Personal, institutional racism focus of Black Lives Matter discussion – Chicago Tribune

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While this week’s Black Lives Matter panel in Elgin focused on healing personal racism, Mary Shesgreen said she would like to hear more about the problems facing the African American community.

“I find myself hungry for conversation about how to challenge and change institutional racism,” which she is only just now learning about, said Shesgreen, one of the 125 people who attended the discussion.

“I am only starting to understand myself how institutional racism works and I want to understand it more deeply,” Shesgreen said.

Her comment — and those from others in attendance — may mean more conversations on race in Elgin, too.

“We have had other community conversations,” in Elgin, said Mayor David Kaptain following the event, including those between the police department and residents following the protests in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014. But the questions brought up at the Black Lives Matter discussion show a need for more conversations, too, Kaptain said.

Bob Whitt, one of the organizers from Elgin’s Human Rights Commission, said the event held at the Centre of Elgin Thursday night, was to help people from all walks of life understand the Black Lives Matter movement.

The phrase — which started as a social media hashtag following the Trayvon Martin case in Florida — has blossomed into a movement and is used by protesters following many police-involved shootings elsewhere, Whitt said.

But what they wanted those in attendance to understand is Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter, but that black lives matter, too, organizers said.

The panel discussion was moderated by Whitt and included Marcia Thompson, Phillip Reed, and Deb Perryman.

Thompson is a national public speaker, consultant and Supreme Court of Virginia-certified mediator who has worked in Elgin before. Reed is a workplace diversity trainer, and Perryman is a District U46 educator who is also co-advisor of Elgin High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance.

Perryman said she started looking deeper at the issues facing African American families after she saw social media posts from black mothers, talking about the conversations they had with their children. It was so different from what she talked to her children about that she needed more information, Perryman said. That brought her new awareness of the issues, she said.

“People like me have to step up and say that black lives do matter,” Perryman said.

The panelists started with a few prepared questions, then moved on to questions from the audience, submitted on cards.

That was done purposefully, Whitt said, to prevent one person or group from dominating the conversation.

The difference between “black lives matter” and “all lives matter” is one of perception, Thompson said.

Historically, and in recent events which have made national headlines, perception “is that black lives have had less value,” Thompson said. Those incidents where African American youth have died have many different factors, but the founders of the movement believed black lives were not treated equally to other lives, she said.

“Black lives are equal and when they are all equal, then all lives will matter,” Thompson said.

“We know all lives matter, but when we look around the world I’m not so sure that it true,” added Reed. What black lives matter means to him “is a call to action and to raise our consciousness around things that occur,” in the country, he said.

One thing many of the speakers noted is the incidents that have brought Black Lives Matter to the forefront hasn’t been an issue in Elgin. The department is respected by the community, added Bill Williamson, one of the organizers from the Human Relations Commission.

While many of the negative incidents have been recorded and gone viral on social media, so did a positive experience with an Elgin police officer last fall — Sgt. Ken Ericson’s conversation with a group of car enthusiasts who had been meeting up in a Summit Street parking lot. The video, made by one of the bystanders and put on Facebook, was viewed millions of times after it was picked up by one social media site. The video was remarked on because of the respectful way he talked to the young men and women and how they responded.

That, Williamson said, is what Elgin expects from its officers.

Elgin has exported its style of policing elsewhere, Kaptain noted. Former Assistant Chief of Police Cecil Smith is now Chief of Police in Sandord, Fla., where the Travyon Martin case occurred. He became chief shortly before George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death.

Smith has taken many of the things Elgin does to Florida, including walking the neighborhoods and talking with residents about the problems there.

It is a good idea to continue these discussions, Williamson said, adding that the Human Relations Commission will look at future discussions “based on the questions here today.”

Janelle Walker is a freelance reporter.

Personal, institutional racism focus of Black Lives Matter discussion – Chicago Tribune