As many as 75 community members, including high school and college students, teachers, social workers, retirees and activists pledged to fight oppression during a day-long Humanity Summit sponsored by the McLean County YWCA yesterday.
Participants cheered following a hard day of reflection and group exercises to examine personal biases and privilege. Normal West Science Teacher Amanda Long thinks some of the lessons could be taken back to her school. She's not sure they could be incorporated into curriculum but perhaps into activities by a mentoring group or through clubs and organizations. "Doing some of these activities would be really, really beneficial."
For some, the day brought ah-hah moments. "What I got out of this was that the problem [racism] doesn't just remain with the African American people, but with LGBTQ and with women and their power, said Hasani Ford, a sophomore at Normal West High School who identified himself as a person of color.
"Our principal was crying because he didn't realize how racist our school was and how racist children can be but now he's trying to make progress and I can see that progress happening," he said referring to Normal West Principal Dave Johnson who was not at the summit. But, Johnson allowed the school's PRIDE group and some staff to attend. Ford added, "We have a lot of work to do in our society to fix these problems."
Taking the Pledge
Attendees signed pledge cards in which they vowed to continue to fight for equality. McLean County YWCA Director Dontae Latson challenged them to grow as allies in achieving justice for all. "It will probably be uncomfortable. That's why it's called the struggle." He urged them to do something out of their comfort zone and something they have never done before.
Jen Carillo, who organized the Humanity Summit, said an important guideline in the struggle for equality is to assume best intentions. "Sometimes folks say things and we don't assume the best intentions. And we don't ever give them an opportunity to correct the behavior when we aren't willing to call them in," she said.
Calling People In
The concept of calling people in, according to Carillo, isn't about accusing people or making them feel ashamed. "It's an opportunity for you to grow. So it's really a gift someone is giving you when they are being kind enough and invested enough in your own development as a human being to say, 'hey I think what you said might be a little oppressive.'" She added, "I think that's a really kind gift to give somebody and we just have to train ourselves to be able to receive it as such instead of putting up our defenses."