March For Our Lives Participants Seek Action on Gun Violence

Julia Evelsizer

The Pantagraph

Claire Lamonica has had enough.

“I was sure it would get better after Columbine and I was sure it would get better after Sandy Hook, but here we are. I hope all the young and old people work together for a change and Congress gets a clue,” said Lamonica of Normal.

She joined a multi-generational crowd of hundreds Saturday at the March for Our Lives event outside the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington to advocate for stricter gun laws in the country.

About a dozen counter-protesters held signs and flags.

The local March for Our Lives event was one of more than 800 rallies around the world that was organized following last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead.

Photos by Camille Taylor

Photos by Camille Taylor

Despite the blowing snow and ice, the crowd met for over an hour to hear speakers, sing songs and sign letters to state lawmakers on the museum steps. Then the crowd marched to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts for a final song.

The march was organized by Voices of Reason, Indivisible McLean County, YWCA McLean County, Not In Our Town and the Normal Community High School Peace and Justice Group.

“We want to send a message that a majority of Americans want sensible gun reform, safe schools and safe communities,” said Jodie Slothower, event coordinator. “We’re not saying to get rid of guns, we’re saying guns need better regulations. We should get rid of bump stocks, improve the way guns are registered, increase background checks and work on mental health issues.”

Megan Michalski of Bloomington waved signs with her sons Felix, 8, and Murray, 6.

“I don’t want my children to be afraid to go to school. I’m worried about my youngest learning how to read, not hide. I hope the community can push aside their personal agenda,” said Michalski.


Many of the speakers and attendees were Twin City high school and college students.

Normal Community West High School juniors Francesca Riley, Abby Ramsey and Mary Kelly waved signs as they stood in the snow.

“Guns have no place in schools. It genuinely makes us uncomfortable,” said Riley. “I think about the possibility of a shooter all the time. Like, if they came into this classroom, what window would I run to. That’s messed up.”

University High School students and sisters, Elizabeth and Katherine Raycraft used plastic bags to protect the messages on their rally signs.

“It’s not OK to have guns in school. Stand up for what you believe in and don’t let others, or the weather, stop you,” said Elizabeth, 16.  

As a gun owner, Jerry Moncelle of Bloomington said he’s tired of gun violence and “something needs to change.”

“It’s the government’s responsibility to take care of people and they’re dropping the ball. We aren’t against guns, but we need more control to keep them out of the wrong hands,” he said.

John Boch of Bloomington and Ryan Sweeney of rural Armington attended to show support for the Second Amendment.

“We’re here to try to make people aware. There’s a lot of work that should be done before gun reform. Mental health reform is a huge issue and so is parenting. Criminals don’t follow laws anyway,” said Sweeney.

“We’re out here to show we won’t lay down as the other side marches to ban our guns,” said Boch.

Aishwarya Shekara of Bloomington said marchers want to protect everyone in the community, “including the counter-protesters.”

“I encouraged the crowd to contact their representatives, write letters, send emails and post more on social media about the cause,” said Shekara, a freshman at University of Illinois. “My fear is that students will lose hope. What about tomorrow and next month and next year? This movement isn’t over until we see better gun control in Congress.”

Normal West Comunity Showcases Talent, Passion

Not In Our School and its anti-bullying/anti-discrimination efforts received a bow during Normal Community West High School H.Y.P.E.'s (Helping Youth Progress and Excel) recent Showcase Talent Show.

The May 13 program focused on inclusion and diversity, featuring dance, musical performances, spoken word, stand-up comedy, and overall talent from students expressing their creativity and passion. The BCAI-Breaking Chains & Advancing Increase School of Arts provided a special guest performance.

Proceeds from the show were directed towards the hosting school clubs H.Y.P.E. and Not In Our School. H.Y.P.E. will be using half of their proceeds for a Wildcat Fund dedicated to students helping other students with basic unmet needs.

Enjoying NCWHS's showcase were, from left, BCAI Director Angelique Racki, Normal West Not In Our School sponsor John Bierbaum, and NIOTBN's Phani Aytam, Camille Taylor, and Mary Aplington.

Enjoying NCWHS's showcase were, from left, BCAI Director Angelique Racki, Normal West Not In Our School sponsor John Bierbaum, and NIOTBN's Phani Aytam, Camille Taylor, and Mary Aplington.

Nominees Named for 2016 MLK Awards

Mary Aplington, third from left, at the 2015 MLK Luncheon.

Mary Aplington, third from left, at the 2015 MLK Luncheon.

The 40th annual Martin Luther King Junior Awards in Bloomington-Normal will feature 13 nominees. Four winners will be announced January 16 at ISU's Bone Student Center.

Two high school students and two adults -- including Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal's Mary Aplington, who has been working with local schools to stop bullying and bigotry -- will be recognized for promoting tolerance and understanding.

In the running are students Marcus Brooks, Rahul Vudaru, Veena Yeleswarapu, Rachek Beck, Keerthi Amballa, Amanda Breeden, Amari Funderburg, and Helen Steinbacher-Kemp.

Adult contenders for the honor include: Aplington, NIOTBN alumni Arlene Hosea and Marcos Mendez, Jesse Padilla, and Arthur Haynes.

The Human Relations Commissions of Bloomington and Normal make the selections.

National Bullying Prevention Month: Hugs and Communication

As the students of Unit 5 and District 87 continue to acclimate to new experiences and relationships, they also face the challenge of coping with bullying or the temptation to bully. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and an ideal time for parents to talk with teachers, communicate with their kids, and, hopefully, help eliminate bullying.

The Pantagraph's Derek Beigh recently examined one local effort to inoculate students against the damage of bullying.

For Antoinese Watson of Normal, reaching out to bullied teens isn't nice, it's necessary.

"My cousin is (a local suicide victim's) sister," she said. "No child should feel they're all alone, and something like that is necessary."

Watson, a senior at Normal Community West High School, joined about two dozen other local residents spreading that message during Wednesday's (Oct. 1) Operation Hug a Child event.

“I started it because of the young lady who committed suicide,” said the Rev. Rochelle Patterson, pastor of God's Decision Outreach Ministry in downtown Bloomington. "Any child from 2 to 92 needs a hug sometimes."

Patterson, members of the church and supporters organized events, including face painting, speakers and games Wednesday at Carl's Ice Cream in Normal.

"I was bullied in fifth grade," said 13-year-old Sharissa Jackson of Normal after getting her face painted. "It helps to make new friends or find an activity to do after school to get your mind off it."

Watson said "a ton of people get bullied," but she tells other students to "stay strong" and "find someone to talk to so you're not all alone."

Patterson said Jackson and 11-year-old Ashanti Hunter of Normal, both church members, were big parts of getting Operation Hug a Child rolling. The effort has visited local restaurants, grocery stores and downtown spaces offering hugs to passers-by, and the church maintains a board with photos of those hugs.

Hunter said she'd like to see more school-based organizations working to stop bullying. Watson is part of an anti-bullying group at Normal West that will hand out informational fliers at the school's homecoming parade next week.

"We're planning to go to the schools," Patterson said. "Too many kids don't realize people actually care about them."

Wednesday's main event was a hugging contest. Deborah Love of Normal and Tabu Triplett of Bloomington raced to see how many people in and around the restaurant they could hug.

After Triplett won, Patterson even offered hugs to people in the drive-thru lane at Carl's, including Bonnie Stephens of Pekin. Attendees also formed a massive heart to demonstrate their togetherness.

Patterson said she'll be out soon at more locations offering hugs to anyone who needs one. She refers to people who offers hugs as "Heroes Under God."

"Look out. There's a H.U.G. coming for you," she said with a laugh.

Normal Unit 5's anti-bullying/anti-bigotry resolution, passed last spring.

Normal Unit 5's anti-bullying/anti-bigotry resolution, passed last spring.

New ISU 'Response Team' Offers Clearinghouse For Bias/Discrimination Issues

A racially inflammatory Twitter post last spring spurred an “awe-inspiring” community response and a new effort to head off hate and bigotry and foster understanding on campus, according to Art Munin, chairman of ISU’s new Inclusive Community Response Team.

Munin, ISU assistant vice president and dean of students, reports the recently debuted effort is designed to help address essentially “any identity-based issue” on campus, from overt bigotry (such as the racist graffiti recently found on an Illinois Wesleyan University sidewalk) to more subtle “bias-related” incidents or “microaggression” – frequently unintended, often routine discrimination in interactions with those of a different race, culture, faith, or gender identity. In short, activity “that just doesn’t reflect the values and diversity we espouse at Illinois State University,” Munin said.

The 10-member response team includes junior Patrice Gooden, secretary of diversity affairs for the ISU Student Government Association, as well as representatives of the ISU’s provost office, counseling and housing services, Milner Library, University College, the ISU Police Department, the vice president of student affair, and the Office of Equal Opportunity, Ethics, and Access (OEOEA).  Visit the team’s website at

 “This group is to help provide a place to support, listen, and remedy, but hopefully also to do some proactive work to help prevent these things from happening,” the Southside Chicago native and first-generation college student related. “Previously, there just wasn’t a mechanism to draw all these entities together so we’d be talking on a regular basis.

“This is tough – it’s difficult, emotional, intellectual work, and it’s work that sometimes doesn’t start until folks get to college and they start having these conversations. I know that was the case for me – I didn’t really start opening up these dialogues until I started going to college. You have 18 years or so of one way of programming and thinking, and then college is going to ‘disrupt’ that. Higher education should be an intellectually and emotionally disruptive process. This isn’t about making you think one way – it’s about challengi9ng you to think, to think critically, and ask questions of why.”

Munin, an Eastern Illinois University/Loyola psychology/student affairs specialist with a second masters in multicultural communications from DePaul University, applauded ISU President Larry Dietz’ rapid public response last spring to a student Twitter post putting a racist spin on African-American protestors in the wake of alleged police abuse -- “Dr. Larry Dietz is very clear about his convictions related to diversity and justice.” The subsequent proposal to form a response team received Dietz’ immediate “blessing,” he noted.

Munin also was gratified by the proactive response of ISU fraternities and sororities to nationwide reports of fraternity racism and abuse, including a cross-campus demonstration walk. Under the umbrella of the Dean of Student’s office, he emphasizes that “the Greek community answers to me,” and he has been active with sorority recruiters and the Interfraternity Council, particularly in fostering messaging on “diversity and justice.”

“That march on the campus, we didn’t organize that – the students did,” Munin stressed.

However, students who have been the victims of discrimination often have not known where to file a report or complaint or even “that we want to know about that,” he acknowledged. The new team will serve as a clearinghouse for accountability and follow-through (“I’m hopeful that more students will come forward and share their stories with us”).

Student discrimination of harassment reports will move first through Munin, who will share them with OEOEA and/or the campus police, if a reportable crime has been committed. The response team also will review complaints with an eye to potential remedies or actions.

The team also will meet regularly to review campus-related events, community developments that affect the university and students, ways to improve communications and “messaging,” and available resources to help promote diversity and reduce or prevent discrimination.

“There’s already so much great stuff going on here, but we don’t connect all the dots and share that information,” Munin maintained. “That sharing of information will continue to be crucial to this new entity.”

Part of the problem is the insular nature of various campus communities and cultural groups, and general discomfort with direct confrontation of racial and related issues. ISU’s administration collects considerable data on “who comes to events and participates in events,” Munin said, but the team will attempt to focus as much on “who wasn’t there – who did we not reach, and who was not participating?”

Social media can be a double-edged sword in building cross-cultural bridges, as evidenced by last spring’s racial posting episode. But “to see the response from the community to it afterwards was just awe-inspiring,” recalled Munin, who sees great value in online communications and web-based social justice information sharing and the “systemic approach” to bias and bigotry social media provides.

Another priority is recognition of previously disenfranchised or underserved student constituencies. Munin was instrumental in launching ISU’s new “Lavender Graduation” to acknowledge the special accomplishments of LGBT students, and he will meet this week with students and student groups – including Greek organizations -- to discuss the possibility of a similar ceremony for Latino students next May.

Munin meanwhile is excited by high-profile campus activities such as this weekend’s India Festival on the campus quad, and is hoping families from around the Twin Cities will drop by to help make the cultural celebration “a truly community event.” ISU’s basic “family friendly” nature that drew him to Central Illinois.

“You can include everyone, and that just makes it a warm environment,” Munin said.

Inclusive Community Response Team

What is the Inclusive Community Response Team?
The Inclusive Community Response Team (ICRT) serves students by fostering an open and inclusive campus and responding to instances of hate and bias.

What does ICRT do?

  • SUPPORT – provide students with care and assistance when faced with a bias-related incident
  • RESPOND - review reported bias-related incidents affecting students and refer to appropriate University and community entities
  • MONITOR – examine the student experience for trends and issues which may affect the campus climate
  • EDUCATE – build understanding within the campus community about the value of diversity and social justice

How do I report an issue?

  • Any student, faculty, staff, or community member can file a report with the ICRT. There are several ways to file a report:
  • Email
    • When filing a report via email please be as specific as possible. Items to consider including are: date, time, specific location, names of people involved, descriptions of people involved (if names are not known), and specific details regarding the issue. You are able to include files (e.g. pictures) with the email if available.
    • If you supply your name and contact information, a member of the ICRT will follow up with you within two business days.
  • Online
  • By phone or in person
    • Dean of Students Office: 309-438-2008309-438-2008; 144 Bone Student Center
    • Illinois State University Police Department: 309-438-8631309-438-8631; 105 Nelson Smith Building
    • University Housing Services: 309-438-8611309-438-8611; Office of Residential Life Building
    • Office of Equal Opportunity, Ethics, and Access: 309-438-3383309-438-3383; 208 Hovey Hall

IWU Students Silently Protest Racism

Lenore Sobota

The Pantagraph

Pantagraph photo by Lori Ann Cook-Neisler

Pantagraph photo by Lori Ann Cook-Neisler

More than 40 students at Illinois Wesleyan University staged a silent protest before the first faculty meeting of the semester on Monday, calling for greater attention to inclusiveness and diversity.

A mixed group of students lined both sides of the hallway outside of the meeting room, holding handwritten signs with messages such as, “Stand against ignorance,” “I won't stand for silence,” and “I should feel accepted in the classroom.”

Most of the faculty and staff members who walked down the hall on their way to the meeting — including IWU President Dick Wilson — stopped to read the signs and many made supportive comments to the students.

Among them was history professor Tom Lutze, who said faculty members needed to hear their message.

“There have been instances of racism on campus,” Lutze said. “We need to create an atmosphere in which all of our students feel welcome, especially our students of color. That's what we're all about.”

Although the protest was triggered by an incident just over a week ago when the N-word was found written on a campus sidewalk, organizers said it was about larger issues, such as students experiencing “microaggressions” in classes, when comments are made that are offensive or make students feel singled out or uncomfortable.

Not In Our Town's Angelique Racki applauded the student's proactive but peaceful approach to the slur, noting "the students didn't riot, they didn't damage property, they didn't cause a dramatic pointless scene." "They made their case and their presence known in an important meeting," Racki said. "To me, that's a win."

Christy Cole, a senior in philosophy and French major from Freeport, said, "To me, this goes beyond race" and includes gender, sexual orientation, and religion.

Senior Ashley Spain, an elementary education major from Chicago, said the university puts “a lot of effort into diversity” but more needs to be done.

“Diversity is in our mission statement at IWU,” said Kitty White, a senior in sociology from Chicago. “If it's in your mission statement, it has to be your mission.”

Reading each sign in the hallway, Wilson told the students, “It takes courage to do this, and I'm proud of you.”

The students asked for and received permission for two students to speak to the meeting on behalf of the others. The students were greeted with applause as they entered the meeting room.

The first speaker, Emani Johnson, a sophomore in sociology from Chicago, said, the students were not there to discredit the school, but “there's always room for improvement.”

She said there can be no improvement without faculty involvement.

“We're here to recruit you as allies,” Johnson said.

The second speaker, senior Catherine Carini, a music major from Chicago, told faculty members, “We look to you to start the conversation” about incidents such as the word written by he fountain and to be as loud about social justice as they are about classroom subject matter.

Carini is involved in “Engaging Diversity,” a three-day program for white, incoming first-year students that began five years ago. Participation grew to 35 students this year.

Cole said students would be back at a later time with more specific suggestions of what the university could do.

Among ideas some students are contemplating is a semester-long general studies course on diversity issues, rather than just the pre-orientation “Engaging Diversity” program.


Angelique Racki,

Lavender Graduation Marks 'Tremendous Progress' by LGBT Students

Barb Dallinger (Photos by ISU)

Barb Dallinger (Photos by ISU)

Barb Dallinger, associate director of the Bone Student Center and former sponsor of the campus group Pride, told participants in the recent Illinois State University Lavender Graduation to “go out there and change the world."  It was ISU's first special ceremony devoted to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied graduates.

Art Munin, assistant vice president and dean of students, said the ceremony wasn't only for the graduates specifically honored but also for LGBTQ students who might feel alone on campus who will learns about Lavender Graduation and realize, “You do matter. You do belong. You are ISU.”

Graduating senior Katie Schuette of Grayslake, this year's president of the Pride student organization, said having the Lavender Graduation at ISU “shows the progress we've made.” Dallinger displayed pictures of former students who were members of Pride, including pictures of their weddings and their children.

“We have made tremendous progress,” she said. “But never forget our history.”

Dallinger noted the university junior in Watterson Towers who, in 1978, was jumped, tied to a chair, gagged, and locked in a room until a gay friend let her out four hours later. That junior was Dallinger, “and I didn't tell a soul until Pride Day in 1995."

Twenty-four students participated in the ceremony. They passed a rainbow pride flag, crossed a stage with balloons the color of the rainbow, and received a rainbow cord they can wear at the university graduation.

Graduate student Aric Faulkner, who helped lead the effort for a Lavender Graduation at ISU, said he was hoping for at least 10 participants, knowing that the nation's first Lavender Graduation — at the University of Michigan — had only three.

“I'm grateful for the opportunity to share this moment with other graduates,” said Faulkner, who will receive a master's degree in college student personnel administration. “Our voices are being heard.”

ISU President Larry Dietz said he was honored to congratulate the students "for your academic achievements, and to recognize your many contributions to the greater community, the campus community and the LGBT community."

ICC International Fair Set April 18

Illinois Central College will be hosting its 11th annual International Fair from noon to 3 p.m. April 18 in the ICC East Peoria Campus cafeteria.

The fair offers an opportunity to meet some of ICC’s international students and celebrate their cultures through music, entertainment, food samples, and dancing.

The event is open to the public, and families are encouraged to attend. Admission is $2, with children 12 years and younger admitted for free.

Food samples will be available for a modest fee. All proceeds will go toward an international F-1 student scholarship fund.

Some of ICC’s international students will also provide a fashion show, exhibiting traditional costumes from their home countries. Other entertainment will include Kenyan dancing and a martial arts demonstration. A few of the countries providing food samples and informational booths include: China, Thailand, Japan, and Mexico. Global Village of Peoria Heights will display a selection of coffees, chocolates, clothing, and gifts for sale from developing countries.

“ICC enjoys a rich cultural exchange with the nearly 200 international students representing 55 different countries who attend each year,” said ICC Director of International Education Dr. Barbara Burton. “Our purpose is to extend this learning experience to the community through the International Fair so everyone can appreciate world cultures other than their own while being entertained.”

Groups Proclaim 'Not On My Campus' During Solidarity Walk

Bearing a banner that proclaimed, “Not on my campus,” some 1,000 Illinois State University students — mostly fraternity and sorority members — marched Wednesday evening against racism, discrimination, and sexual violence in the wake of recent nationwide controversies over campus fraternal conduct.

The "Solidarity Walk" arose from a discussion of recent events such as the release of a video of a racist chant by the University of Oklahoma's chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Students gathered outside Milner Library, crossed the bridge over College Avenue, and circled the campus quad twice. The line of marchers, three and four across, wrapped halfway around the quad. 

At the end of the walk, many stopped to sign the large banner.

Joe Laskey, president of ISU's Interfraternity Council, maintained “fraternities and sororities are the ones who made the headlines, but this can happen to any organization.”

“We wanted to come together on these issues and support each other.” Senior Vincent Ortiz, president of ISU's Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter, said.

Ortiz, a small-business entrepreneurship major from Batavia, said he would like the march and ISU students' stand against wrongdoing to become "a universal thing supported on other campuses.”

Alex Snowden, coordinator of fraternity and sorority life in the dean of students' office, said he was not aware of any incidents involving ISU organizations, saying the students “wanted to be proactive.”

In remarks before the march, Laskey called on those present to “show their inclusiveness and supportiveness for all” and to “put it in writing … and leave it in writing for the leaders behind you.”

"As leaders, we will not accept any racism or discrimination based on traditions on our campus," he said.

Jordan Owens, a senior in social work from Peoria, carried a sign for his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, that said, “No room for any violence.” Senior Lulu Solorzano of Orland Park, a member of Gamma Phi Omega, whose mascot is a swan, held a sign saying, “Swans believe in acceptance and advocate diversity.”

A retreat this weekend will bring together 83 members of the Greek community to review their values and to reflect on what they're learning about each other.

“We wanted to come together on these issues and support each other.” Senior Vincent Ortiz, president of ISU's Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter, said.

Ortiz, a small-business entrepreneurship major from Batavia, said he would like the march and ISU students' stand against wrongdoing to become "a universal thing supported on other campuses.”

Alex Snowden, coordinator of fraternity and sorority life in the dean of students' office, said he was not aware of any incidents involving ISU organizations, saying the students “wanted to be proactive.”

In remarks before the march, Laskey called on those present to “show their inclusiveness and supportiveness for all” and to “put it in writing … and leave it in writing for the leaders behind you.”

"As leaders, we will not accept any racism or discrimination based on traditions on our campus," he said.

Jordan Owens, a senior in social work from Peoria, carried a sign for his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, that said, “No room for any violence.” Senior Lulu Solorzano of Orland Park, a member of Gamma Phi Omega, whose mascot is a swan, held a sign saying, “Swans believe in acceptance and advocate diversity.”

A retreat this weekend will bring together 83 members of the Greek community to review their values and to reflect on what they're learning about each other.

ISU Frats, Sororities Respond to Troubled Image

In light of recent national concerns involving fraternities and sororities and issues regarding discrimination, hazing, and sexual assault, the local Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter and the Interfraternity Council at Illinois State University have come together to enact change.

Members of the Council reflected after a social justice conversation and agreed to adopt anti-discriminatory policies within their governing documents. Members also felt strongly about the need to peacefully demonstrate their commitment to create a safe, diverse, supportive and inclusive environment.

On Wednesday, March 25 at 6:30 pm the Interfraternity Council will be joined by the Fraternity and Sorority Life community in a solidarity walk starting in Milner Plaza and continuing through the Quad. The walk is open to all who share this same vision for Illinois State University and all university campuses. All those interested in participating are encouraged to wear anything that represents Illinois State University, their registered student organization or their fraternal organization.

The demonstration will end with a signed pledge to reflect on the positive changes colleges are capable of, and a commitment to reach across differences to create those changes. Official hashtags for the demonstration are ‪#‎NotOnOurCampus‬ and ‪#‎NotOnAnyCampus.

Earlier this month,  a video went viral of the Oklahoma University chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) on a bus laughing, pumping their fists, and clapping as they chant, “There will never be a ni**** in SAE. You can hang him by a  tree but he will never sign with me. There will never be a ni**** in SAE.” The chant was set to the well-known tune, “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

The students were later forced to move out of their frat house and expelled from the chapter, which then was disbanded.

The national headquarters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon -- which disbanded its University of Oklahoma chapter. The national headquarters for the fraternity announced a new initiative last week aimed to “combat instances of racial discrimination and insensitivity” among its members.

The plan includes hiring a director of diversity and inclusion, which the fraternity says is the first position of its kind at any major fraternity; requiring members to participate in mandatory diversity education, which will begin with an online certification training program; creating a toll-free telephone hotline for members to call and report troubling behavior; and appointing a national advisory committee on diversity and inclusion.

The initiative does not include any plans to aggressively recruit minority members. About 20 percent of SAE’s members identify as “non-Caucasian,” the fraternity said. Only about 3 percent of its members are black.

Umoja Celebration Seeking Volunteers

Illinois State University's Umoja: Celebration of Black Graduates is looking for faculty and staff volunteers.

The event, a pre-commencement celebration, will be at 7 p.m. May 7, in the Center for Performing Arts. Umoja honors African American and other students of color who have successfully completed undergraduate and graduate degrees from Illinois State in 2015. Primarily, Umoja seeks to create a unique and culturally rich space that celebrates the successful completion of degrees to graduates with the support of their families, faculty and staff.

“Umoja serves as a unifying symbol of perseverance in the recognition of a shared sociocultural, political, and educational history,” said Pamela Hoff, a member of the steering committee.

The event is free and open to the university and surrounding Bloomington-Normal community. All are welcome. The theme for Umoja 2015 is Sankofa: Lifting as WE Climb.  

Heartland Seeking Living 'Books' for March 24-25 Event

Most of us think we have a pretty good read on people. Heartland Community College is offering an opportunity for students to browse some fascinating new "Books" that beg to be explored beyond their covers.

Heartland's Human Library is a March 24-25 event that will offer a number of human "Books" for student checkout. The Books are people with experiences and beliefs outside the mainstream, including a "Queer Activist," a "Freegan," and a "Unitarian Universalist."

The Student and Book engage in a 20-minute conversation in what Heartland's Rachelle Stivers terms a "non-confrontational" environment. The idea is to encourage tolerance through open, one-on-one dialogue. Heartland is seeking additional volunteer Books for its "collection" -- visit for information.

"Anything that encourages thoughtfulness and tolerance in these rather divisive times is important," Stivers maintains. "The project also works well with one of the college’s 'Essential Competencies': Diversity (the other are Communication, Critical Thinking, and Problem Solving).

"ISU ran this same program for their First Year Experience students this fall, and it was very popular.  Our event is also limited to students, but if there is interest we will reassess that for future events."

The Human Library is an international initiative that began in Copenhagen, Denmark, with a youth organization called "Stop The Violence." The movement was initiatied by five friends after another was stabbed in 1993. New "libraries" recently were launched in The Philippines and Belarus.



NIOT Leaders Nominated for 2015 King Award

Mary Ann Ford

The Pantagraph

Three residents from Normal and three from Bloomington are nominated for the 2015 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. awards. 

Adult nominees from Normal are Sonya Mau, Marcos Mendez and Takesha Stokes. Bloomington adult nominees are Anthony "Tony" Jones, Marc Miler and Elizabeth Robinson.

The winners will be determined by the Bloomington and Normal Human Relations Commissions and announced at the 39th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. awards luncheon at 1 p.m. Jan. 17 at Bone Student Center at Illinois State University. 

Mau is executive director and one of the founding parents of the Multicultural Leadership Program, designed to develop diverse leaders. She also is a founding member of the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation's Women to Women Giving Circle that raises money to meet the needs of local women and children and further develop philanthropic leadership skills.

She was the first woman and the first Asian to "break the glass ceiling" and achieve a high management position at Country Financial. She also is a long-time member of Toast Masters International and has been a mentor to numerous others.

                                                                    Marcos Mendez

                                                                    Marcos Mendez

Mendez is chairman of the board for Conexiones Latinas de McLean County and an active member of State Farm's Hispanic affinity group. He volunteers as a basketball coach at the YMCA and as a soccer coach for the Prairie Cities Soccer League.

He was instrumental in planning the first Day of the Dead celebration at the Children's Discovery Museum and secured 300 free passes to ensure all families who wanted to could participate. He also has been involved in the Minorities and Police Partnership which is designed to help foster better cooperation and understanding between the Bloomington and Normal police departments and the Latino community.

Stokes is a volunteer with the Boys & Girls Club, serving as a tutor, mentor and program assistant and was in part responsible for establishment of the Teen Pageant hosted by the club. She also is active in Mount Pisgah Baptist Church including serving on the food pantry team, as church clerk and an aide to the pastor. She also is a long-time member of the Orthodox Woodriver District Baptist Association.

She is first vice president of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP and has served in several other capacities with the organization; and is past president of the Bloomington-Normal Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Jones has coordinated the Bloomington-Normal Cultural Festival; spearheaded the creation of an entrepreneur showcase to inform the community of minority business; and created a monthly fundraising event with proceeds going to different community organizations.

He has served on numerous committees and boards including the Bloomington Human Relations Commission, McLean County Urban League, Boys & Girls Club, Minority and Police Partnership, West Bloomington Revitalization Project, Black Business Alliance, 100 Black Men of Central Illinois and the Bloomington-Normal NAACP.

                                                                           Marc Miller

Miller is chairman of the Not In Our Town finance committee and has been an advocate for the group for more than 18 years, including taking the Not In Our Town Pledge cards into local schools.

He is a founding member of the Pratt Music Foundation and currently serves as president. He also founded the Share the Music program to provide low-cost rental instruments to Twin Cities children who want to participate in band or orchestra but can't afford the rental fees.

Robinson is membership chairman for the Black Business Alliance and is an active member of the Crossroads-Global Handcrafts board. She works with Heartland Community College students, volunteers with survivors of domestic violence through Countering Domestic Violence, and mentors teens, young women and women through the YWCA, Urban League, Junior Achievement and the NAACP.

Youth nominees

Eight Bloomington youths and four Normal youths have been nominated for the "I Have a Dream" award. They are:

Bloomington: Oludayo "Dayo" Ajayi, Markus Brooks, Radience Campbell, Tanmay Shah and Malik Woods, all of Normal Community High School; Jordyn Blyth and Jordynn Palmer, both of University High School; and Kianna A. King, Bloomington High School.

Normal: Lokesh Julakanti and Keerthi C. Amballa, both of NCHS; Kristina Smith, Normal Community West High School; and Imani Gilbert, University High School.