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.

Passover Celebrates Freedom

Howard Packowitz


Moses Montefiore Temple, Bloomington

Moses Montefiore Temple, Bloomington

Jews around the world are celebrating freedom as the eight-day Passover holiday began at sundown (Monday), and one local man is remembering the lessons his late father taught him about the Israelites escape from Egyptian bondage.

McLean County Board member and retired professor George Gordon shares the story taught to him by his father, Rabbi Ted Gordon, who died in 2005 at age 96.

Gordon says the Torah, which is the Jewish law, is not clear how long Israelites were in bondage. It could be anywhere from 30 to 400 years.

Gordon’s father suggested the Torah might be intentionally vague.

“Dad speculated that was done by someone whose identity we’ll never know to emphasize the point even harder that slavery was not something we enjoyed or that anybody should enjoy and that freedom is a major point, but a point made more significantly by the addition of the number 400,” George Gordon said.

Gordon says each Passover, his father reminded him that no one really knows how long Israelites were in bondage.

“Emphasizing 30 years and 400 years makes the point more poignantly and more convincingly that the Israelites were in slavery for such a long time,” Gordon said. “That’s why we value freedom so much.”

Rabbi Ted Gordon was a reform rabbi in Philadelphia. In his 90’s, he led Bloomington’s Moses Montefiore Temple for two years.

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.

Mike: Urban America Not 'Living in Hell'

Mike Matejka

WJBC Forum

This election people talk about a divided America.  That point came home to me when candidate Trump said that inner-city Americans were “living in hell.”  I scoffed at the notion at first, but then quickly realized, many Americans, especially white Americans, would agree.

I did not grow up in Bloomington-Normal.  I grew up in St Louis and then Cahokia, Illinois, immediately south of East St. Louis.  My dad drove a bus in East St. Louis and we were in and out of that city constantly.  On school holidays my mother would send me off to ride the bus with Dad for the day.  I went to high school in Belleville, Illinois.   I was shocked when I heard teachers there say, “I never drive through East St. Louis without my windows up and the doors locked.”   I was totally mystified.  What were they afraid of?

Today, I occasionally get a cautious question about Chicago.   People ask if it’s really safe to go to the city.   Of course it is.

Even more shocking, I’ve heard local citizens here say, “I never drive through the west side of Bloomington without my windows up and my doors locked.”  Or, “I have never been to the west side.”  Currently, I don’t live on the west side, but for almost 40 years I did.  I found wonderful neighborhoods with great people, affordable housing where a family could buy a home and live comfortably.

Now I don’t downplay that there are some urban districts that are dangerous.  But to say that people living in those areas are “living in hell” is to label people.  If inner-city America is truly “hell,” than that means that people aren’t smart enough to get out, must enjoy, or are denied a means of exit.

We often forget that in challenged neighborhoods are caring parents, people trying to make a living, human beings attempting to make the best they can with what they have.   To describe “people living in hell” is to succumb to stereotype.  Yes, we need to improve educational and employment opportunities for low-income areas.  Yes, we need to stop the prison pipeline that throws too many young people in jail and then brands them for life.  In all of this, let’s remember that the majority of us – no matter our race, color or creed – are good intentioned people.   Part of this is overcoming our fears of the other we don’t know.  Instead of living in fear or labeling whole communities, some human understanding and looking beyond the stereotype can benefit us all.

Camille: Crutcher/Rahami Contrasts Raise Serious Questions

Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

Benjamin Crump, lawyer for the family of Terence Crutcher, a black man killed by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, had the same question I had. He asked, “Why was an unarmed black man who had committed no crime and needed a helping hand killed, but the N.Y. bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami wasn’t after engaging officers in a shootout and injuring an officer?”

I think that’s a great question! Think about the two situations. Mr. Crutcher’s car appeared to be stranded on the highway and video shows him holding his hands up as he’s approached by police, tazed by one officer, and shot dead by another. Even a man in a police helicopter labelled Mr. Crutcher a “bad dude” from up in the sky.

On the other hand, N.Y. police had a photo of Mr. Rahami, and after getting a tip found him sleeping in a doorway. Rahami pulled out a handgun, shot an officer, and took off running. He was shot multiple times during the chase, and is now recuperating in the hospital.

man is accused of planting multiple bombs and injuring 29 people. Mr. Crutcher is a black man, accused of nothing, but ends up being shot and killed. The answer to this question is at the root of the anger, frustration, and fear felt by many in our country, but particularly by African Americans.

have several black men in my life: my spouse, son, grandson, nephew, and great nephews. I love them all very much. It pains me that even though they’ve all had the “talk” about how a black man in America must be extra careful, friendly, cooperative with authority figures, patient, calm, and compliant, that it won’t do them any good if someone looks at them and just sees a “bad black dude!”

So, as we lament and wring our hands once again there is something we can do. The YWCA is hosting a Humanity Summit on November 17th in Memorial Hall at Illinois Wesleyan. Register by October 7 for a discount or by October 31 for the regular cost. The goal of the summit is to offer an opportunity “for our community to grapple with important questions of cultural and systemic oppression in the form of many “isms” and challenge each of us to grow to become allies in the struggle for justice.”

Some takeaways from the summit will be to better understand oppression and privilege and their human costs, as well as make a commitment to take meaningful action.

Camille: You Might Be...

Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

Broadcast August 30

Last week’s news was filled with more campaign name calling which included words like racist, bigot, prejudice, and discrimination. Since most people avoid discussing race, I wanted to clarify their definitions, so that when others are labelled, the average listener can identify if the word is being properly used or misused.

Jeff Foxworthy is a comedian known for his, “You might be a redneck…” jokes. So here goes my list:

“You might be a racist” if you use your power to establish systems, rules, practices, or laws that support your beliefs that people of other races are inferior. Consequently, when you hear the words “systemic racism” it is because racism still persists across systems such as government, insurance, education, finance, criminal justice, etc. In America, white people are the dominant group controlling positions of authority across most systems, so it is technically incorrect to call a person of color a “racist”, because of their position/lack of power to establish/maintain racist practices within systems.

“You might be a bigot” if you are completely intolerant, and devoted to your own opinions and prejudices such that you treat members of other groups with hatred and intolerance.

“You might be prejudiced” if you have a feeling for or against something or someone without any good reason. For example, if you feel that a certain group is inferior or bad because of their religion, gender, race, etc., but you really don’t know anyone from that group or much about them, then you are prejudiced.

“You might discriminate” if you have strong prejudicial or bigoted feelings about an individual or group and treat them unequally or unfairly due to their individual or group membership.

“You might be biased” if you have a preference that keeps you from making a fair judgement. For example, it could be as simple as a bias for vanilla over strawberry ice cream or as harmful as an employer preferring men over women or a realtor preferring white people to people of color.

Archie Bunker, of the 1970’s sitcom “All In the Family,” was openly prejudiced, biased, and generally considered to be a bigot. The show became a “safe place” to spark discussions on a number of race related issues, using humor to “ease” the conversations. Unfortunately, there is no humor in what is happening in the current political climate. 

I’m deeply concerned about the post-election environment that is being created in our country by the use of harmful and inflammatory rhetoric.

Camille: What Lives Matter?

Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

Which lives matter most of all to you? If you are a parent or grandparent it could be your children, grandchildren, or spouse. If you are a child, it is likely your parents.

For most people it is usually their family and/or the people that are closest to them. There has been a lot of controversy around the Black Lives Matter movement, and here is my understanding of what their goals are.

The movement started shortly after the Trayvon Martin murder in which the 17 year old was shot as he walked back to his father’s home from the store with an iced tea and skittles. He was wearing a hoodie and George Zimmerman, who shot him, didn’t think he looked like he “belonged in that neighborhood.” Zimmerman was acquitted after using Florida’s “stand your ground law.”

Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors are three of the founders of the movement who wanted to speak out against what they felt were repeated unjust actions by officers of the state across the country. They wanted to be a voice against not only the shootings, but police officers who were never charged with crimes and those that were acquitted.

Repeatedly the victims of these shootings were black, and the police officers were white. The phrase “black lives matter” is an affirmation and a commitment to the attention and work that needs to be done on behalf of black people who have been profiled and consequently killed due to an initial reaction to their skin color. The leaders of this movement already know that “all lives matter,” but from the beginning they wanted the attention drawn to what has become a disturbing pattern of repeated reports of the over use of force towards black people.

The phrases “Blue lives matter” and “All lives matter” emerged in response to “Black lives matter” as if to say why is the focus only on black lives? The founders of the movement explain that they are giving a call to action for the black liberation movement. They want to end systemic racism across institutions, but particularly in the criminal justice system.

The solution to whose lives matter is not a mystery. A person’s life is precious thing. If everyone respected one another and followed the “Golden Rule,” I wouldn’t be writing this forum. However, even deeper than that, until our country acknowledges that we have systemic racism within our institutions, we will not be able to deal with the root of the problem facing our nation. 

Pamela: Support and Understanding

Pamela Sweetwood

WJBC Forum

I recorded this on Friday after two incidents of black men dying after police encounters and a group of police ambushed at a protest.   Information is still coming out, a lot is unknown, and that will be the case for some time to come.   There is no guess as to what this will develop into.

Sadly it is not a new or infrequent place for our country to be in.

My wish is that people can be sensitive to all.   Those of us that are white cannot fully understanding the continuous judgment, assumptions, and scrutiny many minorities experience on a regular basis.  We need to be supportive and understanding rather than have this tear the fabric of our country further apart.   To do so, is not to be against the police.  It is not mutually exclusive.

The police have a hard job which is compounded when particular members act in a questionable manner.   In addition to that, add in the perpetual threat of terrorism.  My heart goes out to them and what anger they must face and how impossible their jobs may seem some days.

We need to grieve lives lost, grieve for their families and friends.  The pain is severe.   We all lose when tragedy like this occurs.  So many lives, futures, and families forever effected.

It has been comforting to me to hear on the news those that appreciate the concern, understand the tragedy, and are committed to a fair, thorough response which doesn’t pick sides but rather handles matters with integrity.    This week I personally was impressed with the Mayor of Baton Rouge, the Director of the FBI, and several community leaders from the areas affected.   Instead of dividing us by race or political party, they provide me hope that we can indeed come out of this as a better society.    We need to be.

Pamela Sweetwood was an ISU student, like many, who never left town. She works in higher education and has a history with many community non-profits organizations.

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.”

Camille: Full and Free Lives An American Principle

By Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

During the Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress drafted a final copy of the Declaration of Independence which declared the original Thirteen Colonies independent from the mother country of England. It was voted on, and all Thirteen Colonies adopted it on July 4, 1776. The war was still going on, but there were muted celebrations of July 4th each year until the war ended in 1783.

The July 4th holiday was established which included speeches, military events, parades, and fireworks. It’s odd isn’t it, that as we celebrate Independence Day, Great Britain has declared its independence from the European Union. The result has already caused economic and political fallout.


When the American Constitution was ratified in 1787, the founding fathers also put into practice that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise therefore,” which suggests that by law no particular group is to be treated as superior to another group in the United States.
In 1783, George Washington wrote that “the bosom of America is open to receive… the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions, whom [Americans] shall welcome to a participation of all [their] rights and privileges… They may be [Muslims], Jews, or Christians of any sect.”
Likewise, Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence, wrote in a document for the Virginian colonial legislature that “the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian, and the [Muslim], the [Hindu], and infidel of every decimation” are accepted as equal citizens in the United States.

The US Constitution was ratified in 1788, which included the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The first amendment is freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. America has been the envy of many throughout the world as we enjoy these freedoms.

On Tuesday, Not In Our Town celebrated its 20th anniversary with a rally and march on the square in downtown Bloomington. Its mission is to stop hate, address bullying, and to make a safe, more inclusive community. The freedoms listed in the first amendment are exactly the things Not In Our Town works to maintain. As people attack others for their religion, race, and sexual orientation, Not In Our Town has worked to inoculate our community against hate. NIOT has been proactive in initiating dialogue, working with local schools and government, and being a presence in all facets of community life in an effort to fulfill its mission.

The founding fathers of our nation and the founders of NIOT had at least one important thing in common. They wanted to see their country and their communities live their lives fully and to be free to be whom they were created to be. This is the American ideal, and this is the essence of Not In Our Town. There is no room for hatred, bigotry, racism, isolationism, xenophobia, homophobia, antisemitism, or any of the other “isms” when people are trying to live, work, and raise their families not only in Bloomington/Normal, but in communities across this country.

So, while we celebrate our independence this weekend with parades, cookouts, and family, let us remember that “freedom is never free,” and blood was shed so that America could be a beacon of light around the world.

Black Lives Matter Panel a Humanist Examination

Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

A “Humanist” is a person who has a strong interest in the welfare of others. The Bloomington Normal Humanists believe in taking responsibility for themselves and working for the well- being of others. They thoughtfully reflect on issues that confront our culture today and want to take action that benefits the community.

This mindset is the driving force behind the Black Lives Matter panel discussion on Tuesday, April 26, at 7 p.m. in the Normal Public Library. This event will give our predominantly white community an opportunity to hear the perspectives of panelists which include four African-Americans and one Caucasian woman raising African-American children about what life is like for them as a residents of this community.

The audience will hear their stories and get a snapshot of what they experience while shopping, raising children, working, and accessing services in Bloomington-Normal. A question and answer session will also provide audience members the opportunity to clarify and/or learn more about what they hear.

Black Lives Matter is an international activist movement started by community activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opel Tometi. After the 2013 killing of Trayvon Martin, these women were searching for a way to respond to what they viewed as the “devaluation of black lives.”

The movement has grown as the nation has witnessed the deaths of people like Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and Laquon McDonald. Although those deaths occurred to people outside our community, the Humanists group has grappled with the impact these events have had on communities across the nation and our society as a whole. First Christian Church, The League of Women Voters, Not In Our Town, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington-Normal, and the YWCA McLean County are co-sponsoring this event.

The Humanists’ group hopes that this panel presentation will give our community an opportunity to listen compassionately and to raise awareness. While other communities often react after a tragedy or negative event has occurred, this panel is a proactive attempt to break down barriers and listen to our neighbors. An old Indian proverb says, “Never judge a man until you walk in his moccasins.” Hopefully the panelists will be able to help the attendees “walk in their shoes,” if even for a short time.

Mike: Make McLean County Autism Friendly

By Mike Matejka

WJBC Forum

April is autism awareness month.   A new initiative is being launched in our community, with the ambitious goal to make McLean County an Autism Friendly Community.

Autism is a very unique disability.  There is no physical characteristic of people with autism.  Some have multiple disabilities.  Some individuals on the autism spectrum are very quiet, shy and reticent.  Others are very talkative.   Some individuals are extremely intelligent.  That’s why it’s called an autism spectrum – there is a wide variety of abilities and disabilities.

What does it mean to be autism friendly?  It most especially means being sensitive and not pre-judging an individual.   Someone who doesn’t make eye contact might not be threatening, they might have autism.  Someone who nervously flaps their hands or repeats a particular body movement might be more than nervous, they might have autism.  Someone who comes in for a job interview and seems very shy and difficult to connect might make a great worker, but their autism makes it difficult for them to relay what they CAN do.

The diagnostic numbers continue to grow.  The Center for Disease Control now says that one in 45 U.S. school children are on the autism spectrum.  Just four years ago, the number from the same agency was one in 88.  It will take scientific work to explain this rise in diagnosis, but the numbers continue to rise.

So what can we do to make McLean County an Autism Friendly community?   Number one, learn about autism.  Many people still stereotype people on the autism spectrum as either someone rocking in the corner or as a savant.  There are many communication, speech and social difficulties that come under the autism label.   Learn about that variety.  Be open to people with autism – sometimes a little patience goes a long way.  Underneath that social hesitancy is often a very delightful individual.  People with autism often are very insightful, as they see the world around them very literally and will speak honestly.  Their perceptions can aid us all.

My adult daughter is a very intelligent individual with autism.  She once made a fascinating comparison to Alice in Wonderland. Alice falls into the rabbit hole into a world that lacks logic, totally confusing Alice. My daughter noted that is how she feels every day. Because she has trouble with nuances of speech, inflection and body language, she is often confused by what others communicate.  But if you take the time to communicate clearly, you’ll find a very thoughtful young woman.  Let’s make McLean County Autism Friendly.  Welcoming and getting to know this population can enrich us 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 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.

State of the Dream

Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

During January, there are many celebrations around Dr. Martin L. King Jr.’s birthday. The “I Have a Dream” speech is part of Dr. King’s legacy. Since our president gave the State of the Union address last night (Tuesday), I wanted to share a few “State of the Dream” observations.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Dr. King would have been pleased to see Barack Obama elected President, believing that as a nation, we may be closer to that dream. However, discrimination on the basis of race continues. The U.S. Bureau of Statistics provides a stark contrast between the quality of life for whites versus people of color. A typical white household has 16 times the wealth than people of color when you define wealth as home ownership, education, and job earnings.

Dr. King said, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Since 1975, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus has state legislators who develop remedies for social and economic problems.

King said, “We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.” With the erosion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Mississippi doesn’t allow early voting or on-line voting and requires official identification when voting. This has turned the history clock back to the 1960s.

King said, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” What would Dr. King think of the almost weekly news of unarmed blacks being shot by police in communities across our nation?

King also said, “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells.” Dr. King would be saddened by issues like the school to prison pipeline impacting black students, or statistics like one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime or one out of every 15 black men are incarcerated compared to one out of every 106 white men.

No doubt progress has occurred, but we have a long way to go before his dream becomes a reality.

Pamela: Danger in Accepting Ignorance

Pamela Sweetwood

WJBC Forum

Recent events have provoked simplified thinking. To indict Islam as a whole is greatly misguided.   Beliefs are on a continuum. Christians may limit their practice to Easter and Christmas or be overzealous in attacking Planned Parenthood clinics. For years I was heavily involved with the Humane Society. Some would presume I thought and acted the same as PETA activists. I admit they may be more committed to the cause than I but whether their methods or positions are right are up to personal interpretation.   Similar variance occurs within other religious, racial, feminist and political groups.

Our country is diverse and that has been an asset and part of the beauty of America. The political rhetoric of the last few months by various candidates is beyond troubling.With each new target, I expect people will find it unacceptable. That hasn’t happened. The Republican platform tends to be fear-based. It is treading into hate-based.

Candidates of course are entitled to their opinions. I’m in disbelief there are supporters in great numbers sharing such views.

Tolerance and empathy for others are becoming even more critical as demographics change, income disparity widens, and world events demand understanding of the complexities and forward thinking rather than abrupt irreversible reactions.

To presume all who follow Islam is radical is ignorant.   To treat everyone the same within in a category is a great disservice to all. Our greatest danger may be acceptance of intolerance.

Pamela Sweetwood was an ISU student, like many, who never left town. She works in higher education and has a history with many community non-profits organizations.

NIOTBN Working to Foster Renewed Season4Reason

Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

Tis the “Season4Reason” and “Peace on earth, good will towards men!” Does it seem odd that during a season of peace and hope you can’t turn on the TV without seeing so much hate?

Not In Our Town has a message on electronic billboards that proclaim this to be a “Season4Reason” amidst all of the ignorant and hate-filled messages we are receiving. It stands to reason that we’ve always had people of all faiths living not only in America but around the world. It stands to reason that we have both good people and bad people in every faith, non-believers, race, income, and gender.

Some people take the opportunity to promote their own agenda when people are afraid and try to turn people against one another. It stands to reason that we should get the facts before we jump to conclusions against others. It also stands to reason that everyone should not be lumped into one group and labelled when a small minority of individuals does something bad.

That’s why I’m happy to give you “good news” about some events in our community that reflect a “Season4Reason.” The WJBC Brotherhood Tree is in full speed this week at the National Guard Armory. Volunteers are needed each night this week to wrap, sort, and bag gifts that need to be delivered on the morning of Saturday, the 19th. This effort reaches people who are struggling financially from all faiths, races, and genders. Gifts are particularly needed in the 13-18 age categories, specifically young men 17 to 18. The focus is for them to have a decent Christmas, not to judge who they are or where they came from.

Last week, over twenty students from area schools came together to get the tools and resources they need to develop their Not In Our School Clubs. Their goal is to stop hate, address bullying, and to make their schools more safe and inclusive.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, December 16 at 6 p.m., Not In Our Town is sponsoring an interfaith, community solidarity event on the east side of the Old Courthouse in downtown Bloomington. Co-sponsors are First Christian Church, New Covenant Community, the Presbytery of Great Rivers, and Moses Montefiore Temple in collaboration with the Islamic Center of B/N and Masjid Ibrahim Mosque. By bringing all faiths together, we show that stereotyping groups within our community is not acceptable.

We have the opportunity to make this a “Season4Reason” and spread “Peace on earth, good will toward men!” We just need the collective will to do it! I’m Camille Taylor for the WJBC Forum.

In addition, listen to Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal's Kelley Becker, associate minister at Bloomington First Christian Church, discuss the need for interfaith understanding and cooperation with WGLT-Radio's Charlie Schlenker, at http://wglt.org/post/interfaith-muslim-solidarity-event-set

Reporting System Key in Tracking, Addressing Excessive Force?

Joe Ragusa/Eric Stock


Excessive police force is a tough issue to deal with, but an Illinois State University professor and the local ACLU chapter are trying to help people understand the problem.

Photo by Joe Ragusa/WJBC

Photo by Joe Ragusa/WJBC

ISU criminal justice professor Jason Ingram says there’s no universal reporting system for instances of police force, be it excessive or deadly.

“You don’t really have a good understanding of how much force actually occurs nationally or even really at the local level,” Ingram said. “Any numbers that you hear in the media, especially in terms of the amount of deadly force, is likely going to be skewed a bit.”

Former Bloomington-Normal NAACP president Linda Foster, one of the people attending Wednesday’s forum, said there were a lot of takeaways from the program.

“My biggest takeaway is that there’s no consistency in these departments, in these cities across the nation,” Foster said.

Illinois is one of a few states to pass a comprehensive plan for police practices. The new law takes full effect in January.

Earlier in the week, Ingram told WJBC’s Scott Laughlin, police have broad powers to protect themselves and the public, which can be left for interpretation.

“What’s reasonable to some, like a police officer, isn’t necessarily going to be viewed reasonable by the public,” Ingram said. “Those are pretty permissive and intended to be so.”

Ingram said there’s no requirement officers use less-intrusive means when possible such as using a taser instead of a gun, unless a police department adopts such a policy on its own.

Ingram said he hopes new laws in Illinois regulating the use of police body cameras will prevent police brutality. He noted so far show presence of the cameras lead to more civil behavior.

“Use of force incidents and complaints of police misconduct have dropped significantly since their implementation,”

Ingram added what’s not clear is how the cameras are affecting behavior, whether officers, the public or both are less prone to confrontation with the cameras present. He said it’s also possible some misconduct claims can be proven unfounded by the cameras.

The new law will ban the police use of strangeholds when subduing a subject, but Ingram said he doubts that such force will be gone entirely.

“It will be viewed as inappropriate or excessive now but when an officer is trying to gain control of a resistant subject and it escalates, they might resort back to training,” Ingram said.

Ingram said the Community Relations Improvement Act also creates a statewide database that tracks police misconduct issues.

Below, listen to WJBC's interview with Ingram.

Arlene: A Crisis of Conscience

Arlene Hosea

WJBC Forum

I knew that in my retirement, one thing that I wanted to do was to get more involved in my community.   I had a desire to get more involved in social justice advocacy so I decided to try to do more since I had the time. I believed that I could help my community be a better place for all.   I attended various community meetings, helped with events around social change and awareness, joined committees; I was investing in my community and giving back.

Then something occurred in our community that nudged my social awareness, I felt I had been silent too long.   I asked myself, what should a person who says that they want to advocate for social justice say or do? I decided to talk to my husband to get his take on what was stirring in my head and heart. He listened; he understood my issue and concurred. That gave me strength and courage to take the next step to speak to someone outside my protective walls of home and family.   It was time to take that first step… I had to say something! I knew that I could not advocate for that which I believe is right if I remain silent.  

But, I also knew that if I choose to speak up, I will make myself vulnerable to the dreaded “what will people think of me?” “What if they do not see my point or worse, maybe my view is truly the wrong view?” I decided to take the road of vulnerability and just put my thoughts out there because the worst that could happen is that someone would disagree with me. I would just need to get over that part and move on… I was experiencing my first crisis of conscience!

As I sit here today and think about what it means for me to say that I am an advocate for something or someone, it is even clearer that in this world we do not get to choose what our society, its institutions, nor its people hand advocates of social change. We do not get a menu to select items that are what we desire, are served the way we like nor do we see the costs upfront to determine if they are reasonable. In the world of social justice advocacy, you get what people give you and it may not always be palatable. I know that we can change the world in so many ways and you do not always have to be on the battle front, marching for change, there are more subtle ways to bring about change.  

However, my belief is that silence is not the way, so I am grateful for my crisis of conscience and proud that regardless of all of my fears, I did take a risk because I believed it was the right thing to do. I also believe that we all should be advocates of social justice, although it has its risks, it is what will make our society better.

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, and is a leader in Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal.  Arlene resides in Normal.

Bill: Compassion Toward Refugees Humanizing Opportunity

Bill Fike

WJBC Forum

Europe, the Gulf States, and the “West,” including the United States, have been given the opportunity of a lifetime to destroy ISIS, with the influx of tens of thousands of Muslim refugees fleeing from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The entire civilized world by humanely and compassionately, accepting these casualties of “radical Islam” into our respected countries, will demonstrate to all Muslims worldwide, that Christians and Jews are not the “Great Satan” as declared by the propaganda spewed out by likes of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Even Pope Francis has recognized the importance of this opportunity, by asking each Catholic Parish in Europe to sponsor at least one refugee family.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced today that the United States will host up to 70,000 worldwide refugees this year, 85,000 next year, and approximate total of 100,000 in 2017. He went on to explain that most of these immigrants will be Syrian.

In order to start their new lives in the United States, all refugees are fingerprinted and must pass both a security check and a medical exam before entering the country.  Upon arrival, the U.S. government expects working age immigrants to find a job within 6 months of arrival.  (Resettlement organizations often have employment specialists to help refugees find employment.)

Through my research*, I also found that our government gives new LEGAL refugees:  housing assistance, Medicaid, food stamps, and a small monetary stipend for at least 8 months to help with their integration into our society (Note: illegal immigrants DO NOT receive such benefits!).  And after one year in our country, a new refugee may apply for the much sought after “Green Card.”

I know my hard line Conservative friends are totally against taking in any Muslim refugees, and I understand their concern. But if these refugees are properly vetted so as to protect our country from possible embedded terrorists, this act of American hospitality and kindness, and the compassion shown by other countries throughout the civilized world, will help plant the seed of ISIS’s destruction in the Middle East, saving many American lives in the long run.


Bill Fike owned and operated Winnie’s of Bloomington, Inc., (Winnie’s Menswear) from 1973 until his retirement in May of 2009. Bill also owned Churchill’s Formal Wear, LTD. from 1996 until he sold Churchill’s to James Carroll in March 2007. Bill and Cheryl just celebrated 40 years of marriage this past June 12, 2011 and they have one son, Joseph, and one daughter, Carmen. Bill was in the second graduating class of Illinois Central College in 1971, and then went on to Clark School of Aviation-Flight, obtaining both VFR and IFR flight certificates. Bill has been able to trace his family heritage back to his great, great, great grandfather’s family, A.C. Herron’s, (on his grandmother’s side), who was one of the original settlers of Bloomington.

Bob: Kentucky Clerk Furthers Oppression

Bob Bradley

WJBC Forum

In a short period of time my daughter will be getting married. She will marry her soul mate. They share a love that will sustain them through any tough times that may lie ahead.

The wedding ceremony will be one of joy and celebration. Friends and family from near and far will join in the happy festivities. They will eat, drink, laugh, dance, and be merry. As a father I could not be more proud and happier.

So should my and others’ delight in the ceremony be tempered if the gender of the bride and groom were the same? Should my pride be diminished if my daughter had chosen as the love of her life a same-sex partner? Should my happiness and love for my daughter be lessened if the ceremony was a same-sex marriage? Clearly not.

As for the Kentucky county clerk, the contempt finding against her is not depriving her of religious liberty and her actions are not comparable to those of Martin Luther King. Consider if she was a Quaker and refused to issue a license to carry a firearm based on her strong belief in non-violence. Would the outrage by certain segments of the community and particular presidential candidates be the same?

In fact, her actions are similar to those of local authorities who claimed it was against God’s will to allow biracial couples to marry in the 1960s despite a Supreme Court ruling saying they could. And are comparable to the refusal of certain Southern school authorities to integrate public schools in the 1950s after the issuance of the famous Brown decision.

The clerk used her official position to force citizens to abide by her religious views. This runs counter to the principle of the separation of church and state embodied in our Constitution. That principle was designed to prevent the government from making people conform to a specific religion.

And by not carrying out a Supreme Court decision granting a right to a minority group, the clerk is furthering the oppression of that group. This is the opposite of King’s actions, which tried to eliminate laws that were oppressive of minorities.

I hope my daughter’s wedding goes well and that she continues to live in a country where a specific religion does not dictate government actions.

Bob Bradley is a professor emeritus from Illinois State University where he primarily taught law-related courses in the political science department for 30 years. He did a weekly-segment for WJBC on politics and law for more than a decade. He also co-hosted a live- radio show from the Democratic and Republican national conventions in 2008, and reported live from the 2012 Republican convention. Currently, he serves on several community boards, does volunteer work, enjoys golf and fishing, and likes landscaping and bird-watching. He is married to the love of his life, Reenie, and has one daughter, Erin.