NIOT National Director To Frame Hate Crime Film Discussion

Patrice O'Neill, executive director of the national movement Not In Our Town is coming to Bloomington's Moses Montefiore Congregation Nov. 2, along with a timely documentary on hate in modern-day America.

Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness is a one-hour documentary about a town coming together to take action after anti-immigrant violence devastates the community. In 2008, a series of attacks against Latino residents of Patchogue, New York culminate with the murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant who had lived in the Long Island village for 13 years.

Over a two-year period, the story follows Mayor Paul Pontieri, the victim’s brother, Joselo Lucero, and Patchogue residents as they openly address the underlying causes of the violence, work to heal divisions, and begin taking steps to ensure everyone in their village will be safe and respected.

Camille: Resolutions and Resolute Action

Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

Rather than make resolutions I don’t keep, I focus on my hopes and dreams for the New Year. Here’s my list.

I hope to increase my advocacy for things I support, as well as things I’m against. I will use a variety of information sources to learn how best to advocate such as news updates from the League of Women Voters, Organizing for Action, and Action 36. I plan to be vigilant about what our legislators at the state and national level are doing and won’t hesitate to contact them to share my thoughts whether it involves the lack of an agreement to develop a state budget or the intent of the Republicans to repeal Obamacare.

I will be closely watching the new president, hoping that he will demonstrate responsibility and respect for the position he was elected to. I will not be silent if he chooses to be the Commander and Chief via Twitter using harmful and inflammatory rhetoric like he did during the campaign, nor will I be silent about cabinet choices who have demonstrated divisiveness and harm to our country via their past policy and/or business decisions.

I hope to increase the presence of the Not In Our School efforts locally, as well as continue to work with Not In Our Town to make our community more safe and inclusive for everyone. I hope to connect more with family and friends even without the benefit of social media. I don’t want to ever lose that “personal touch” that lets people know I care about them and love them.

I hope I’m healthy and strong, so that I can continue to care for those I love. I dream that students who depend on financial aid for college and people who have basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter can be served despite the stalemate in Springfield. I hope and dream for peace in our world whether domestic or abroad.

I hope that people will take the time to look at their source for accurate news as opposed to reading ‘fake news” and then using this information to make decisions and form opinions. I hope I learn new things this year and use that knowledge to benefit others. Last, I hope that people begin to acknowledge that “words matter,” and being polite and using good old fashioned manners should not be the exception, but the rule.

NIOT:B/N Co-Sponsored Legacy Wall Comes to IWU

The Legacy Wall, a traveling exhibit featuring stories of LGBT individuals who have made a significant impact in the world, opened this week at The Ames Library at Illinois Wesleyan University. The exhibit will be at the university through Feb. 13.

The interactive Legacy Wall features biographies of people who have made contributions in a number of fields. Some of the individuals featured include author Oscar Wilde, U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, British mathematician Alan Turing, and Father Mychal Judge, a chaplain to the New York City Fire Department who was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The Legacy Wall exhibit was created by the Legacy Project, a Chicago-based nonprofit intended to inform, inspire, enlighten and foster an appreciation for the role LGBT people have played in the advancement of world history and culture. Victor Salvo, the founder and executive director of the Legacy Project, presents remarks at Sunday's opening reception. Other speakers include IWU Provost Jonathan Green, Equality Illinois Field Fellow Marcus Fogliano, Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner, and Rev. Kelley Becker, associate pastor of First Christian Church, Bloomington, representing Not in Our Town, one of the sponsors of the exhibit.

The Legacy Wall is brought to Illinois Wesleyan as part of the “Queer Lives” Speaker and Performer Series at IWU funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Other Illinois Wesleyan sponsors include the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, IWU Pride Alliance, and The Ames Library. Organizers said awareness of the roles LGBT people have played in shared human history helps boost the self-esteem of LGBTQ youth who are raised without the benefit of historically significant role models. The goal of the Legacy Wall exhibit is to use the lessons of history to spark conversations and to promote a feeling of safety and belonging in the classroom. The exhibit includes data linking the teaching of LGBT-related content in schools with lowered incidences of bullying between students.  

The exhibit may be viewed on the entry-level floor of Ames, which is open Sundays 12 noon to 1:30 a.m.; Monday through Thursday 7:45 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.; Friday 7:45 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Interfaith Rally to Show Unity, Promote Freedom

Lenore Sobota

The Pantagraph

Amid anti-Islamic rhetoric elsewhere in the country, the anti-discrimination group Not In Our Town hopes to bring people together Wednesday in an interfaith show of solidarity.

The event, at 6 p.m., is planned for the east side of the McLean County Museum of History downtown — the same side where the World War II memorial refers to the “four freedoms” outlined by former President Franklin Roosevelt, including “freedom of worship” and “freedom from fear.”

The Rev. Kelley Becker of First Christian Church, Bloomington, a co-sponsor of the event, said much of the reaction in the wake of attacks in Paris and California is based on fear.

“Fear is so powerful,” Becker said. “We believe love is more powerful than fear.”

The purpose of the event to show “our Islamic brothers and sisters” that “this community is a safe, welcoming place.”

In announcing the event, organizers encouraged people of all faiths or of no particular faith to stand together to show that stereotyping of groups is not acceptable in the Twin Cities.

Other co-sponsors include New Covenant Community, the Presbytery of Great Rivers interfaith group and the Moses Montefiore Temple, in collaboration with the Islamic Center of Bloomington-Normal and Masjid Ibrahim Mosque.

Mike Matejka, a member of Not In Our Town since it began 20 years ago in Bloomington-Normal, said, “Every movement, group, religion has extremists in it. That doesn't mean that every follower of that movement or religion is an extremist.”

He said Wednesday's event is an opportunity to take a stand and let the local Islamic community know “we're not going to fall into the trap of hatefulness.”

In the event of inclement weather, the event will take place at Major Hall, First Christian Church, 401 W. Jefferson St., Bloomington.

But Becker is hopeful the event can stay outside.

“The idea of coming together in full view of the entire community is a good thing,” she said.

In addition to representatives from various faiths saying a few words, those gathered will also light candles, said Becker, adding, "Lighting candles is so much a part of many faith traditions.”

Matejka acknowledged that some people think the efforts of Not In Our Town, such as posting anti-racism signs, are superficial.

But Matejka said, “It's important that publicly we reinforce those stances, that we're a community that works hard not to just tolerate, but to celebrate our diversity.”

Want to Help Stop Bigotry? Help NIOT:B/N

We can all agree that Not In Our Town is an important initiative in making Bloomington-Normal a better place. But nothing of value is without cost. We work on a shoestring, spending money only when absolutely necessary. But we do spend money from time to time.

Our latest effort begins tomorrow: We're running our Season4Reason billboards for the month of December. The message for this winter's anti-bigotry/anti-bullying campaign is the cumulative benefits of diversity for the Twin Cities.

Please, as this season begins, consider supporting our appeal at

Alas, our appeal is not tax deductible. We save far more money by not having that status (and its associated accounting and compliance costs).

Celebrate Children at October 20 Vigil

Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal will focus on the plight of hungry children during its next prayer vigil October 20 at Bloomington's First Christian Church.

The hour-long "Celebrate Children's Prayer Vigil" begins at 6:30 p.m. The event also will include a canned goods collection competition among local K-12 students, with donations going to Bloomington's Clare House.

"We are planning to have our next Prayer Vigil focused around children within our community, state, and nation that are in need due to hunger," reported NIOT:B/N Faith and Outreach Committee Willie Holton Halbert.

"It is our desire to engage people of faith and our entire community in improving the lives of children and their families in our community, state and our nation."

The vigil is part of the 2015 Children's Defense Fund (CDF) National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths, “How Long Must I Cry for Help? Bending the Arc toward God's Vision of Justice for Children," October 16-18, which will focus on real solutions to significantly reduce child poverty. Thousands of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other faith communities across the country are holding community-wide interfaith special worship services, educational programs, and/or advocacy activities to engage people of faith.

See more at:

CDF’s recent report, Ending Child Poverty Now, outlines steps to "make a huge down payment on ending preventable, costly, and immoral child poverty in our wealthy nation." By investing an additional 2 percent of the federal budget into existing programs and policies that increase employment, make work pay, and ensure children’s basic needs are met, our nation could reduce child poverty by 60 percent and black child poverty by 72 percent, lifting 6.6 million children out of poverty immediately, according to CDF.



NIOT:B/N Seeks Youth Input at Culture Fest

Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal plans to target youth and its input at the Twin Cities' annual Cultural Festival Saturday at Illinois State University Ballroom in the Bone Student Center. 

NIOT:B/N plans to provide an indoor mini-basketball game to lure young people to its booth at the festival, which features multicultural education, information, and performances.  In addition to asking visitors to sign an anti-bigotry/anti-bullying pledge card, NIOT:B/N will ask young people to write answers to these questions:

1) What do you like about Bloomington-Normal?

2) What should we change in Bloomington-Normal?

3) What do you feel so strongly about that you would stand up to change in Bloomington-Normal?

For information and a schedule of events, visit

New NIOT:B/N Committee to Work With Faith-Based Community

The church is at the center of many communities: It is a center for socialization and fellowship, a meeting place, and a safe harbor. As evidenced by the recent Charleston victims vigil at Bloomington's Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church and local churches that have made a special effort to welcome LGBT individuals, it can provide a connecting point for social reform and unity. Religious perceptions also can reinforce biases, prejudices, and even policies against other cultures, faiths, and lifestyle communities.

Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal's new Faith and Outreach Committee is designed to work with the Twin Cities faith-based community toward the goals and spirit of Not In Our Town while allowing an opportunity for all faiths to come together to share with one another while respecting the ideas of "a safe and inclusion community."

"We believe that by standing up against racism, discrimination, and bullying we establish a community standard that we should treat everyone with respect," Chairperson Willie Holton Halbert maintains. "We understand that we are all one nation with liberty and justice for all. These ideas have been shared since Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal started with our first Rally Against Racism July 13, 1996."

The committee tentatively will meet within the next two weeks. If you are interested in serving on or working with the committee, contact Halbert at

NIOT:BN Leaders Recognized For Life, Community Transformations

Twenty-six McLean County residents graduate from a program training them to be leaders, McLean County YWCA CEO D. Dontae Latson discuss his transformation from a 10-year-old boy with an arrest record, and Latson's Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal steering committee colleague, Bloomington Alderman Karen Schmidt was honored at Saturday's graduation ceremony for the Multicultural Leadership Program.

The "Celebrate Community"-themed event, at Illinois State University's Bone Student Center Brown Ballroom, featured Larson's keystone address and Schmidt's receiving MCLP's annual community service award.

MCLP began in 2009 with a goal of developing leaders who value diversity in decisionmaking at home, at work, and in the community.

Each year's participants are split into teams that assist a nonprofit group with a six-month project.

This year's nonprofits and projects included:

  • Challenger Learning Center — enhance fundraising to support programs for area school children
  • Community Health Care Clinic — help with a dental care feasibility study and a five-year budget
  • Immanuel Health Center — increase name recognition
  • Meadows at Mercy Creek — recommend a staff development plan
  • Prairie Pride Coalition — redefine goals and outreach effort.

Latson grew up in a suburb of Washington, D.C., and watched the crack cocaine epidemic ramp up violence in his neighborhood.

In one year, he lost his brother and eight friends to violence.

Schmidt was recognized for her council service, local initiatives, and leadership. Below, listen to her acceptance speech.

NIOT:B/N Uncovers New Pledges at 'Hide and Seek'

Bullying and its prevention took center stage at Breaking Chains & Advancing Increase's  (BCAI) School of Arts' Saturday end-of-semester dinner show, "Hide and Seek."

Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal "Not In Our Town" anti-bigotry/anti-bullying pledges at the program, at Hallelujah Worship Center 1105 E Oakland Ave., Bloomington.

The presentation featured performances from students of BCAI, as well as surrounding artists designed to provide perspectives from all angles of bullying, according to BCAI's Angelique Racki "to significantly decrease misunderstandings and increase appreciation for one another."

NIOT's Schmidt MCLP Award Recipent

You can often find this year’s MCLP Community Service Award recipient pedaling a bicycle around low-income neighborhoods, laden with an overflowing book box.

That determined and personal effort exemplifies Karen Schmidt, who has helped initiate and maintain numerous community projects — including the Book Bike Program that brings free books into the homes of local residents. Karen gives her voice, time, leadership, and financial support to a myriad of causes — locally and on a state and national level.

Karen serves as alderman and Mayor Pro Tem for the City of Bloomington. Professionally, as Illinois Wesleyan University Librarian, Karen is active in state and national library associations, strengthening campus ties between technology and library services. She also connects IWU students to service learning opportunities that benefit the local community, especially the older Bloomington west side and downtown.

Karen is a board member of the Downtown Bloomington Association and a founding member of the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation’s Women to Women Giving Circle. She coordinated a series of grassroot workshops on “Making Neighborhoods Work” in the City of Bloomington, and helped found the West Bloomington Revitalization Project (WBRP). She was instrumental in bringing together the police department and city churches to form the Moving Forward initiative, helping young people improve their chances for success, and is a board member of the Not In Our Town B/N initiative. Karen and her husband, John Elterich, established the Elterich Family Scholarship within the Pratt Music Foundation, giving music opportunities to lower-income youth.

In her family, her neighborhood, and her ward, Karen has personally experienced the challenges and opportunities that confront diverse populations, and spoken out for social justice across all sections of our community. Karen has been a long time supporter of MCLP—as a mentor, speaker, and financial contributor. Her life’s work exemplifies the very definition of a servant leader.

McLean County YWCA President D. Dontae Larson,  who also serves on NIOT: B/N's steering committee with Schmidt, is keynote speaker for April 25's Class of 2015 Graduation Celebration, where Karen Schmidt will receive the MCLP Community Service Award.

Twin City Not In Our Town sponsors anti-hate initiative

The PANTAGRAPH/December 7

by Maria Nagle

BLOOMINGTON — Against the backdrop of the deaths of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., and now New York City, and accompanying nationwide protests, Bloomington-Normal's "Not In Our Town" is sponsoring a new anti-hate initiative.

More than 100 political, community and educational leaders have been invited to show their support in fighting hatred and discrimination at an awareness-building event from 2 to 3 p.m. Tuesday at the YWCA McLean County, 1201 N. Hershey Road, Bloomington.

"Not In Our Town has always had a step in place for residents to show their support — the pledge card," said local NIOT member Marc Miller.

NIOT will unveil a newly-redesigned pledge card at a ceremonial signing of the first cards by community leaders to set an example for other residents, Miller said.

"Not In Our Town is a national movement that began right here in Bloomington," said Mayor Tari Renner. "I am honored to do whatever I can to help promote this cause so that people understand the best part of humanity and avoid our worst instincts."

A PBS "Not In Our Town" documentary, which explored how Billings, Mont., responded to a series of hate crimes, inspired the 1995 formation of an organization with the same name in Bloomington, making it the first city in the country to adopt the NIOT anti-hate, anti-discrimination program. 

Anyone who wants to come out and sign a pledge card Tuesday is welcome.

The latest campaign also includes placing NIOT's anti-hate, anti-discrimination message on electronic billboards, including one along Veterans Parkway at Lincoln Avenue, and posters on Connect Transit buses.

"One of our goals is to make this a safe, inclusive community," said Miller. "I don't see how anybody could say they don't agree with that principle."

While the event was planned seven to eight months ago, its goal to create a safe, inclusive community is all the more critical in light of what has happened in Ferguson, organizers said.

"We're blessed that nothing terrible has happened in Bloomington-Normal. Our goal is to make sure that is always true." Miller said. "We take pride in being proactive rather than reactive."

He also hopes the local anti-hate campaign will be a catalyst for community dialogue and spur renewed interest in the pioneering local movement whose profile has diminished in recent years.

"Inoculation against hate is getting people to talk about what's wrong and help make it right," said Miller. "When we don't talk about things it festers."

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner and Assistant Chief Gary Sutherland plan to attend the ceremonial signing event. 

"It's important for our residents to know that we are vested in communicating with the public so that we can all live in a safe community ... where we talk to each other and not at each other," Heffner said.

He and Sutherland attended a recent NIOT summit at the University of Illinois-Chicago to learn about developing civil rights issues and other related matters, Heffner said.

The organization is hoping to sponsor public discussions this spring between local law enforcement agencies and residents "to build mutual respect in that process," said Mike Matejka, who has been a Bloomington-Normal NIOT member from its inception.

"We can talk about what goes on in Ferguson. We can talk about what goes on with our police and what happens in our schools," said Matejka, Great Plains Laborers District Council's governmental affairs director. "And we can do it in a way that is respectful and hopefully builds understanding."

"I think the joy of Bloominton-Normal is we don't have events like Ferguson going on," Miller said. "It doesn't mean we don't have problems. It does mean we want to make this community a great place."