Mike Matejka

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


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. 

Matejka Second Consecutive NIOTBN Leader to Receive Peace Prize

The Pantagraph

Mike Matejka and wife Kari Sandhaas. Photo by Archana Shekara

Mike Matejka and wife Kari Sandhaas. Photo by Archana Shekara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike: Overcoming Mind Blindness

Mike Matejka

WJBC Forum

This is Mike Matejka. The recent trial revelation of a racist remark by a Bloomington Police officer, shows again how volatile racial issues. Despite a 1960s Civil Rights movement and the election of a mixed race President, Americans still split over racial divides, often over economic and police issues.

 As a person of European descent, I really cannot truly know the experience of my African-American, Latino, or Asian neighbors.  Personally, I have been in Asia and Africa where I was the only white person on the street, but only once was I treated disrespectfully.

Many of my African-American and Latino friends talk about having to assume a public face daily, knowing that their actions and words will not only be perceived as theirs, but somehow will reflect positively or negatively on their ethnic groups. 

My daughter uses an interesting term when she misses a cue or does not perceive something. She says she was “mind blind” to that situation. As a white person in America, I often wonder how mind blind I am to challenges and perceptions that others face. I assume certain responses from store clerks, job interviewers, or law enforcement, but would those responses be different if my skin color was? And do I have my own “mind blindness” toward racial or ethnic prejudices that are buried within me?

People who attend Alcoholics Anonymous start the meeting with self-disclosure. “Hi, my name is Mike and I am an alcoholic.” I sometimes wonder if I should start each day with a look in the mirror and say, “Hi, my name is Mike and I was raised in a racist society,” doing this not to feel guilty, but to remind myself that I need to be conscious of my society and its presumptions.

We all have our own perspectives and our own “mind-blindness” to others. Listening carefully to others is key, but also understanding past histories of discrimination and how those negative attitudes still linger is also important. Only in reaching out to others and reflecting on our own presumptions can we hope to bridge these divisions. 

NIOT Reps Air Police-Citizen Concerns on WTVP

In the aftermath of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal's Mike Matejka and John Elliott (Bloomington NAACP president and Minority and Police Partnership) suggest a dialogue should occur between leaders of law enforcement and the minority community. The pair, along with Peoria's Jamila Wilson, discussed police/community concerns on Thursday's installment of WTVP-PBS' At Issue.

The Minority and Police Partnership is attempting to create a more open dialogue between the police departments and citizens, while the Peoria Police Community Relations Advisory Committee was recently created to foster positive relations and mutual respect between police and the community. Meanwhile, Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner in December announced a new city review of police procedures and community relations, and NIOT:BN this week applauded Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner for publicly condemning one of his officer's racial remark about an African-American stabbing victim (see post below).

McLean County law enforcement agencies are joining with MAPP, NIOT, the NAACP, and others to sponsor a Jan. 2 Breaking Barriers community/police dialogue from 6 to 8 p.m. at Bloomington's City of Refuge Church, 401 E Jefferson. Anonymous questions for police can be sent in advance by visiting http://Bit.ly/1wMTMAa.

Elliott in the WTVP interview maintained many minority citizens may feel reluctant to publicly "speak up" or file a complaint after they have experienced or suspect police abuse or mistreatment, for fear of official retribution. He feels that younger African-Americans "don't feel like they're being understood."

John Elliott, left, converses with citizens and police at NIOT:BN's December relaunch.

John Elliott, left, converses with citizens and police at NIOT:BN's December relaunch.

Elliott also emphasized the importance of improving diversity within police agencies, suggesting some citizens may feel more comfortable dealing with members of their own community.

"How do we build an atmosphere where that young person says, 'I want to be a police officer -- this is attractive to me, and something where I feel I can proud of that and that this is a service not only to the larger community but also to my particular ethnic (community),'" Matejka stated. 

Peoria's Wilson sees increased interest among individuals who "want to come out and talk about their levels of interactions with police, be they positive or negative."

"I think that's a first step -- the fact that we're having conversations," she said.

For more information or to watch additional episodes of At Issue, visit http://www.wtvp.org.

NIOT:BN Interview Debuts Thursday on WTVP

Representatives of Not In Our Town Bloomington-Normal will discuss police/community relations and other issues on WTVP-PBS' At Issue program, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

NIOT:BN's John Elliott (president of the NAACP's Bloomington chapter) and Mike Matejka, a former Bloomington alderman and legislative director with the Great Plains Laborers District Council were interviewed this week by At Issue producer/host H. Wayne Wilson. The discussion is set to air both Thursday and at 4:30 p.m. Sunday on WTVP's main channel, at 47.1 (check your TV service provider for cable/dish channel).

At Issue, a weekly program, provides "an in-depth, up-to-the-minute exploration of issues that are important to the people of Central Illinois." For details and to watch the show and past episodes online, visit wtvp.org.

Mike: Respect a Two-Way Street on the Streets

By Mike Matejka

for WJBC-AM Forum

The incident in Ferguson, Missouri and the shooting of Michael Brown is one of those cultural divide moments where white and black America look across a chasm at each other from totally different perspectives.

What happened in August in Ferguson will be debated for years.  Was officer Darren Wilson truly justified in shooting Michael Brown?  Did Michael Brown act inappropriately and threaten Darren Wilson?   None of us were there that afternoon and none of us were in the middle of the adrenaline rush that both these young men felt. 

Rather than picking Ferguson apart, I would rather consider our reactions to it.   The friction between young Latino and African-Americans, especially males, and police, creates a pervasive tension.   Parents have to counsel their children on how to respond to police.  The African-American community claims they are being disproportionately targeted, profiled and subject to random attack.   From that perspective, Ferguson and Michael Brown is just another incident in a long line of police confrontations.


Earlier this fall, there was much comparison to the “Pumpkin Riot” in Keene, New Hampshire, where young whites vandalized cars, started fires and attacked police.   The police responded with force and there were arrests, but did those young white people fear that their out of control party would result in deaths?  Probably not, but if there were young African-Americans whose party got out of control, would they fear being shot?  Very possibly.

Respect is the word that I think a lot about after Ferguson. And respect is a two-way street.   Law enforcement deserves respect.  Citizens also deserve respect from law enforcement.   This is more than police being colorblind; police should also appreciate the strong feelings that African-Americans and Latinos have about feeling targeted.

When we have more young African-Americans in jail than in college, that impacts all of us.  Those individuals may never get a decent opportunity in life, branded with a record.    As long as we are spending more on prisons than we are on pre-schools and job training, this social tension will haunt us.   Yes, individuals have to take responsibility for themselves.   But young people growing up in poverty often do not see opportunities that others might think obvious.  Or even if they see the choice, they may not know how to get there.

We can argue who was right or wrong last August in Ferguson.  The conversation I hope we start having is how do we bring our society together and help create opportunity and openings for all.

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 Bloomington with his wife and daughter and their two dogs. 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.