YWCA to Guide Families 'Around The World'


YWCA McLean County will host "Around the World" Friday, March 9 at YWCA McLean County, 1201 N. Hershey Road, Bloomington. The family event is free open to the public from 5 to 7 p.m.

 YWCA Young Wonders will provide a fun atmosphere for families to learn about different countries and cultures while participating in games and activities native to each country. Countries like Spain, India and Africa will be represented by several YWCA Young Wonders Before and After School programs and Bloomington Public Library.

 Attendees will receive a passport that will allow them to travel to the different countries and when their passports are filled with stamps, travelers will earn a prize! Guests will have the chance to document their travels in a fun photo booth as well.

 Exclusive registration discounts for YWCA Young Wonders summer camp and before- and after-school programs will be available. Parents will also have the chance to win one free week of summer camp!

 Drinks and snacks will be provided, event is suitable for those ages 3-11. To learn more, please visit www.ywcamclean.org or contact Rita Poore, YWCA Young Wonders Youth Development director, at (309) 662-7826, ext. 274 or rpoore@ywcamclean.org.

YWCA: DACA Rescission Symptom of 'Xenophobia'


 Consistent with an ongoing agenda rooted in xenophobia and the terrorizing of communities of color, the Trump administration has rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA, an executive order enacted by President Obama in 2012, alleviated the immediate threat of deportation for more than 800,000 undocumented millennials who met the eligibility requirements which included a clean criminal record, a high school diploma, and those who entered the U.S. as children.

For these young people who came of age as Americans, DACA did not afford full citizenship, but rather two year permits for those approved under the program. This allowed DACA recipients to continue to study and work in their communities with minimized threat of detention and deportation.

With no viable option for citizenship, these young people, who, in applying for DACA, voluntarily submitted their documented status and personal information to the federal government, face a very real and grave threat of being targeted for deportation. At the beginning of the DACA journey, people were fearful and often had to be convinced to come forward. This reversal is their nightmare and is corrosive to the trust established between the government and the people of the United States.

Removal of DACA is a threat to our entire community. Driven into the shadows, these young people are at heightened risk for abuse and exploitation, and are less likely to cooperate with law enforcement, putting everybody in danger. What’s worse is that should these young people be deported, they will never be eligible for U.S. citizenship again. Which not only means permanent loss of family and friends, classmates, and colleagues, but as parents of U.S. citizens this creates the potential for a child welfare crisis or the forced displacement of small American children.

At YWCA McLean County, we see this for what it really is: racial profiling, xenophobia, and bad public policy. We are outraged that this promise is being broken, and that those who came to this country as children will be criminalized and driven underground. DACA does not hurt anyone, it provided an opportunity for young undocumented people to emerge from the shadows, go through a system of vetting, and live without fear in the communities in which they grew up.

We at YWCA McLean County stand with all undocumented Americans, and will fight back, not only for DACA, but for a comprehensive immigration reform that is the solution we’ve needed for decades. We are calling on congress and our Illinois elected officials – Rodney Davis and Darin LaHood – to stand up and push through a solution, like the DREAM Act. We call on our entire community stand with us, contact your member of Congress, and demand protection and a path to citizenship for these trusting young people.

Tuesday Vigil Challenges Transgender Military Ban, Civil Rights Revocation

A Tuesday vigil defends transgender citizens the Administration seeks to bar from the military and challenge Justice Department efforts to remove civil rights under the Civil Rights Law of 1964 by arguing sex discrimination doesn’t apply to sexual orientation or gender identity.

The LGBTQ community and allies are invited to hold a sign of support at the vigil, from 5:30 to 6 p.m. at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts Plaza. Participants are invited to wear rainbow colors. The event is sponsored by Stand Up for Social Justice, a non-partisan coalition supported by NIOTBN, YWCA of McLean County,  the ACLU of Central Illinois, the Unitarian Universalist Church Bloomington-Normal, New Covenant Community church, Indivisible Illinois 18 and Indivisible Illinois 13.

Lambda Legal, an LGBT rights group, is gearing up to sue the Trump administration over President Trump's proposal to ban transgender people from serving in the military.

Trump announced via Twitter that he would revive a policy barring transgender people from serving openly in the military. But that announcement came with no formal guidance and the Pentagon said it would continue to allow transgender people to serve until it received new direction from the White House.

A report published Friday by the Los Angeles Blade, however, indicated that the White House had approved guidance for implementing the ban, which Lambda legal called a "mean-spirited and discriminatory attack" on the LGBT community.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has filed court papers arguing that a major federal civil rights law does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, taking a stand against a decision reached under President Barack Obama.

The department’s move to insert itself into a federal case in New York was an unusual example of top officials in Washington intervening in court in what is an important but essentially private dispute between a worker and his boss over gay rights issues.

“The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination,” the Justice Department said in a friend-of-the-court brief, citing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in the workplace based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” “It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.”

Review Board Push Triumph of Collaboration

The campaign to create a new civilian police review board demonstrated not only the power of public engagement but also the strength local groups were able to exert working together, according to Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal participants in the process

Photo by Lewis Merien, The Pantagraph

Photo by Lewis Merien, The Pantagraph

The city of Bloomington is looking for people who want to serve on the new Public Safety and Community Relations Board (PSCRB). Bloomington aldermen approved board creation Monday. Mayoral appointees will advise the police chief and help settle disputes over complaints against Bloomington officers.

NIOTBN was one of several diverse community groups convened by McLean County YWCA that worked with Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal to help make the PSCRB a reality. Other alliance partners included ACLU of Central Illinois, Bloomington Normal Branch of NAACP, Central Illinois Pride Health Center, Illinois People’s Action, McLean County League of Women Voters, and Prairie Pride Coalition.

"I think we're off to a good start," said NIOTBN member Dontae Latson, director of the McLean County YWCA. Latson maintained "we are not allowing ourselves to fall victim to the national narrative" of Black Lives Matter and other community interests taking an anti-police stance -- "It's just not true."

The alliance' next step is to "assure that the process doesn't get watered down," lose its central focus, or become "stacked" with members of a single viewpoint, he suggested.

Camille Taylor, who helped represent NIOTBN in the alliance, noted the challenges in alliance members working together amid varying philosophies and approaches. "In theory, working with other groups is a great idea," Taylor mused, but maintaining an individual group's focus can be difficult "when not every group at the table has the same mission."

"You have to keep your eye on the prize, and recognize that every group at the table has its own identity," she urged.

Mary Aplington, who serves as co-chairman of NIOTBN's Education Subcommittee with Taylor, saw the tenor of Monday's council meeting itself as evidence of the success of community communication and collaboration. While the meeting drew a large citizen gathering, Aplington noted the Bloomington Police officers working crowd control "did a wonderful job of being respectful and sensitive."

NIOTBN Steering Committee member Mary Aplington,

Those interested in applying for the PSCRB should submit an application by Aug. 11. Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner will share the full list of applicants with aldermen, who will be asked to share their top three recommendations with him, Renner said. Two-thirds of aldermen must vote to approve Renner’s final seven picks.

Here’s how the board will be structured:

  • Members shall serve for a three-year term; however, at the inception of the board, two members shall be appointed for a one-year term, two members for a two-year term, and three members for a three-year term, so that terms are staggered.
  • The chair and a vice-chair of the board shall be selected amongst the members of the PSCRB.
  • No person with a criminal felony conviction shall be eligible to serve on the PSCRB.
  • No city employee may be appointed to the Board, nor shall any member be a current employee of, contracted by or have any official affiliation, whether current or former, with a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency.

PSCRB 'Just the Beginning' -- Y Mission Impact Director

Local civil rights leaders claimed victory Monday as the Bloomington City Council voted to create a new civilian board to advise the police chief—a step that supporters hope will improve how the city deals with complaints against its officers.

The vote was 8-1, with Ward 8 Alderman Diana Hauman the only “no” vote. Hauman, who represents the city’s southeast side, said she gathered input from many members of the community but still had concerns about the new board’s purpose and how its members would be selected and trained and what they’d be tasked with doing.

“I’ve given this eight months of thought, inquiry, research, and sleepless nights,” she said.

Hauman said she was disappointed that so many of the board’s advocates “said basically negative things about our police” during recent forums, including a 35-minute public comment session that opened Monday’s meeting.

“I heard very few people say thank you,” Hauman said. “I have a feeling that our police are being profiled just as members of the alliance (pushing for the board) indicate that police are profiling people of color. I’m sorry, but that offends me as a person.”

Monday’s vote caps a months-long effort by local organizations such as Black Lives Matter lobbying for creation of a board. It came in response to growing tensions in Bloomington between police and many members of the minority community, some of which were documented in a May report.

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner initially opposed creation of the board as other Illinois communities have done, but he appeared to soften his stance as public debate advanced.

Bloomington officer Stephen Brown, representing the police union (PBPA Unit 21), told aldermen before Monday’s vote that he’s in favor of building a better relationship between rank-and-file police and minority groups. He denied that Bloomington police target people based on their race.

But he said supporters of the new board have shifted their agenda and now want an outsized role in shaping policing policy. He questioned why they didn’t support controversial efforts to open a so-called police “community house” when it came before aldermen in January.

“It seems that we’re being painted as racist in this town,” Brown said, alleging that some who support the board want only to make life more difficult for police. “You have to ask yourself, as citizens of this town, do you want law enforcement’s job to be more complicated, or easier? Because if it’s easier, you’re going to be safer.”

Not In Our Town, YWCA McLean County, and the ACLU of Illinois joined Black Lives Matter in advocating for the board. Many spoke passionately at council meetings in recent months.

“This is just the beginning,” Jennifer Carrillo, director of mission impact at the YWCA, told a crowd of board supporters—many wearing Black Lives Matter shirts—as they cheered outside City Hall after the vote. Carrillo urged them to consider applying to serve on the board.

How Board Will Work

The seven-member Public Safety and Community Relations Board (PSCRB) is “purely advisory” to the city manager and police chief. Felons and police officers won’t be able to serve on the board—a controversial decision that civil rights advocates, aldermen, and board opponents wrestled over.

Among the PSCRB’s formal duties will be adding a “resident perspective” to the evaluation of civilian complains against police, as well as educating the community all the ways citizens to make formal and informal complaints. Members of the board will be appointed by the mayor with the with the approval of the Bloomington City Council by a two-thirds vote of all aldermen currently serving.

Its formal power is limited. The city’s police union contract does specifically limits “re-investigations and prohibit(s) the compulsion of police officer testimony in front of citizen review boards,” the city says.

“This is not an oversight board,” said Mayor Tari Renner. “It’s an advisory board.”

Ward 7 Scott Black said he wants to periodically check on the effectiveness of the board in the years to come.

“My focus right now is to make sure that folks feel that there’s an institution that will help them be heard,” said Black. “This document is the result of a lot of people working very hard toward a common goal.”

Bloomington Council Passes Community Relations Board Plan

During the Bloomington City Council meeting on Monday, July 24, the council passed (8-1) the ‘Public Safety and Community Relations Board’ (PSCRB) in front of a packed house of hundreds of supporters. The advocacy originated from grassroots activists and community organizations who worked tirelessly for this effort to come to fruition. Without them, none of this would have been possible.

The most vocal advocates of the ordinance was an alliance of community organizations convened by YWCA McLean County. The organizations include ACLU of Central Illinois, Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal, Bloomington Normal Branch of NAACP, Central Illinois Pride Health Center, Illinois People’s Action, McLean County League of Women Voters, Not in Our Town Bloomington-Normal and Prairie Pride Coalition.

“Police accountability and transparency is key to improved community relations,” said Ky Ajayi, Black Lives Matter representative. “The establishment of the PSCRB is an excellent step in that direction.”

With the passage of this ordinance, residents will have the opportunity to submit their complaint to the PSCRB, which will then be routed to the Bloomington Police Department, instead of filing directly with the department. The police department will still conduct complaint investigations as they always have, but with this board, a resident will be able to request a review by the PSCRB to ensure proper protocols were followed. In addition, the board will promote alternate avenues available to residents to make complaints, assist in clarifying and improving procedures related to complaints and assure access to these policies and procedures are open and transparent.

“The Bloomington-Normal branch of the NAACP is pleased to see the passage of this ordinance,” said Quincy Cummings, president of the local NAACP chapter. “The transparency provided by establishing this board will encourage more people to comfortably file complaints.”

Another important feature of the board is the ability to recommend changes to the police department. The PSCRB will be empowered to conduct community outreach and recommend necessary policy changes to improve police and community interactions. 

“The establishment of the board is a huge first step towards becoming a community in which police and residents can trust one another,” said D. Dontae Latson, CEO of YWCA McLean County. “We still have a lot of work to do—and this board is only the beginning—but we are committed to playing a role in the process of building and healing community relations.”

Throughout the city council’s public discussion on this issue, which took place over the course of several special sessions, countless stories and testimonies were shared by community members who have been directly impacted by what many describe as ‘disproportionate policing.’ Many cited a recent report by the Stevenson Center, which indicated that in Bloomington, black people are twice as likely to be pulled over by police; and once stopped, are over twice as likely to be searched compared to white people. These residents showed a unified and steadfast support for the creation of board to address these issues.

Citizen Review Board Nearing Critical Vote?

The Bloomington City Council is expected to vote Monday night on a proposed ordinance to create a civilian police oversight board, but its membership would not include convicted felons or police officers.

One of the hurdles for some aldermen has been whether to allow convicted felons to serve on the proposed board.

"I think I am not alone in saying that most of us on the council had many, many conversations across the community about this ordinance and how it needed to read and what its focus should be," Ward 6 Alderman Karen Schmidt said Thursday.

"A group of aldermen worked very hard to try and synthesize all of the ideas with the product that we have in front of us now," said Schmidt. "I also think most of us made some compromises on some things.

"But the heart of the ordinance is something I know a majority of us can support," she added. "It provides a structure for us to build a stronger police-citizen relationship. There are a lot of tools in it that focus on helping communication and education across the board."

An alliance of community organizations — including Not in Our Town, American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, YWCA of McLean County, and Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal — has asked for a citizen review board for police. Some community activists also wanted to allow convicted felons to apply and to exclude anyone affiliated previously or currently with law enforcement.

"Essentially we came back to where we were kind of at to start with on those issues — that the felons are prohibited even if they're nonviolent felons and even if (their crimes) occurred 20 or 30 years ago, and no law enforcement officials," said Mayor Tari Renner.

Ky Ajayi, a member of the local BLM chapter, said he has mixed feelings about the revised ordinance.

"I will be glad if a review board is created." he said. "I will be disappointed that people who have been convicted of crimes in the past would not be eligible to be considered for membership on the review board."

If that happens, he said, "people who have served and paid their price to society for whatever mistakes they have made are not afforded full rights of citizenship.

"I think people who have been through the process can bring a unique perspective to the review process."

Police Chief Brendan Heffner previously said he is against felons serving on the board unless someone from law enforcement also is allowed to serve.

Ajayi said he would be pleased if the exclusion of city employees and anyone with current or former affiliation with a law enforcement agency is in the ordinance.

In May, a request by the local Black Lives Matter chapter to create a community board to review public complaints about interactions with Bloomington police officers gained community momentum. Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal (NIOTBN), YWCA McLean County, NAACP Bloomington-Normal and the Central Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union — supported Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal in calling for a civilian review board.

In a joint statement, the five groups said many residents, particularly people of color, lack confidence in the process for filing complaints about police officers and in investigations conducted solely by police.

Mayor Tari Renner pledged "a broader discussion about what the overall concerns are, what the issues are, what does our current process look like and what our options are." "One, obviously, is a review board and that certainly will be discussed,” Renner said.

"Black Lives Matter has shared some principles it would like to see shape the board, and hopefully at the committee-of-the-whole meeting the City Council will agree that these are good ideas and should form the basis for a board,” said Ajayi.

Few public complaints are formally submitted to Bloomington police, the groups related, but that fact may be misleading.

"We believe it is dangerous to assume that the low number of complaints filed against officers are a measure of public satisfaction, when it may instead be an indication of public distrust with our current complaint process," according to the groups' statement.

The organizations suggest that "in order to maintain public trust," the review board consist solely of volunteer members of the public to remain an impartial body.

The community groups also recommend expanding the avenues for filing complaints by allowing people to file them directly with the review board, with the city's human resources department or through the current process at the police department.

While the police department would investigate the complaints and make determinations, a review board could provide an avenue for people to appeal department findings they dispute, said the organizations' statement.

"We recommend that BPD make all investigative material related to the complaint available to (the review board)," the groups said.

The board could make nonbinding recommendations to the police chief or city manager to consider, according to the groups.

NIOT member Mike Matejka said people may feel more comfortable taking complaints to a review board, and the review process would be more productive than having people just raise these issues in public forums.

"People constantly voice complaints when we have these large public forums," said Matejka. “It's really not fair to the police because they can't answer an individual situation in front of a crowd."

In mid-June, an alliance of nine community organizations gathered on the steps of the McLean County Museum of History Friday to urge the Bloomington City Council to create an oversight board.

"We urge all council members to vote in favor of it," said Jenn Carrillo, YWCA mission impact director before introducing the representatives who spoke at the press conference. In addition to ACLU of Central Illinois, Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal, Bloomington-Normal Branch of the NAACP, Not in Our Town Bloomington-Normal and YWCA McLean County, Central Illinois Pride Health Center, Prairie Pride Coalition, Illinois People's Action, and the McLean County League of Women Voters joined in the effort.

But continued delays in bringing the plan to a vote elicited frustrations in early July

“We are disappointed this process has been delayed once more," NIOTBN member and YWCA Director Dontae Latson stated. "During the June Committee of the Whole session, we heard a majority of council members express support for the passage of the PSCRB ordinance. Council members had ample opportunity to ask questions, offer revisions and raise any outstanding issues with the ordinance during that session. We believed their concerns had been sufficiently addressed in the proposed revisions. The delay raises concern that an already vetted and modest ordinance may be weakened. We remain hopeful the city council will have the courage to vote and pass the PSCRB ordinance.”

May 1 March Declares 'Immigrants Are Welcome Here'

Paul Swiech

The Pantagraph

Chanting "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here" and "Immigrant rights are human rights," about 300 people marched Monday evening from outside the McLean County Museum of History to outside Bloomington City Hall to support immigrant families in McLean County.

Photo by Gabriel Jiminez Glez

Photo by Gabriel Jiminez Glez

Responding to Trump administration comments about increasing deportations through partnerships between local law enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, several speakers called for the City Council to adopt a "Welcoming City" ordinance, which would bar the city and Bloomington police from reporting people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

"We can't control what is happening in (Washington) D.C., but we can here," said Illinois People's Action board member Sonny Garcia, who was among several people who spoke at the rally in front of City Hall. He asked the City Council — which swore in newly elected members Monday evening in City Hall just before the rally — to "stand up and say 'no' to hate and be an example to the nation."

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner came outside to welcome the marchers.

Calling the United States, "a nation of immigrants," Renner said "the better part of humanity has to prevail and, here in Bloomington, it will prevail."

Renner told the marchers that "our police force does not work with ICE" but stopped short of endorsing the Welcoming City ordinance.

"In this moment, there is no moral choice but to fight back. Because all of us are all implicated in what is being done, in our name, to our immigrant sisters and brothers." D. Dontae Latson, CEO, YWCA McLean County.

"In the face of overwhelming national enforcement, we need more than promises and words. We cannot only declare we are on the side of our immigrant neighbors and tell them everything is okay. We must decide to do more. We must decide to pass the Welcoming City ordinance." Charlotte Alvarez, executive director, The Immigration Project.

"I am an Uber driver. About a month and a half ago I had some riders try to assault and kidnap me. This was very traumatizing and I wanted my attackers to be prosecuted. But, I was advised not to press charges as it would be worse for me and my family because of our immigration case. I decided not to press charges against my attackers because of my husband's immigration status. It makes me very sad to know that these men never had any consequences for their actions and may act again." 'Stephanie,’ Bloomington resident.

"We may not be able to control what is happening in DC, but we certainly have the power to determine how our immigrant brothers and sisters are treated right here in McLean County," Sonny Garcia, Board Member of Illinois People's Action.

"We are here today to join our immigrant brothers and sisters in building power to advance our shared struggle. Together, we will fight for and win our collective liberation." Divah Griffin, Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal.

He told The Pantagraph earlier that the city legal department is analyzing a Welcoming City ordinance, but there are concerns.

Normal Mayor Chris Koos also told The Pantagraph earlier, "While I'm generally supportive of what they're trying to accomplish, that particular document is difficult to support because there are legal issues."

Renner and Koos have expressed concern about endorsing a document that puts police at odds with federal agents. Renner may issue a mayoral proclamation as an alternative to the ordinance.

But Jenn Carrillo, YWCA McLean County mission impact director, told The Pantagraph after the rally, "We need to go beyond a proclamation and codify it in an ordinance."

Carrying signs that read "Blono is better when we keep families together" and "Migration is Beautiful," many marchers — some shivering in the wind and 47-degree temperatures during the lengthy rally — also held plastic monarch butterflies. They have become a symbol of the immigration rights movement because they migrate from Mexico to the United States and Canada.

"Migration is not only natural but beautiful," said YWCA CEO D. Dontae Latson.

The Rev. Doug Hennessy, retired pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Bloomington, said: "God's Word tells us every person without exception has inherent human dignity and is worthy of respect. That families are meant to be together. That this one small planet is meant to be shared, not divided."

A Welcoming City ordinance "would be an important way for our community to say to our brothers and sisters and families who are most immediately threatened by the current situation, that we stand in solidarity with them," Hennessy said.

"The war against immigrants is a war against people of color," said Divah Griffin of Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal.

Among those who marched and rallied were David and Abby Warfel of Bloomington and their sons, Sam, 15, and Joe, 10.

"We're here to support the immigrant community," Joe said. "No human is illegal."

"We want to help families to stay together," Abby said. "We wouldn't want to be separated from each other. We want others to have that same sense of safety."

"The national climate on immigration is very distressing and we want to do something to make our community safer," said David Warfel, noting his ancestors emigrated from Germany.

"I want other families to have the same opportunities that my family had," he said.

For highlights of the march, visit https://www.facebook.com/YWCAMcLeanCounty/videos/10155242100266382/

Latson, Jani To Be Honored at Leadership Graduation

McLean County's Multicultural Leadership Program will honor Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal leader and McLean County YWCA Director Dontae Latson at MCLP's April 22 Class of 2017 Graduation Celebration.

Jani and Latson

Jani and Latson

The Graduation Celebration is an event that recognizes the hard work of service-oriented local citizens. Latson will be awarded the MCLP's Community Service Award for a Local Community Leader, while Tejas Jani will receive the Community Service Alumni Award. Jani is State Farm android test lead and a 2014 MCLP grad.

Kira Hudson Banks

Kira Hudson Banks

Speaker for the graduation is Kira Hudson Banks, Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Louis University and racial equity consultant for the “Forward through Ferguson” Ferguson Commission. The Edwardsville native will address diversity and inclusion; her work has been published in journals such as Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology and American Psychologist.

Banks argues inclusivity "requires the vulnerability to have an acknowledgement and a humility to realize that we all have biases.”

Reservations for the celebration are available through Thursday. Visit http://public.bn-mclp.org/even…/graduation-celebration-2017/ for information.

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.

YWCA Seeks Funding To Close School/Prison Pipeline

YWCA Mclean County seeks to close the school-to-prison pipeline through a bid at a $25,000 award to start a racial justice training program for teachers and students.

Voting opened today at State Farm's Neighborhood Assist site (http://www.neighborhoodassist.com/entry/1984443), and remains open until Nov. 4. Individuals can vote 10 times per day for the next 10 days to fund the project.

The ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ is an epidemic that is plaguing schools across the nation, disproportionately targeting students of color and those with a history of abuse, neglect, poverty or learning disabilities. According to an analysis by United Way of McLean County, students of color make up a disproportionate amount of school suspensions. In McLean County, black students comprise only 12.3% of the population but account for 53.5% of students receiving more than one out-of-school suspension. In contrast, white students make up 63.9% of the population but only 41.2% of out-of-school suspensions.

Additionally, districts made up of predominately white teachers are not equipped to deal with the needs of the growing number of students of color and don't have the tools to empower their students. While some students have resources and support to deal with their experiences, some do not. The concept of the "school to prison pipeline" suggests some students are "pushed out" of school, not deliberately, but as a consequence of systemic racism and the lack of resources available to offset their adverse experiences. There is a need for education as a means to alternatives to traditional punishments.

YWCA McLean County would develop a racial justice training program. Funds would be used for staff and consultants to develop the program, materials for trainings, and to offset costs for nonprofits to be trained. The program will include different forms of oppression and be customizable for audiences. For example, the program for people of color will focus on internalized racism and how to challenge the oppressive systems. The program for white people will focus on how to be an ally and empower people of color. The program will be piloted with YWCA staff and then taken into schools. This training will give teachers and administrators insight into how systems in place disproportionately affect students of color and the tools to empower those students. The training will allow students and teachers to learn together about systemic oppression and how to challenge it. Eventually the program, with trained volunteers leading, will educate businesses, city officials, and more.

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.

November 17 Humanity Summit Addresses Systemic Bias

The November 17 2016 YWCA Humanity Summit will serve as a space for the community to grapple with important questions of cultural and systemic oppression (racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia), and how Twin Citians can grow to become allies in the struggle for justice.


Register before Friday, October 7, and get $10 off registration!

 Student: $8 (pricing stays the same)

 Standard: $30 (earlybird: $20)

 CEU: $60 (earlybird: $10)

 A pay-what-you-can option is available for those who are unable to pay full price for registration.

Oppression is taking lives and destroying communities. Every day, accounts of violence against people of color and a resurgence in hate crimes are in the headlines. Below the surface, institutionalized marginalization and cultural repression of “the other” are quietly killing our communities.

 Oppression costs us all. And even though we didn’t create these problems, we do have a responsibility to ourselves, as well as to each other and future generations to address them.

What to expect at the Humanity Summit:

• A community of experts: The Humanity Summit will be a truly community driven conversation. Rather than slate a roster of presenters to lecture an audience, we are calling on you to bring stories of your experiences, your ideas, and a spirit of collaboration as we move this conversation together.

• An evolving and shared understanding: We don’t have all the answers. Collectively, we will develop our understanding of oppression and privilege, determine the costs of oppression, create shared principles of allyship, and commit ourselves to taking meaningful action.

• A space for you: Throughout the summit, there will be breakout groups specific to the various communities we are a part of. Each breakout will be facilitated by a member of the corresponding community. Breakouts include women/femme (Gender), people of color (race), people with disabilities, trans/gender-queer (gender) and LGBQ (sexual orientation). In addition, there will be a breakout for folks who don’t identify with any of these groups.

League: Voter Participation -- Not Just Registration -- Crucial

The McLean County League of Women Voters (LWV) Saturday offered voter registration at the Festival of India on the Illinois State University campus quad, as well as assisting with NAACP registration at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church on Bloomington’s west side.

Registration will continue next Saturday this month at the church, and Sept. 27 is a communitywide volunteer Registration Day, co-sponsored by the League with Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal

“The more people we get out to vote, the better our leaders will be prepared to know what we want and what we expect out of them,” LWV’s Phyllis VerSteegh said during the Twin Cities Indian community's annual event. “If we do not to events like this, people will not be aware of what they need to do, how they need to register, where they need to go to vote, how they vote, etc.”

NAACP registration efforts launched earlier this month at Mt. Pisgah, with volunteers also canvassing the area around the church, according to LWV’s Katie Pratt largely to spur community voter awareness.

In addition, the League next month will sponsor mock elections at Bloomington Middle School and Normal Community High School, as well as registration efforts Oct. 4 at Normal’s Unity Community Center, 632 Orlando Avenue. LWV participated as well as the recent Heartland Community College Fall Fest, and VerSteegh noted a local elementary school teacher’s aide has requested voter material, arguing “it’s never too young to start getting people engaged in and aware of political activities.”

Pratt stressed Twin Cities university students can vote either absentee or locally. Voter info is available at the Illinois State Board of Elections website (www.elections.il.gov/), the McLean County Clerk’s office site (www.mcleancountyil.gov), through the ISU student portal, at my.illinoisstate.edu.

Early registration ends Oct. 11 – after that, individuals must register onsite at area election authorities.

“It isn’t enough to register – people have to get out to vote,” VerSteegh emphasized. “They can start voting early Sept. 29 (see above list of sites).”


Block Party Survey Aims Toward Better Policing on the Block

As Bloomington residents partied on the block last weekend, volunteers at the 18th annual West Side Block Party canvassed celebrants on the best ways to better the beat.

At Saturday’s block party in the Bloomington First Christian Church parking lot, McLean County YWCA mission impact director Jenn Carrillo and her team surveyed Twin Cities on police-community relations and public attitudes toward law enforcement, as part of a larger YWCA/Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal project.

While locally, “we’ve been very good at responding when events happen,” Carrillo stressed continued need for a proactive approach in exploring “what work needs to be done so we aren’t ‘that incident’ on the news.”

“As you know, there’s been a lot of very publicized violence in the (national) news, and we want to figure out the patterns, the attitudes here in Bloomington-Normal,” she related. “We’re asking folks very neutral questions – basically giving them an opening to talk about experiences they’ve had with law enforcement here.

“Our hope is to get a lot more of these surveys filled out -- this is just kind of our dry run to see how people respond to questions. Once we have some good information, we plan to sit down with heads of law enforcement, share our results, and talk about some solutions we can collaborate on. I think it all starts with community policing, and the only way to have community policing is to have the community involved in defining exactly what that looks like.”

Rather than offer surveys online, Carrillo hopes to continue having volunteers share one-on-one, “face-to-face time with community members.”

The block party has over the years provided a range of community services, this year alone including distribution of 1,066 free school kits as well as school-approved free dental checks and dental supplies for low-income and other local children. Guests also had the opportunity to visit with representatives of community organizations, Unit 5 and District 87 school district officials, and emergency responders.

“We have shown though actions, through words, through relationships, that we want to be good neighbors, that we want to be more than ‘that church on the corner’ that people come to once a year to get school supplies,” related First Christian Associate Minister Kelley Becker, leader of NIOTBN’s Faith and Outreach effort. “We care more than about pencils – we care about their lives.”

Nuns on The Bus: Heal Gaps, Heed Immigrant Contributions

The Pantagraph

Sister Simone Campbell has a simple message for the Twin Cities on Tuesday.

"We need Bloomington-Normal (residents) to do their part to help heal the gaps in our nation," she said. "It's our same message at all the towns we go to, because if we all get engaged in it, we can heal."

Campbell is one of 19 sisters on the Nuns on the Bus tour of the the Midwest and Northeast. With a theme of "Mend the Gaps," they will spend more than two weeks asking America to promote family-friendly workplaces, living wages, tax justice, and access to citizenship, democracy, health care and housing.

While the group's agenda mirrors traditionally liberal political priorities, Campbell said the sisters are focused on how to bring people together rather than dividing them.

They started Monday in Madison, Wis., and will travel through Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, New York, the New England states and New Jersey before ending in Pennsylvania. Stops will include small cities like Bloomington and big ones like Cleveland and Philadelphia, where they'll visit the Republican and Democratic national conventions. 

"What I'm hoping is we can see similarities in what worries ... and gives hope to Republicans and Democrats so we can begin to speak of where we meet," said Campbell, who organized Nuns on the Bus and is executive director of Network-Advocates for Justice Inspired by Catholic Sisters.

About 75 people came to YWCA McLean County in Bloomington for the afternoon stop.

Attendees heard speeches from the sisters and got the chance to pledge their support and sign the bus. Many chanted "mend the gaps" during a group photo.

The sisters also visited Unitarian/Universalist Church of Bloomington-Normal on Tuesday evening.

This is their fifth annual bus tour; they visited Illinois State University’s Alumni Center and New Covenant Community, both in Normal, in 2013.

"We're big fans of Sister Simone," said Margaret Rutter of Normal, who attended the YWCA event with other New Covenant members.

Rutter spoke of the need for respecting immigrants: "It's terrible how many people have lived here for many years doing horrible jobs and paying taxes and we won't let be citizens."

Policy priorities for the sisters include tax reform that makes "corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share"; "significant minimum wage increases"; "paid family leave and paycheck fairness for woman"; "congressional districts that are fairly and accurately drawn"; universal health care; and "a just and inclusive federal housing policy."

"We have a torn fabric in our society with all the name-calling, the violence, the fear. ... We're better than that," Campbell said. "This is about the divides that have grown in our whole nation, and that's why we're on the road."

LGBT Unitarian Member Urges Church to Preach 'Love They Neighbor.'

Lin Hinds was horrified in the wake of last weekend’s Orlando nightclub massacre to read the comments of a California Baptist minister who celebrated the shooter eliminating “Sodomites.”  “Where does that man even think he’s representing God or even has a connection to God?” Hinds, a member of Bloomington’s LGBT community, demands.

The Orlando shootings, which left 50 dead and more wounded, has raised questions about gun violence, gender bigotry in America, and the stance of religious doctrine and practice toward LGBT individuals. Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal, McLean County YWCA, and Prairie Pride Coalition will sponsor a June 27 LGBT Spirituality Forum -- a discussion with local religious leaders about finding safe places for LGBTQ people to worship -- at 7 p.m. in the Heartland Bank Community Room at 200 West College Ave. in Normal.

For the lesbian, mother, and member of the LGBT-friendly Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington-Normal who serves as office manager with Moses Montefiore Congregation Jewish synagogue, the issue breaks down to basic spiritual principles.

“It’s simple,” she maintained. “Love your neighbor. Don’t peek into their bedroom window; it shouldn’t matter. People are people. As a gay mother of a son, I raised my son to believe that people are people, you love people, and it doesn’t matter who they love.

“We need to get back to basics. A person’s character isn’t based on who the love or who they decide to spend their life with. It’s built on what they do and how they act.”

A native of Chicago’s northwest suburbs, Hinds moved to the Twin Cities in 1993, when LGBT residents still frequently felt pressured not to reveal their gender identity for fear or personal or even professional reprisal. She’d grown up essentially “unchurched” until high school, when she became involved with a local Lutheran church “because my best friend was Lutheran,” but Hinds’ parents taught her the Ten Commandments and other Judeo-Christian principles.

The Unitarian church traditionally has been one of the more inclusive Protestant denominations, and indeed, the overarching Unitarian Universalist Association has designated individual “Welcoming Congregation” churches. The church emphasizes “free thinking,” the concept of “salvation for all,” and a membership that includes Christian Unitarians Universalists as well as religious humanists, secular humanists, theists, Buddhists, “pagans,” and others.

In the case of Hinds’ Bloomington Church, the addition of rainbow flags signals that it has “done work to be specifically welcoming to LGBT people.”

“It has taken us four years to get that designation,” she nonetheless stressed. “Unitarian Universalists tend to come from different faith traditions, a lot of times, so your older members from about 20 years ago came from a time where they either didn’t understand or weren’t welcoming, so it took some time. We did it, but it took some time. I equate that today, unfortunately, to some of the racial issues that exists.

“I went to a very white school (in the Chicago suburbs), and I went to that school for all 12 years – never had a black kid in a class, only had one Jewish kid in town. It was SO stereotypical middle-class, and my father was a truck driver. I wasn’t raised in a racist house, but I certainly had friends who were. My father believed a jerk was a jerk – didn’t matter what color he was. To the point where, when I was a freshman in college, my folks actually fostered two black twins for a few months. It was amazing the backlash they got.”

As Hinds examines LGBT issues in modern society, she also continues her faith journey. Her employment with Moses Montefiore, a progressive Reform Jewish temple that also welcomes LGBT members and guests, “certainly has strengthened my own spirituality, my own connections.”

“I’m connected to God every day, in one way or another,” Hinds noted.

Vigil, June 27 Forum to Address LGBT Concerns

In light of this weekend's tragedy in Orlando, a vigil will be held at 7 p.m. tonight in front of the Bistro in downtown Bloomington.

Meanwhile, Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal, McLean County YWCA, and Prairie Pride Colaition will sponsor a June 27 LGBT Spirituality Forum -- a discussion with local religious leaders about finding safe places for LGBTQ people to worship -- at 7 p.m. in the Heartland Bank Community Room at 200 West College Ave. in Normal.

LGBT residents have struggled in some cases to find acceptance among local churches, and recent events and attitudes have spurred some denominations to alter traditional positions on LGBT marriage, rights, and worship.

The forum will include a question-and-answer period and refreshments.

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.