Stand Up Vigil to Address Muslim Ban

"Stand Up for Social Justice: No Muslim Ban" is the focus for February's monthly candle light vigil at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb.14, on the lawn in front of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.


Participants are welcome to gather at Michael's for a bite directly after the vigil. Please send an RSVP to

Participants are asked to bring non-partisan signs showing support for Muslim neighbors and immigration and opposition to deportation and the Muslim travel ban. Candles & some signs will be provided.

"Stand Up for Social Justice" is a Bloomington-Normal non-partisan coalition. See the group's page on Facebook.

At these second Tuesday monthly vigils, the group seeks to encourage our Bloomington-Normal community to show support to protect civil rights and human rights when at risk, promote social justice, and to safeguard our environment.

Black Lives Matter Vigil Draws Crowd to ISU

Lenore Sobota

The Pantagraph

As a “Black Lives Matter” flag waved over the Illinois State University quad on Monday night, nearly 250 people gathered in song, prayer and words in a show of solidarity.

Organizers said the purpose of the vigil was to mourn, to remember and to stand together for people who have "lost their lives to social injustice."

Strong winds made it difficult to keep candles lit for the vigil, so participants lit the lights on their cellphones and held them aloft.

People took smaller versions of the “Black Lives Matter” flag, handed out at the beginning of the vigil, and placed them in the ground around the flagpole as names were read of several African Americans whose deaths have become rallying cries for the Black Lives Matter movement: Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and Sandra Bland, among others.

Two speakers also read the names of black transgender women who have been killed, saying, “In the spirit of Black Lives Matter, … we must love each other and support each other.”

The evening included an a capella group, Outlandish, singing several songs, including, “We Shall Overcome” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” sometimes referred to as the black national anthem. Later, participants joined the Interdenominational Youth Choir in singing “Amazing Grace.”

The crowd was predominantly black, but there were also whites, Hispanics and Asians in the crowd. All joined hands as a speaker led them in prayer, asking God to “help people understand this is not just us complaining” and to “help us love each other” and “help us to stand together and make a difference on this campus.”

A small group of less than a dozen protesters opposing the vigil also was present.

Talking before the vigil began, senior Kyndle Hunter of Matteson, vice president of the Black Student Union, which organized the vigil, said having the Black Lives Matter flag flying over the quad “shows that ISU cares. It shows that ISU is trying.”

ISU President Larry Dietz attended the start of the rally, walking through the crowd, shaking hands and talking with many of those present. Levester Johnson, vice president of student affairs, also was present.

Hurdylyn Woods, ISU coordinator of diversity advocacy, said the vigil and flag are raising awareness and starting the conversation about black concerns. The flag was raised on a university flagpole earlier in the day with permission from the administration.

"Don't let the conversation end,” he told the crowd. “Use the knowledge that you have to make the world better. It starts right now.”

Pamela Hoff, an associate professor in the department of educational administration and foundations, said “Black lives have always mattered,” but “unfortunately, we have to continue to assert ourselves.”

She called on the crowd to to join in a nationwide community solidarity day on Wednesday, wearing Black Lives Matters T-shirts all day. This will be followed by a time of reflection from 6 to 7:20 p.m. Wednesday (see story below).

MCCA Plans Domestic Violence Awareness Month Events

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Bloomington's Mid Central Community Action Inc. (MCCA) plans a variety of activities and events around the them “Stand Up With Me!,” which speaks to the call those who experience domestic violence issue to those around them. 

Throughout October, MCCA will be working to connect with individuals in our community and increasing their awareness of this issue.

Coming up:

Sept. 28 - Oct. 25: Allstate Foundation Purple Purse Challenge. This fundraiser begins before the “official” launch of the campaign.

Oct. 3 - 6-7:30 p.m. - Private candlelight vigil for survivors and their families.

Oct. 87:30 a.m.-noon - Domestic Violence Awareness event at Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market, promoting awareness events and the Purple Purse Challenge.

Oct. 21 – 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. - “Stuff The Shelter,” at the rear parking lot of MCCA, 1301 West Washington Street. This event is focused on collecting in-kind donations of items needed for Neville House. A forthcoming flyer will outline items needed.

Oct. 23 – “Stand Up in Victory” - Asking faith communities to take a moment to recognize the issue of domestic violence during their Sunday morning service to raise awareness.

Oct. 26 – An Evening of Experience, Reflection and Action - An open event where members of the inter-faith community are invited to participate in the “In Her Shoes” Domestic violence simulation. After the simulation, there will be a time of reflection and a call to action with the signing of the Stand Up With Me Pledge. Location and time will be announced later.

Editorial: Our Similarities, Not Our Differences, Bring Us Together

A Pantagraph Editorial:

Last night's vigil to remember recent victims of gun violence perhaps can fortify the belief that our lives — black, white, brown and blue — have more similarities than differences.

The vigil, sponsored by Not In Our Town Bloomington-Normal at First Christian Church in downtown Bloomington, remembered the victims and families who have pulled heartstrings and produced headlines across the country. The vigil came less than two weeks after NIOT marked its 20th anniversary in the fight against discrimination.

Between July 1 and July 6, more than a dozen people — civilians and police — in the United States were injured in police-involved shootings, according to research by The Guardian and published at Those numbers do not include the shootings that occurred late last week and over the weekend.

Last week was a deadly week in America. It always is, but the biggest headlines focused on shootings that involved people of color and law enforcement. Both sides had guns, and both sides fell victim. And the nation spent a weekend in disbelief and grief.

America cannot continue at this pace. We have lost civility and understanding and empathy, with hatred fueled by 140-word rants.

A mother who loses her son on Chicago streets grieves no less or no more than a mother who loses her officer son in Dallas, or a mother who loses her soldier daughter in Iraq. When a life is lost to violence, a community must grieve for a broader loss of innocence.

A divided country cannot stand; we learned that lesson once, and the hundreds of thousands of Civil War dead bore witness to the futility of that fight.

Desperate people across the United States are hurting and hungry, and we must find a way to alleviate that. We no longer can point fingers in hopes of finding a cause and a solution. We must agree that all lives matter; that civil discussions allow for all points of view; and that our similarities are greater than our differences. Only then is there hope that we can move forward.

We must take a step, however tentative, to quell the violence and hatred in our communities and our country. Pray for your neighbors, pray for strangers, pray for the families, pray for those who protect us and for those in such pain that violence seems the only answer.

Reach out to a stranger; reach a hand toward someone in need. Speak up when someone says or does something that promotes violence and divisiveness rather than love and caring.

Support the police. Support social services that help families in need. Support groups that share the messages of race, religion, abilities and gender.

The NIOT vigil was a way to remember those we have lost. It also was a step forward for our community to focus on a common goal of making sure America is the safe, strong and welcoming country the world knows it to be.

Twin Citians United in Face of Nationwide Violence


Residents came together from the community to remember the recent  victims of violence and racism throughout the country on Monday night, as Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church Rev. Frank McSwain led the gathering in the rallying call, “United, we stand; divided, we fall.”

Moses Montefiore Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe and Imam Abu Emad AL-Talla chat with Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner prior to the vigil.

Moses Montefiore Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe and Imam Abu Emad AL-Talla chat with Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner prior to the vigil.

Leaders from five area religious denominations came together at Bloomington First Christian Church for what is becoming a hallmark of Bloomington-Normal’s Not In Our Town efforts -- a bringing together of all faiths and even those questioning their faith. The prayer service included a reading of names, a lighting of candles, and a moment of silence for victims and the families of shooting victims in Dallas, Minnesota, and Louisiana.

"If we don't start living together as people, I promise we are already dead as a community," McSwain warned.

The vigil included chanting, or a Sholka (Song) to bring in light by local Hindu Priest Divaspathi Bhat. Imam Abu Emad AL-Talla of the Bloomington mosque Masjid Ibrahim provided a meditation on light and the service included a later reference to the Martin Luther King quote, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can drive out darkness," while Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of the Moses Montefiore Temple in Bloomington issued a call to action which could be different for each person -- "We can't just stand here after this night. Think about what you can do to make a difference in people's lives."

Imam Abu Emad and Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church Senior Past Frank McSwain join in a gesture of solidarity.

Imam Abu Emad and Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church Senior Past Frank McSwain join in a gesture of solidarity.

First Christian Senior Pastor Jim Warren, the father of a large multicultural family, said he's tired of holding vigils and rallies. "I'm tired of us saying we are going to do something and then we don't." He suggested, "reach out to those who are different from us.  Build a community of compassion."

“We really need to see each other as human beings,” said Mike Matejka from Not In Our Town . “That’s people in the community, that’s people of diverse background, that’s our law enforcement. There is so much tension in our nation right now, this is an opportunity to come together in our diversity and say we’re all human, we all support each other, we need each other to heal .”

“It is really beginning to seem that way, that we can’t find civil ways to discourse,” added Anne Libert, and retired teacher from Unit 5 and Not In Our Town volunteer.  “We seem to want to attack the other and blame the other, no matter who the other is.”

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner said he was heartened by the turn out at First Christian Church and the standing ovation given officers there, but he said the people who need to hear the call for unity, empathy, and tolerance were likely not there to hear it. The challenge, he says, is reaching that group. Heffner is interviewed in an upcoming Twin Cities Stories blog article, along with local NAACP head Quincy Cummings.

Bill Kellett of Normal said he came because he needed reassurance that something like the police shootings in Dallas, Texas, would not happen here. “I know our town is different and I can’t see that happening here,” he said. “Yet, I’m glad that we have people in this community who care enough that show that we won’t tolerate that kind of hatred here.”

Sam Ridgway of Bloomington said people need events like this where they could gather peacefully.

“I want to be around people who are committed to making this area a better place,” he said. “I am thankful that we are a smaller community and can have something like this in a church, rather  than downtown near a courthouse where it’s in an open area and you are a little scared.”

Janet Merriman of Bloomington argued “people are putting their lives on the line just by going out and protesting, but here, we are letting people know that we see what’s going on in the world and we aren’t going to let it happen here.”

“Brothers and sisters, whatever they are.  Black, white, tall, short, rich, poor. They are brothers,” said Imam Abu Emad AL-Talla.

“To claim light in darkness, to remember the lives and potential that have been lost as a result of violence against our brothers and sisters,” NIOTBN Faith and Outreach Chairman and First Christian Associate Minister Kelly Becker of First Community Christian Church maintained. “And to look forward to a different future for our neighborhoods, our community and our nation.”

Wednesday Vigil For Orlando Victims Follow-Up to Downtown Observance

NIOTBN/The Pantagraph

In a follow-up to Monday's United in Love and Solidarity Vigil in downtown Bloomington, St. John’s Lutheran Church will host a peace vigil on behalf of the victims of the Orlando mass shooting from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday.  

Bloomington First Christian Church Associate Minister Kelley Becker (center) and Prairie Pride Coalition Director Dave Bentlin offer thoughts at Monday's downtown Bloomington vigil for Orlando shooting victims. Below, Becker, a Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal leader, and Moses Montefiore Congregation Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe embrace as a rainbow appears over the downtown area. (Photos by Michael Gizzi and Rebecca Dubowe).

Bloomington First Christian Church Associate Minister Kelley Becker (center) and Prairie Pride Coalition Director Dave Bentlin offer thoughts at Monday's downtown Bloomington vigil for Orlando shooting victims. Below, Becker, a Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal leader, and Moses Montefiore Congregation Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe embrace as a rainbow appears over the downtown area. (Photos by Michael Gizzi and Rebecca Dubowe).

“We’d like to express our profound sorrow about the hate crime in Orlando and about violence around the world today,” said the Rev. Christine McNeal, associate pastor for member care and connections. “This will give the Bloomington-Normal community the opportunity to grieve together.”

Fifty people were killed and 53 others injured in Sunday morning's gay nightclub shooting. Twin Citians gathered at the Bistro and marched downtown before holding a vigil on Washington Ave. In an unusual occurrence, a rainbow appeared over the area as the vigil geared up.

 "There is indeed hope that light and love will carry us forward," said Bloomington Moses Montefiore Congregation Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe, who participated in the Prairie Pride Coalition-supported downtown event.

People of all faith traditions are encouraged and invited to participate at the St. John's vigil at the church,  1617 E. Emerson St., Bloomington.  

"As people of faith we have an opportunity to gather together in unity to lift up in prayer those who are hurting and to witness to the truth that love is stronger than hate," said the Rev. Julia Rademacher, associate pastor for family ministry and missions.

Participants will be able to light candles, pray silently, and gather together in community.

St. John’s Lutheran Church is a 144-year-old community congregation with more than 2,000 members. It is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 

For more information, contact McNeal at 309-827-6121, ext. 251.

Sunday, in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, Prairie Pride Coalition and the group PFLAG held a "family reunion" picnic for local LGBT individuals and families.

Interfaith Rally to Show Unity, Promote Freedom

Lenore Sobota

The Pantagraph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Becker is hopeful the event can stay outside.

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

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

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

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

IWU Commemorates Paris/Beirut Tragedies; Normal Vigil Planned Tonight

Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington Wednesday hosted a special event spurred by tragedy.


The inclusive chapel service housed several faiths, allowing reflection on last week's attacks in Paris and Beirut.

A gathering of peace is how organizers billed this service; a gathering that included people of all generations and faiths.

A mix of the campus community and the public sat quietly in the chapel as organizers discussed the sheer number of people killed by the terrorists.

"You know, in a time like this, it's nice to be able to express how you feel about something to a group when it's especially about peace," said Nicole Chlebek, a student at Illinois Wesleyan University.

There is also a Vigil for Peace and Human Rights scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Uptown Circle in Normal.

"Our speakers have connections to: Jordan, France, India, Turkey, and other countries whose people have recently been attacked," organizer Bob Broad explained. "Other groups who will be represented include our local (B-N) Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and non-religious communities. A student peace activist and a peace educator will share brief thoughts. There will be some poetry and music appropriate to the occasion and a minute of silence to recognize and honor the suffering of those who have experienced violence."

To honor the victims, IWU guests lit candles in remembrance.

"And In remembering them, also talk about the deep reservoirs of peace and hope and justice that exist in our religious and ethical traditions," said Elyse Nelson Winger, the chaplain at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Eight different religions were acknowledged during the ceremony and students say that cooperation is key moving forward.

"Emphasize how each of those have something to say about peace and humanity and kind of this shared community that we all have as humans," said Carly Floyd, a student at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Organizers say their goal was to remind people that love is stronger than hate.

Celebrate Children at October 20 Vigil

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

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

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

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

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

See more at:

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



Camille: Fighting Hate With Love

Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

Last week, Not In Our Town organized a communitywide prayer vigil at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church for the nine people killed at the Mother Immanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Around 300 people attended a truly ecumenical service. Everyone came to reflect, pray, and stand united against hate.

Rev. Frank McSwain, from Mt. Pisgah, and Pastor Kelley Becker, from First Christian Church, touched the crowd with their words. Rev. McSwain repeated several times, “together we stand, divided we fall,” and explored what happens when people come together or find ways to separate themselves. He noted that people/experiences have made “deposits into our thinking” during our lives, and over time this has contributed to the people we’ve become.

My thoughts went to the accused gunman, Dylan Roof, and I wondered what people/experiences made deposits into his thinking over the 21 years of his life. I flashbacked to two visits I made to South Carolina. On my first visit to Charleston, my ex-husband and I were “greeted” by white hotel staff in the parking lot when we pulled up in our new 1984 Chevy conversion van. The staff wanted to know who we were delivering the vehicle for. We had no idea what they were talking about and only wanted to check-in and go to sleep. They were angered when we insisted it was ours and demanded to see our license, insurance, and registration. After seeing the items, they grumbled, and we followed them reluctantly inside thinking, “Can’t black people own a van?” We had to stay, because it was a two week Naval Reserve assignment, and the hotel was already paid for.  

I remarried 21 years ago. While on my honeymoon, we drove from Florida to Washington, DC. and stopped at a secluded rest stop in South Carolina. We got out; noticing the van next to us had a large Confederate flag covering the window with a sign saying, “Save the land, join the Klan!” I didn’t want either of us to go into the restroom unsure of who/ what we would face.

Those are just two deposits that have fueled my life’s quest for equality and respect. Not In Our Town’s mission is to have a safe, inclusive community.

Last week’s vigil is another example toward that goal. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “…Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Local Churches Joining for Wednesday Charleston Vigil

Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal and local churches are participating in aVigil Prayer Service to lift up the families in Charleston, the South Carolina community, and the nation with prayer and reflection from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church, 801 West Market Street, Bloomington.

In addition to lighting nine candles in memory of and offering individual prayers lifting up each of the nine victims of last week's racially motivated shooting spree at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the vigil will include a communal sing and one-sentence prayers from those in attendance. Bloomington's Second Presbyterian Church, First Christian Church, and Moses Montefiore Temple are expected to lead devotions at the event.

NIOT:B/N leader Marc Miller stressed the assembly also is aimed at reaching "those with hate in their hearts that God can turn into love." One image from shooter Dylann Roof's Facebook page showed him wearing a jacket decorated with the flags of two nations noted for their white supremacist and racial segregation policies: Apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia. According to a childhood friend, Roof went on a rant about the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the 2015 Baltimore protests that were sparked by the death of Freddie Gray while Gray was in police custody. He also often claimed that "blacks were taking over the world." Roof reportedly told friends and neighbors of his plans to kill people, including a plot to attack the College of Charleston, but his claims were not taken seriously.

Victims of the church massacre included:

Rev. Clementa Pinckney (NBC news photo)

Rev. Clementa Pinckney (NBC news photo)

  • Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd (54) – Bible study member and manager for the Charleston County Public Library system
  • Susie Jackson (87) – a Bible study and church choir member
  • Ethel Lee Lance (70) – the church sexton
  • Depayne Middleton-Doctor (49) – a Bible study teacher employed as a school administrator and admissions coordinator at Southern Wesleyan University
  • Clementa C. Pinckney (41) – the church pastor and a South Carolina state senator
  • Tywanza Sanders (26) – a Bible study member; nephew of Susie Jackson
  • Daniel Simmons (74) – a pastor who also served at Greater Zion AME Church in Awendaw
  • Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45) – a pastor; also a speech therapist and track coach at Goose Creek High School
  • Myra Thompson (59) – a Bible study teacher