be aware of racism in the community.

Gaynett Hoskins, a counselor with Labyrinth Outreach for Women, said her family had to make some dramatic adjustments when they moved to Bloomington 10 years ago from Chicago.

"The first time we had to deal with racism was when we came to Bloomington," said Hoskins, who keeps her three children close to home for fear they will be the victims of discrimination.

On a rare occasion when Hoskins allowed her two sons to walk to a nearby store, she followed behind. It wasn't long before "the police walked right up to them," said Hoskins. She intervened, concerned that officers were relying on stereotypes of young black males.

Michael Donnelly, community impact director with United Way of McLean County, recalled a Danvers police officer who stopped him as he exited a drive-thru lane at a restaurant on West Market Street several years ago.

The interaction became heated when Bloomington officers arrived andDonnelly's wife was told to "shut up or you'll be next." Donnelly said the dispute was related to a legal issue he thought he had resolved.

Sharon Warren, a special education teacher with Bloomington District 87, is the mother of 10 children, including eight who are not white and adopted. Bloomington has offered her children diversity that they missed in Iowa, but the family has been the target of racism, said Warren.

Unfortunate encounters involve "people who don't realize that racism is alive and well in Bloomington," said Warren.

Warren and her husband have talked to their black sons about being careful, especially when stopped by police — discussions the parents did not have with their older, white children.

The Warrens advised their sons "to lay down in the dirt if they tell you to lay in the dirt," because refusing to cooperate with police can have bad consequences. "They will do what they want and you won't be getting up," said Warren.

Martha Hunter, a lifelong Bloomington resident who was raised during segregation, recalled being forced to use the back door of local restaurants and being shut out of a job at a major insurance company.

Dontae Latson, president and CEO of YMCA McLean County, came to Bloomington three ago from North Carolina. The forum that drew about 150 people to the Normal Public Library is "a good first step that has to lead to true dialogue," said Latson.

Art Taylor, diversity and inclusion director for Claim Shared Services at State Farm, moderated the forum that was co-sponsored by the Bloomington-Normal Humanist Group, Not in Our Town, First Christian Church and the Unitarian Universalist Church.