from Martin Luther King's daughter resonateMembers of West Aurora's Gospel Choir performed at the recent
YWCA Aurora Leaders of Change Lunc
LAUNCHING NEW PROGRAM TO DISCUSS RACE RELATIONS
at the "Stand Against Racism" Forum joined some audience members as
they displayed the banner signed by guests at last week's forum at Aurora
University - Original Credit: submitted
The panelists at the "Stand Against Racism" Forum
joined some audience members as they displayed the banner signed by guests at
last week's forum at Aurora University - Original Credit: submitted (YWCA
Aurora / HANDOUT)
By Denise Crosby
Remember Study Circles?
The popular program that fostered
meaningful conversations about race in Aurora some 15 years ago is returning — under a different name
but with the same intent.
The YWCA of Aurora is asking for
participants to join its new Community Dialogues program — there is one for
young people and another for the general public — that, like the former Study
Circles, will provide a safe environment to discuss race and how we have been
shaped by it.
I learned about the new program last
week while attending the YWCA's Stand Against Racism forum that was held at
Aurora University and led by community leaders whose work puts them on the
front line of this extremely important issue.
They included Susan Sosa Bochmeier,
legal services specialist for World Relief; Adrienne Coleman, multicultural
education specialist at Illinois Math and Science Academy; Adrienne Holloway,
assistant professor at DePaul University and president of the Aurora Hispanic
Heritage Advisory Board; Shoaib Khadri, president of the Islamic Center in
Naperville; and Aurora police Chief Kristin Ziman.
Because racism continues to be a loaded
subject, this forum could not be at a more appropriate time, noted Khadri, who
said that "60 years after the civil rights movement, it has gotten
The panelists certainly did not
sugarcoat their assessment of the racial temperature of this community.
Minorities continue to be dismissed for their contributions or accomplishments.
With political correctness now considered old-school, people seem to think they
have permission to say and do whatever they want. There are too many immigrants
and refugees living in the shadows, more afraid than ever to drive, go to work,
shop or report crimes. And young people are internalizing these tensions,
struggling with mental health issues as they don't have the maturity to manage
The good news: Now more than ever there
appears to be a united effort to combat racism. The Islamic Center, for
example, holds an open mosque every six months that has been well-attended by a
public seeking to learn more about the Muslim religion.
IMSA, with a strong mandate from its
leadership, is working "every day to stay on top of social
injustices," said Coleman, adding that "this work is challenging
because of the long history of racism here in America."
In addition to working with school
superintendents on diversity forums with local students, Aurora police provide
ongoing training to officers on topics that range from de-escalating tense
situations to exploring their own institutional biases. And they continue to
"get out from behind the badge," as Ziman put it, heading into
churches, schools, neighborhood groups — wherever they are invited — to engage
in honest discussions with residents.
There are signs these efforts are
Khadri, who has seen an outpouring of
support from interfaith groups and smaller organizations such as Moms Building
Bridges, seems especially optimistic about the next generation, which "has
not been corrupted by the prejudices" of their elders, he said. And, he
added, social media has made the world a smaller place to them by providing
opportunities to learn about different people and cultures.
It's having ongoing and meaningful
conversations with others — that can also "feel a bit uncomfortable,"
noted Holloway — which will make lasting inroads.
That's where the YWCA's Community
Dialogues come into play.
Last year's pilot program — held over
an 11-week period — explored not only he roots of race but also how its
preconceptions impact our everyday lives. The 15 people who participated, said
YWCA Executive Director Melissa Nigro, worked through facilitator-guided
scenarios and then participated in "deep-dive" discussions about
"We talk about it from a sensitive
point of view," she said. "People are hurting and need to be heard.
Then we also ask how we can move forward."
This pilot group came up with about a
half-dozen "possible action items," she said, that included negative
encounters with police. But when these concerns were vetted, it turned out
there were plenty of avenues to communicate concerns to authorities. For
example, there are 22 neighborhood groups that meet regularly where residents
can talk directly to authorities about their concerns.
"They all went out, listened and
came back reporting very positive things," including the fact that police
are not just sitting in their squad cars but walking their beats, going into
restaurants and talking whenever possible to the citizens they encounter, Nigro
"We want to be on top of things as
much as we possibly can," she said. "With social media, things can
explode in a moment. And as long as we are building relationships, we can ease
those tensions as they come up."
Future programming and discussions —
these sessions will be held over a four-week period — are being developed. And
certainly there is a need for funding to get this critical program off the
ground and to keep it going.
If you are interested in sponsoring a
group or in joining these Community Dialogues, contact Helane' Aghayere at
630-299-2281 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Having honest conversations about
race and racism is difficult and, at times, painful," Nigro said. "But
now more than ever, we need to keep the dialogue going."
Copyright © 2017, Aurora