News-Gazette Clippings on Salem Baptist Church

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News-Gazette Clippings on Salem Baptist Church


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Recent newspaper clippings on Salem Baptist Church:

1) Music educator Willie Summerville again teaching class

Thu, 01/21/2010 - 7:00am | The News-Gazette
CHAMPAIGN – Longtime music educator Willie Summerville will again teach a music class starting Monday that focuses awareness of diversity issues. The University of Illinois class is open to community members.

"Harmonizing Differences Using African American Sacred Music" will help people wanting to learn the appropriate sacred music for special occasions and African-American holidays, Summerville said.

The class (AFRO 498 WS) will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays through May 3 at Salem Baptist Church, 500 E. Park St., C.

The cost is $30 (nonrefundable fee) for community persons who do not wish to take the class for credit. Teachers who wish to take the class for continuing education credits pay $50.

The $16 textbook is extra; it is available at the Illini Union Bookstore.

All checks for registration may be made payable to the University of Illinois and sent to 1201 W. Nevada St., MC-143, Urbana, IL, in care of Lou Turner or Willie Summerville at the Department of African American Studies.

For more information, e-mail Turner at loturner<@>uiuc.edu or Summerville at wsummerv<@>illinois.edu or call 333-7781 or 244-8182.

An informal concert will take place at the last class session and be open to the public.


Wed, 07/29/2009 - 12:37pm | Jodi Heckel
CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school district has settled its consent decree case after a day-long settlement conference in Peoria Tuesday.

The school board is expected to approve the settlement agreement at a special meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 S. New St., C.

The tentative agreement was finalized Wednesday morning.

The settlement comes days before a judge was to decide whether the consent decree should be extended in three areas. A three-day hearing was set to begin Monday in Peoria.

School board President Dave Tomlinson said he is “very pleased” with the tentative agreement, but he would not give any details until after the board votes on it this evening.

In addition to the lawyers for the district and the plaintiffs, Superintendent Arthur Culver, Tomlinson and court monitor Robert Peterkin of Boston were part of the settlement conference before Magistrate Judge John Gorman in Peoria, Tomlinson said. The Rev. Claude Shelby of Salem Baptist Church participated as a plaintiffs’ representative.

The consent decree was signed by the district in November 2001, and it was to expire on June 30 of this year. It required the school district to eliminate unwarranted disparities between black and white students in a number of areas, including achievement, attendance, discipline, assignment to special education, and participation in gifted and honors classes.

District Court Judge Joe Billy McDade in May suspended termination of the decree until he could hear motions to extend it in several areas. Following a telephone status conference earlier this month, McDade terminated the decree in all areas except those in which the plaintiffs were seeking an extension.

The plaintiffs, representing the district’s black students, had filed motions to extend the consent decree in three areas: special education, alternative education, and the addition of elementary seats in north Champaign.

3) Chicago senator speaks to Jackson, calls for healing

Thu, 10/15/2009 - 8:28am | Tim Mitchell
CHAMPAIGN – A state senator from Chicago said he talked to the Rev. Jesse Jackson on Wednesday about the death of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington.

The Rev. James T. Meeks, founder and senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, spoke to an overflow crowd at New Hope Church of God in Christ following Wednesday evening's candlelight vigil for the teen, who died from a gunshot wound to the chest.

"I talked to Jesse Jackson by telephone today, and he is aware of the situation in Champaign," said Meeks, who serves as chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. "While he has no plans to get involved at this point, he could get involved at a moment's notice."

Meeks called for healing in the Champaign-Urbana community.

"This is what it sounds like when blood cries," Meeks said. "Kiwane's voice is crying out, 'Find out what happened to me and don't let this happen to anybody else.'"

Meeks called on the black community to encourage police to provide answers about what happened at 906 W. Vine St., C., on Friday.

"Put the police department on notice that we aren't going to accept open season on Negro people," Meeks said.

Meeks called for the establishment of an independent police review board, including members of the clergy and elected public officials.

"We need somebody outside of the police to gather facts and determine an honest assessment of what happened," Meeks said. "The worst thing in the world is to have the police police the police."

Champaign Deputy Chief Troy Daniels said the type and method of review for citizen complaints of police matters is something determined by the Champaign City Council.

Meeks also called on the Champaign Police Department to hire more black police officers.

"As we marched to the church tonight, all I saw were white police officers," Meeks said. "All these black kids need to see some police officers who look like them so they can aspire to become a Champaign police officer."

"The Champaign Police Department is very interested in having a diverse department reflective of our community," Daniels said. "There are several recruiting initiatives we do each year to attract minority applicants."

4) Chicago senator speaks to Jackson, calls for healing

Thu, 10/15/2009 - 8:28am | Tim Mitchell
CHAMPAIGN – A state senator from Chicago said he talked to the Rev. Jesse Jackson on Wednesday about the death of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington.

The Rev. James T. Meeks, founder and senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, spoke to an overflow crowd at New Hope Church of God in Christ following Wednesday evening's candlelight vigil for the teen, who died from a gunshot wound to the chest.

"I talked to Jesse Jackson by telephone today, and he is aware of the situation in Champaign," said Meeks, who serves as chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. "While he has no plans to get involved at this point, he could get involved at a moment's notice."

Meeks called for healing in the Champaign-Urbana community.

"This is what it sounds like when blood cries," Meeks said. "Kiwane's voice is crying out, 'Find out what happened to me and don't let this happen to anybody else.'"

Meeks called on the black community to encourage police to provide answers about what happened at 906 W. Vine St., C., on Friday.

"Put the police department on notice that we aren't going to accept open season on Negro people," Meeks said.

Meeks called for the establishment of an independent police review board, including members of the clergy and elected public officials.

"We need somebody outside of the police to gather facts and determine an honest assessment of what happened," Meeks said. "The worst thing in the world is to have the police police the police."

Champaign Deputy Chief Troy Daniels said the type and method of review for citizen complaints of police matters is something determined by the Champaign City Council.

Meeks also called on the Champaign Police Department to hire more black police officers.

"As we marched to the church tonight, all I saw were white police officers," Meeks said. "All these black kids need to see some police officers who look like them so they can aspire to become a Champaign police officer."

"The Champaign Police Department is very interested in having a diverse department reflective of our community," Daniels said. "There are several recruiting initiatives we do each year to attract minority applicants."

5) Peer Ambassadors set meeting on juvenile justice system

Mon, 09/15/2008 - 9:06am | Mary Schenk
CHAMPAIGN – A town-hall meeting organized by young people for their peers to discuss the juvenile justice system in Champaign County is planned for Sept. 25.

The event will be held at Salem Baptist Church, 500 E. Park St., C, and is being organized by the Peer Ambassadors, a program of the Mental Health Center of Champaign County.

Karen Simms, community connections supervisor for the Mental Health Center, said Peer Ambassadors is about three years old and involves young people, ages 14 to 21, who work as peer advocates, counselors and educators with other youths involved in the juvenile justice or mental health systems.

The advocates have personal experience or have family or close friends who have been affected, Simms said.

Simms said a town-hall meeting was held in early September last year to address the perception that relationships between police and young people in the community were becoming more adversarial.

More than 75 people attended, and a number of initiatives were put forth, she said.

"We had action plans and follow-up meetings. There are more conversations. Youth are more interested and less fearful," she said.

"This year we want to broaden the lens and talk about schools and the legal system."

The Peer Ambassadors are inviting people involved with and affected by the juvenile justice system, including elected officials, candidates for state's attorney and county board, police, prosecutors, public defenders, educators, probation officers, parents and the faith community to talk about strategies to interrupt what the group calls "the cradle to prison pipeline."

The Peer Ambassadors will share the results of a year and a half worth of research they've collected from surveys and focus groups conducted with youth at the Juvenile Detention Center and in the community.

There will then be an open discussion with representatives of the various groups that work within the system, followed by small discussion groups to identify an action plan to be shared with the community.

The event will run from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. with an informational and resource fair from 5:30 to 6 p.m. The town hall meeting begins at 6 p.m. Free child care will be available and refreshments will be served.

6) Fire causes $100,000 damage to Champaign house

Photo by: Robert K. O'Daniell

Firefighters work at putting out the last of the flames on the second story of house Sunday at 509 E. Park St. in Champaign.

Mon, 07/28/2008 - 8:26am | The News-Gazette
CHAMPAIGN – A child using a lighter caused a fire that caused $100,000 damage to a home at 509 E. Park St. on Sunday in Champaign, firefighters said.

Firefighters were called to the home of Gary and Theresa Whitely about 3:23 p.m. When crews arrived, they found heavy flames coming from second-floor windows on the west side of the two-story, wood-frame home, a fire department report said.

The large cloud of thick black smoke could be seen as far away as University Avenue and Randolph Street, according to fire Lt. Roger Cruse.

Fire Capt. John Barker said the fire was concentrated in a rear bedroom on the second floor and had spread to the attic.

A ladder truck was set up in case fire crews needed to be removed from the burning structure. Firefighters said the emergency was over by 4:14 p.m., and they left about 5:30 p.m.

The Whitelys and their two sons who live there weren't home when the fire occurred. But a third son's family was visiting the home for the afternoon.

Nola Whitely, who identified herself as a daughter-in-law, said she and her husband, Christian, live next door at 507 E. Park St., C.

She said they and their three children – ages 7, 4 and 3 – came over to check on the house and pets. The children went upstairs to get toys and later reported the fire, she said. Whitely said her husband tried to put out the fire, but it had spread too far.

All five got out without injuries.

Firefighters said the second story was gutted with heavy fire, water, heat and smoke damage, while the first floor received light smoke and substantial water damage. Firefighters estimated $80,000 damage to the structure and $20,000 damage to its contents.

The house is on the south side of Park Street, east of and across the street from Salem Baptist Church, 500 E. Park St., C. It is about one block west of St. Mary Catholic Church, 612 E. Park St., C.

7) Child using lighter causes fire in Champaign house

Sun, 07/27/2008 - 5:58pm | The News-Gazette
CHAMPAIGN — A child using a lighter caused a fire that caused $100,000 damage to a home at 509 E. Park St. on Sunday in Champaign, firefighters said.

Firefighters were called to the home of Gary and Theresa Whitely about 3:23 p.m. When crews arrived, they found heavy flames coming from second-floor windows on the west side of the two-story, wood-frame home, a fire department report said.

The large cloud of thick black smoke could be seen as far away as University Avenue and Randolph Street, according to fire Lt. Roger Cruse.

Fire Capt. John Barker said the fire was concentrated in a rear bedroom on the second floor and had spread to the attic.

A ladder truck was set up in case fire crews needed to be removed from the burning structure. Firefighters said the emergency was over by 4:14 p.m., and they left about 5:30 p.m.

The Whitelys and their two sons who live there weren’t home when the fire occurred. But a third son’s family was visiting the home for the afternoon.

Nola Whitely, who identified herself as a daughter-in-law, said she and her husband, Christian, live next door at 507 E. Park St., C.

She said they and their three children — ages 7, 4 and 3 — came over to check on the house and pets. The children went upstairs to get toys and later reported the fire, she said.

Whitely said her husband tried to put out the fire, but it had spread too far. All five got out without injuries.

Firefighters said the second story was gutted with heavy fire, water, heat and smoke damage, while the first floor received light smoke and substantial water damage. Firefighters estimated $80,000 damage to the structure and $20,000 damage to its contents.

The house is on the south side of Park Street, east of and across the street from Salem Baptist Church, 500 E. Park St., C. Itis about one block west of St. Mary Catholic Church, 612 E. Park St., C.

8) Mourners stand shoulder to shoulder for Carrington

Photo by: Robert K. O'Daniell

Bishop Lloyd Gwin delivers a eulogy for Kiwane Carrington, 15, at funeral services Friday morning at Salem Baptist Church in Champaign.

Sat, 10/17/2009 - 6:00am | Paul Wood
CHAMPAIGN – A smiling, helpful boy who liked basketball and computers was remembered at the funeral for 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington on Friday. At the same time that friends and family expressed outrage, they also expressed hope for peace.

Mr. Carrington was fatally shot in an altercation with Champaign police a week ago. The incident, which involved Police Chief R.T. Finney and another officer, who has been placed under paid administrative leave, remains under an investigation led by the Illinois State Police. Few details about what happened have been released.

Pastors speaking at Salem Baptist Church, 500 E. Park St., C, also called for being slow to anger in the controversial situation.

The large church was shoulder to shoulder in the pews, with dozens of people lined along the walls, and the hall was full of the sound of sobbing.

The Rev. Claude Shelby said the church is meant to have up to 550 people in the pews. But the crowd amounted to at least 750, which he said was a record for a funeral there.

The Rev. Jerome Chambers, president of the Champaign County NAACP, said repeatedly "Enough is enough!" and asked "Why did this 15-year-old have to die?"

"Only the truth will save Champaign," he said. But Chambers also asked for patience while the investigation of the shooting continues.

He said "adolescence is a time of turbulence" where "rebellion against authority is to be expected."

Chambers gave a dissertation on the stages of anger, and said rage can lead to temporary insanity. He urged the congregation not to stay in a state of fury.

He disputed a poem on a local blog about Mr. Carrington that begins "Just a Black Boy, Not going to amount to nothing, Mother dead, Father God knows where."

Chambers said the teen was not just another black boy; he was "our black boy" and that he did have a father who saw him even though they didn't live together. Mr. Carrington's mother, Rita Williams, died of cancer a year ago.

Chambers said the boy accepted Christ as his personal savior last year and had more recently been baptized with his father, Albert Carrington of Champaign.

Bishop Lloyd Gwin of the nearby Church Of The Living God also stressed forgiveness of "those who trespass against us."

"God is adamant about us forgiving each other," he said. He also quoted Romans 12:19, "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."

Community activist Terry Townsend, who attended the funeral, said he was moved by the pain the children in the audience felt.

But he took issue with pastors who urged the congregation to submit to authority and to not be angry.

"We talked at those kids, not to them. Everybody was more or less lecturing them not to be angry. In this case, the kids aren't resisting arrest; they're resisting injustice. They're thinking, 'I'm not doing anything wrong and they don't have the right to tell me to get on the ground.'"

Other speakers included Richard Kelly of the alternative READY school, who broke into tears remembering his student.

He said "Kiwane wanted to be an astronaut." The young man "wanted to see what space looks like" and find out the nature of the universe.

Seon Williams, a relative who owns the Whip barber shop and cut the boy's hair, said he could see "another Kiwane in the lights in us ... so his light won't go out."

9) READY school reeling from Champaign teen's shooting death

Photo by:


Fri, 10/16/2009 - 5:30am | Jodi Heckel
CHAMPAIGN – The READY program is a small school, so the death of one of its students hits hard.

The school's social workers and counselors have been meeting this week with students grieving the death of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington, who attended the alternative school run by the Regional Office of Education. Mr. Carrington died a week ago, after being shot during a scuffle with Champaign police who were responding to a burglary call.

"It has been a hard week. There's nothing easy about this," said the school's director, Donna Shonk.

Mr. Carrington had been a student at READY since January 2009, Shonk said.

READY students weren't in school on Oct. 9, the day Mr. Carrington died. Shonk said there was a teacher institute day that day, and the school was also not in session on Monday, for Columbus Day.

The school's crisis team came in Monday, though, to plan how to help students deal with Mr. Carrington's death. The crisis team includes Shonk and her administrators, the school's three social workers, its two behavioral specialists and a mental health counselor.

The school set aside an area for students to talk with social workers or a counselor from the Mental Health Center. Many students made cards or posters, or wrote poems or letters, and took them to a candlelight vigil for Mr. Carrington on Wednesday night.

"First, they were shocked and sad," Shonk said of the students.

"For many of them, this is the first loss they've experienced in their lives. But they've all been very willing to work with the staff we have here. I really admire that about our students. They came to us and said, 'We need to be out of class right now. We're struggling with this.' They really took advantage of the things we had here this week."

Attendance at READY – which accepts students with behavior problems from school districts in Champaign and Ford counties – has been good this week.

"Kids knew they could come here and have a safe, supportive environment to grieve, and to work through this," Shonk said. "I'm proud of the fact we have a place that students know is supportive, and they felt like this was a good place to be during the week."

She expected many students to be out of the downtown Champaign school today to attend Mr. Carrington's funeral. She asked any student who planned to attend the funeral to call the school, and the student would get an excused absence. The funeral is being held at 11 a.m. today at Salem Baptist Church, 500 E. Park St., C.

Nearly a dozen staff members from the school also planned to attend today's funeral, Shonk said. Some of them have also had a tough time dealing with Mr. Carrington's death.

"Kiwane was cared about by everybody," Shonk said. "All the teachers and staff enjoyed him. They're struggling."

Several READY staff attended the candlelight vigil. Others are finding solace in going to work every day.

"One teacher said, 'It really helps me to just be with the kids,'" Shonk said. "It goes both ways. We're there for the kids, and the kids have been there for us."

The school has tried to keep its schedule as normal as possible this week, she said. Some students told Shonk on Tuesday, "I just want you to have class. I don't want to talk about this. I'm not ready. I just want to have class."

Shonk said the nature of the program at READY, with an emphasis on working with students on outside issues that affect their schoolwork, lent itself to being able to support students this week.

10) Local ministers urge students to work hard in school

Tue, 01/29/2008 - 2:08pm | Jodi Heckel
CHAMPAIGN – The Rev. Charles Nash was standing at a table full of boys in the Central High School cafeteria Monday, struggling to be heard over the din.

Nash talked about college, what the students need to focus on in high school, and what happens to those who don't take education seriously. The boys laughed and joked with each other. But they listened too.

"They were a little goofy at times, but they were listening to what he had to say," freshman David Quarles, one of those at the table, said of his classmates.

Nash, of the New Hope Church of God in Christ, was one of several local ministers who were visiting Champaign high schools Monday to kick off "Operation Graduation," an effort to get community members more involved in the school district and encourage students to stay in school and work hard at their education.

The plan calls for the ministers to visit the high schools twice a month and talk with students. They'll also put messages in their church bulletins and talk with their congregations about topics such as being a good role model, helping children learn from everyday experiences, helping with homework, talking with teachers and encouraging children to ask for help when they need it.

Robin McClain, the district's attendance improvement coordinator, said the district is also working with social service agencies to get information into the schools about the services available for families, and it will be working with the business community next to get more people involved in the schools.

"I think it's invaluable for kids to see the community has an expectation for them to do well in school," said Central Principal Bill Freyman.

Nash was not put off by the rowdiness in the cafeteria on Monday.

"They are basically good kids. Their behavior a lot of times is a front," he said.

Several students said they appreciated the ministers taking an interest.

"I'm glad they're letting everybody know they care about young black kids trying to do better in their lives," said David, who shook hands with Nash before heading off to class.

"It was kind of cool for them to come here and give us advice on life," added sophomore Denzel Stewart. "I hear that stuff every day from my mom, but this was the first time hearing it from someone other than my mom."

The Rev. Zernial Bogan of Salem Baptist Church talked with a group of upperclassmen, asking how they felt about lunch, the police officer assigned to the school and their overall interactions in high school. He wanted to get the students' points of view.

"To hear from them on a one-on-one level gives a broader picture of what's going on," Bogan said.

The Rev. Evelyn Underwood of the New Free Will Baptist Church knows the families and pastors of many Central students. She was using that to make connections with students. Several girls who know her came up and hugged her, including senior Diamond Sturkey.

"I think it's very necessary," Diamond said of having the ministers visit the school. She said their presence may help calm things down and reduce conflicts. Students "still have some type of respect for people coming in and trying to change things," she said.

11) Churches running low on cash to help congregations, community

Sun, 02/28/2010 - 9:05am | The News-Gazette
This report is part of a joint project of The News-Gazette and the University of Illinois Department of Journalism, in an ongoing examination of poverty and its related issues in Champaign County.

The project is funded by the Marajen Stevick Foundation, a News-Gazette foundation; a matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a journalism foundation based in Miami; and contributions from the UI.

The project also has launched a Web site for this and other material, including user-generated content, at CU-citizenaccess.org.

URBANA – Ben Hoerr, executive pastor of The Vineyard Church in Urbana, shuffles through a stack of applications from church members seeking financial help.

"I need help with rent," one congregant writes. "I'm short $300. Husband lost his unemployment, and his new job has been rained out."

Another request says, "I'm about to be evicted due to two months past rent. I just started a new job and am struggling to keep my home."

"Need $43 for a car part, as I have no other transportation," implores another.

"I need a refill on my meds as soon as possible," another church member writes.

The Vineyard, like other churches throughout Champaign County, has seen a huge increase in the number of congregants and community members seeking aid since the economic downturn began in 2007. Because of the recession, some churches also are receiving less money in the offering plates on Sunday morning, forcing them to curtail and even cancel assistance programs for the poor.

Since 2007, appeals for benevolence have skyrocketed and continue to climb at The Vineyard, Hoerr said. The Vineyard, one of the largest churches in Champaign County, receives 20 applications a month from church members.

"If you roll the clock back two or three years ago, we might process one or two applications a month," Hoerr said. "I think it just reflects the state of the economy, the state of the culture, the continued marginalization of the poor (and) a new emerging class of poor – what was formerly the middle class that are now unemployed with skills – and they don't have anywhere to turn."

Hoerr said the need has become so overwhelming that the church's leaders decided they could afford to offer direct assistance only to church members, though it still contributes to charitable organizations and missions and runs a food pantry.

At Stone Creek Church in Urbana, a food pantry that was feeding 150 families a week is closing temporarily while the church considers how to fund it. Erica Burks, assistant director of the food pantry, said giving by congregation members has declined, making less money available for assistance programs.

"Our (church) members are also members of the community who have been hit by the economy also," Burks said.

On a recent Monday morning, people began lining up for the food pantry two hours before the church doors opened. Brenda Romack, a certified nursing assistant who lives in Urbana, comes to the food bank every Monday.

"All the prices are going up; everything is going up except for wages and it's impossible to make ends meet," said Romack, who earns $9.28 an hour. "My rent is $750 a month. I pay almost $300 a month for lights and gas, water is about $70 and I've got a sewer bill which is another $25, and of course, gas in my vehicle and insurance. It don't leave a whole heck of a lot."

In the past two years, requests for assistance with rent, utilities, clothes and medicine have more than doubled, said Ricky Spindler, student ministries pastor at Stone Creek.

"It's gone off the roof," he said.

People who attend the church receive first priority, he said, but the church also tries to help community members.

"We believe we have a responsibility spiritually to teach the word but practically to meet the needs of the people around us," Spindler said.

As state social services dwindle, churches are trying to fill the gap, said the Rev. Claude Shelby Sr. of Salem Baptist Church in Champaign.

"Agencies are sending people our way," he said. "We try to do what we can, although the funds are not always there."

At Salem, a benevolence committee meets to hear requests from people who have lost their jobs, people who are awaiting disability checks, people whose water has been shut off.

"Hardly a week passes that we don't have a meeting," he said.

He's particularly concerned about elderly people in the community who are living on the economic edge.

"And this year, people didn't get an increase in their Social Security," he added.

The average North American congregation contributes about $184,000 per year to local social services, according to a study published in the 2002 book, "The Invisible Caring Hand: American Congregations and the Provision of Welfare."

"If you removed the influence and benefit of evangelical, Protestant and Catholic churches, if that component of goodwill were to disappear, America would be much worse off," Hoerr said.

Yet, as the need increases, churches have less money to help.

"We have a lot of people (in the congregation) affected by the recession," Hoerr said. "People are saying the recession is over. I'd like to invite them to Champaign-Urbana because our community hasn't experienced that yet."

12) Colleague of King says Illinois made civil rights national issue

Photo by: Heather Coit

The Rev. C.T. Vivian, center, a civil rights leader who worked with Martin Luther King Jr., joins others in singing the hymn 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' at the 24th national holiday honoring King on Sunday at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts' Foellinger Great Hall in Urbana.

Mon, 01/19/2009 - 7:02am | Mary Schenk
URBANA – Illinois was a seminal state in transforming the civil rights movement from a regional to a national issue, said one of the leaders of that movement.

"The change from the South to the North came because of Illinois. When we came to Chicago, we became a national movement, not a Southern movement. When we came north, we were no longer the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We became the national movement called the Southern Christian Leadership Conference," said the Rev. C.T. Vivian.

A former member of the executive staff of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the 84-year-old Atlanta resident was uniquely qualified to give the keynote speech Sunday at the 24th annual King celebration at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on the University of Illinois campus.

Vivian was born in Boonville County, Mo., but his family moved to Macomb when he was 6 to get him out of segregated Missouri to a state where he could get a good education, he said.

He earned a bachelor's degree in history from Western Illinois University and in 1959 went to study for the ministry at the American Baptist College in Nashville, Tenn. It was there he studied the nonviolent, direct-action strategy that would later endear him to King. But he had put the principles into action more than a decade earlier.

In 1947, while working at his first professional job as a director of a recreation center in Peoria, he joined in a nonviolent sit-in to integrate a cafeteria there.

"The law said you had to be served, but custom said no," he said, adding that blacks had to stop being passive. "In this school (the UI) and city, students here at the same time couldn't get a haircut.

"We never know how much of a difference what we do now changes things in the future," he said.

Vivian later founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference, organizing the first sit-ins there in 1960. It was there he first heard King speak. Violence creates more problems than it solves, he recalled King saying.

"I understood, but I'd been on the surface. He was in-depth," Vivian said.

Keep in mind, he said, that King was "probably the only minister in the entire South with a doctorate in philosophical theology."

"Martin King was the only minister in the history of the U.S. who received the Nobel Peace Prize. Peace is something we all preach about, but Martin was the only one who did anything about it," Vivian said.

Vivian was a rider on the first "Freedom Bus" into Jackson, Miss., and went on to work on King's executive staff in Birmingham and Selma, Ala.; Chicago; Nashville; the march on Washington, D.C.; Danville, Va.; and St. Augustine, Fla.

"We did it through reaching the conscience of this nation. It doesn't do any good to change the law if you don't change the people," he said, drawing applause. "It did no good to talk about a legal movement if you didn't lay the spiritual movement on which to lay your legal movement."

Sunday's event was spirited, with the crowd cheering at almost every mention of President-elect Barack Obama. The approximately 80-member community choir directed by Todd Taylor of the Salem Baptist Church filled every cubic inch of Foellinger Great Hall with several uplifting songs.

"I feel something different this year," said the Rev. Jeffrey Trask, a member of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Advocacy for Justice Committee. "Perhaps it has to do with what's going to happen two days from now."

The Sunday event is one of two each year during which the committee solicits funds from the community for scholarships for high school seniors about to enter college.

This year's $1,000 scholarship winners were: Jenitra Cannon and Monandi Ogega from Urbana High School; Latisha Harris and Kristin Monteiro-Williams from Urbana High School; and Sierra Crabb, Charly Kalombo, Junghyun Kim, Sheriah Mason and Ina Patterson of Champaign Central High School. Alternate winners were Bryson Davis-Johnson of Centennial High and Taloya Walker of Urbana High.

Also honored for his nearly 25 years of work with the local King Advocacy for Justice Committee was Steve Shoemaker, retired executive director of the University YMCA and a Presbyterian minister.

13) Still pursuing King's dream

Photo by: by Robert K. O''Daniell

The Rev. Joel L. King Jr. of Jerusalem Second Baptist Church of Urbana, Ohio, was the keynote speaker at Sunday's celebration honoring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana. Joel King Jr. is a cousin of the slain civil rights leader.

Mon, 01/16/2006 - 2:00pm | Amy F. Reiter
URBANA – Cynthia Biggers lives in Champaign, but she was born in Arkansas and witnessed many of the struggles of the civil rights movement.

That's part of why she attended the first annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday 21 years ago in this community.

It's also part of why she came to Sunday evening's celebration, which included a speech from King's cousin, the Rev. Joel L. King Jr., in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on the University of Illinois campus.

Biggers and several hundred people filled Krannert's Foellinger Great Hall to remember King's legacy, to think about how far society has come since the civil rights era and to renew a commitment to fulfill King's dream for equality.

"It is up to each of us to make the multicolored vision of Dr. King a reality," Rabbi Norman Klein of Sinai Temple told the audience. Klein said he hoped people would be inspired to keep not only King's memory, but also his principles alive.

The night's speakers, mostly leaders from many faiths and worshipping places throughout the area, echoed that point with Bible readings and prayers.

"So much justice yet to be established, so much pain yet to be healed, so much peace yet to be realized, so much love yet to pour forth," said the Rev. Glenn Trost of St. Peter's United Church of Christ in a call for the audience to celebrate.

Celebration and prayer also came in the form of rousing songs from the Community Choir of Salem Baptist Church.

The keynote speaker, the Rev. Joel L. King Jr., is pastor of the Jerusalem Second Baptist Church of Urbana, Ohio.

Joel King talked about his emotions regarding the day, how much had been accomplished since his cousin's birthday became a national holiday 23 years ago, and how much inequality still remains.

King said he didn't want people to forget his cousin's goals, or his memory.

"It's been 23 years since the signing of the bill, and the crowds get smaller and smaller," he said. "I hope this community won't allow this to happen."

He also spoke about national issues in which he saw injustice, discussing the war in Iraq, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and recent elections.

"There's something wrong with the picture, something wrong with the check that's still bouncing all over America," King said.

"You've got to wake up and challenge each other," he said. "We can't afford to let the dream die, and we also can't afford letting it become a nightmare."

In Dannysha Jenkins of Urbana, that dream is still thriving. In 1998, Jenkins won a college scholarship bestowed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Advocacy for Justice Committee. Now she's a teacher at Marujita's Small World School in Champaign.

"(King) made it possible for not just me, but everyone, to have equality," Jenkins said. "He cared about everyone, not just about the African-Americans."

14) Unit 4 district awaiting good news on budget

Sat, 08/06/2005 - 1:00pm | Anne Cook
CHAMPAIGN – Gene Logas will have good news Monday for Champaign school board members and community supporters.

The district's doing "better than anticipated" at controlling a deficit that amounted to at least $4.5 million last summer, said Logas, the district's new chief financial officer, during a meeting preview Friday of board business set for 7 p.m. Monday at the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St.

In fact, he said, the district's doing so well that it could erase the red ink with one more year of stringent cuts and revenue enhancements.

However, this good budget news will be shadowed by the death of board member Norman Lambert, who died July 25 after a yearlong battle with cancer. Services for Mr. Lambert, who served on the board since 2003, were scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Salem Baptist Church, 500 E. Park Ave., C.

The board and administration face the job of naming someone to serve the remainder of his term, but that's not on Monday's agenda.

Logas said he's tried to present board members with "more than a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper" and said his overall goal is to "demystify" the budget process.

Board members are expected to accept a tentative budget Monday and to review the numbers at their September and October meetings before passing a final version in October.

Logas' initial numbers, which are not yet audited, show the deficit at the end of the 2005-06 school year will likely total about $1.6 million, not the projected $2.1 million, because of decisions to curtail spending.

The projected deficit for 2004-05 was $4.7 million but turned out to be $4.2 million. This is attributed to deficit reductions in retirement and working cash funds and a turnaround in transportation fund estimates, which were in red ink but ended up in the black.

"The district did achieve its $2 million reduction program, reducing it by $2.1 million from '04-'05 to '05-'06," Logas said.

He estimates that by the end of the upcoming school year, the overall deficit would drop to $1.6 million.

"I believe we should consider balancing next year's budget rather than doing it over the next two years," Logas said in his summary. "This will, of course, require a significant amount of cuts or revenue enhancements. I believe all options should be explored to get us to a balanced position. The good news is, we only have another $2.6 million to go, not $3 million."

The 2005-06 budget shows revenues of about $82 million and expenditures of about $84 million. Expenditures are expected to total about $70 million alone in the education fund, the district's main fund that pays teacher salaries. The fund is expected to end the year about $3.9 million in the red.

"That's a result of allocating a large amount of property tax revenue to rebuild negative balances in the retirement and tort funds," Logas said. "In '06-'07, we won't need to allocate as much to these other funds, and the deficit balance in the education fund will be improved."

Other business on the agenda Monday includes a discussion of the high school collaboration pilot project and a review of teachers and administrators who submitted applications for early retirement before state legislation changed those rules.

15) Speaker says many parts of King's dream still unrealized

Mon, 01/21/2008 - 7:36am | Mary Schenk
URBANA – A black Jesuit priest who hails from East St. Louis told a crowd celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. that much remains to be accomplished in this country in terms of racial equality and economic justice.

"I no longer want to hear about a dream. We should be ashamed," said the Rev. Joseph Brown, professor and director of the Black American Studies program at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and author of several books.

The keynote speaker at Sunday evening's 23rd annual King service in the Great Hall at the Krannert Center said at the beginning of his spirited speech that some might not be comfortable with what he had to say.

"Why are there 40 million poor people in America?" Brown asked, referring to the number who have no health insurance.

Affirmative action has become an unpopular concept, he said.

"We never had it, and now we got courts saying we don't need it no more," he said.

To those who hold him up as an example of a person from economically depressed East St. Louis who went on to do well, he responds: "I got more relatives, most of whom are uninsured, unemployed and underemployed. I know we have not overcome most of anything."

"I am concerned that we have either become depressed, complacent or we continue in our ignorance until it becomes invincible," he said. "I guarantee 90 percent of the people in this room have watched 'American Idol' and not anything on C-Span."

King wasn't murdered because he had a dream, Brown said. He was murdered as he tried to win economic justice for garbage haulers in Memphis. Knowing he was a potential murder victim, King continued to work tirelessly, Brown said.

"Everything that King said we got to watch. It's still there," he said. "Where have we progressed? Tell me how desegregated our school system is?

"We sitting in this room should be tireless in speaking the truth," he said. "We have become so conditioned to saying that we're not making a difference that vital information is escaping our children."

Children were the highlight of the evening as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Advocacy for Justice Committee awarded six $1,000 scholarships to the following high school seniors to be used for college: Christine Adeoye and Brittney Hayes of Central High School; Runtian Bai and Kyndra Campbell of Urbana High; and Alexis Caston and Brittany Peacock of Centennial High.

Evelyn Underwood, co-chair of the selection committee, said the winners are chosen based on academic excellence, financial need, an essay, and their demonstrated commitment to King's dream. The scholarships are renewable for up to four years. The University of Illinois matches the scholarships for students who choose to attend there.

There were also two surprise awards during the service.

The Rev. Dr. Claude Shelby, pastor at Salem Baptist Church in Champaign and president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Advocacy for Justice Committee, was honored for his more than 20 years of service to the committee.

"One of his most important skills is bringing people together," said fellow committee member Steve Shoemaker.

Also honored was Willie Summerville, a retired Urbana schools music educator and a deacon at Canaan Missionary Baptist Church in Urbana. Summerville was recognized for organizing and directing the interracial, interdenominational community choir that annually rocks the King celebrations.

16) Truth be told: 'Rev' remains a vigilant county board watchdog

Photo by: Robert K. O'Daniell

Lloyd Carter is the third-longest running Champaign County Board member.

Sun, 06/17/2007 - 10:33am | Paul Wood
Lloyd Carter Jr. sees his responsibility as a public servant to watch out for the average person's interests.

A longtime electrician, the Champaign County Board member from north Urbana has been critical of cost overruns at the county's new $24 million nursing home. He regularly calls for more minority workers to be used on county projects.

At 77, he's a little hard of hearing from working at a forge, but he's still full of spit and vinegar at the board's sometimes windy evening meetings.

"I just say the truth," is how the veteran Democrat puts it.

Carter was recently given the National Council of African-American Men's Community Achievement Award.

He has served on the county board since first being elected in 1992. He also served on the Urbana City Council from 1968 to '74. And he has served as president of the Champaign County NAACP.

Former county board Chairwoman Patricia Avery said there's more to Carter than his self-described outspokenness.

"I think he genuinely cares about the people of Champaign County and wants to be a representative who looks out for his constituency," Avery said – in a word, "a watchdog."

A minister's son who has attended Free Will Baptist Church for 53 years, Carter's nickname in the community is "Rev."

"He is grounded in his faith," Avery said. "I think that helps show the compassionate, humanistic side of Lloyd Carter."

Carter was born in Edwards, Miss., but has lived here since his teens, except for five years in the Navy.

By the time of his Navy service, he had already started work at Clifford-Jacobs in Champaign. As much as he is proud of his service during the Korean War, Carter is also a family man with five grown children – one of whom is in the military now – and four grandchildren.

So after five years, he made the decision to leave the Navy and rejoin Clifford-Jacobs in maintenance and as an electrician.

"The Navy was great. But I had a family, and the Navy didn't pay as well as Clifford-Jacobs," he said.

He worked there for 21 years. In 1971, he left to start Carter's Electrical Contracting Co., one of the first black-owned firms of its type.

About 15 contractors at the time started Afro-American Consolidated Contracts, drafting Carter because they needed an electrical specialist. Most of them are dead now, including his mentor, Elmer Brown.

He studied for two years at the county's Opportunities Industrialization Center to hone his skills, then went to the banks to ask for seed money.

"That was the hard thing then, getting any financing" for a black-owned business, he said.

Carter's company did the electrical work for several local churches, notably Salem Baptist Church, as well as the Douglass Center. He has worked all over the state, including the substations at the former Chanute Air Force Base.

And he still keeps his hand in, giving his voice some resonance at county board meetings when he questions costs for county building projects.

He also continues to go to Masonic meetings, including serving as the past potentate of Shriner Sudan Temple 93, where he mentors young black men – many of whom call him "Rev."

17) UI president: King's dream can still come

Mon, 01/15/2007 - 7:44am | Steve Bauer
URBANA – University of Illinois President B. Joseph White thinks Martin Luther King Jr. would be both warmed and saddened today.

White, the featured speaker Sunday at "The Dream to Live By," the 22nd annual community celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, said the civil rights leader was, at the time he was murdered in Memphis on April 4, 1968, shifting his focus from freedom to economic empowerment. King had gone there to support a strike by Memphis sanitation workers, White said.

"Dr. King's heart would be warmed by seeing that the opportunities for well-prepared African-Americans are virtually limitless," White said. "It would break his heart that only a small proportion of African-Americans are preparing themselves for those opportunities."

According to White, only 17 percent of African-Americans get a college education. In Illinois, it's even worse, with only 15 percent graduating from college, he said.

"These numbers are tragic," White said.

White said Americans today need to have a dream to make things better and a commitment to non-violent action, the way King taught.

The UI remains a "crucial gateway for racial opportunities," he said after the speech, with 10,000 of its 70,000 students from minority populations.

He told the audience at the Foellinger Great Hall on Sunday that the keys for anyone to succeed are to get a good education, work hard, learn from anyone who can teach you and earn a little more than you spend and invest the remainder.

"A good education is essential to achieving individual dreams and America remaining the land of opportunity," White said.

White cited University of Illinois graduate Manny Jackson, who went to college on a basketball scholarship, as a prime example of the success formula. Jackson then played for the Harlem Globetrotters, then was successful in business with Honeywell Corp., finally buying and revitalizing the Harlem Globetrotters.

"Don't just play for it, own it," White said, getting loud cheers from the Community Choir behind him during the speech.

White wasn't the only one talking about King's dream.

"We're not here because he died," said the Rev. Claude Shelby Sr., pastor at Salem Baptist Church and president of the Dr. Luther King Jr. Advocacy for Justice Committee, which organizes the event and awards scholarships each year. "We're here because he lived."

King gave a "blueprint for freedom and justice for all America" in his "I have a dream" speech, Shelby said.

Giving "testimony" to the dream were two previous winners of the local scholarship program in King's name: Susan Ogwal and Jorday Lee.

Lee, a 2006 scholarship winner now also attending the UI, said she hopes to "keep the dream alive by becoming a teacher so (her students) can become our next leaders."

Ogwal, who graduated from Centennial High School in 1999, said her scholarship helped her get a college education by paying for her books and clothes, allowing her to keep focused on school.

"It brought out a dream in me," Ogwal said. "In my young heart, I knew there was a destiny in me. Through the scholarship, I am able to see that dream come to manifestation."

Ogwal received her bachelor's degree in sociology and is currently finishing a master's degree in social work, she said.

Her dream, she said, is to "revolutionize the area of social service" by making it more global and becoming more active in parts of the world were people can make a difference.

18) Family, friends, community members say goodbye to activist and civil rights leader

Sun, 04/02/2006 - 12:22pm | Debra Pressey
URBANA – It was a send-off befitting of a man who made Champaign-Urbana a better place for so many people.

Not an empty seat in the house.

Heartfelt tributes and bursts of song soaring up to the church rafters.

A steady chorus of amens and handclapping answering from the pews.

Saturday marked the community's final farewell to local activist and civil rights leader John Lee Johnson, who died March 23 at the age of 64 and was laid to rest in Champaign.

At his funeral at Greater Holy Temple Church in Urbana, Mr. Johnson was remembered as a fiercely intelligent man who was a tireless advocate for the black community of Champaign-Urbana.

Through his work to improve housing, job opportunities, education, and access to home loans for blacks, Mr. Johnson left behind a legacy of accomplishments nobody can ignore, said Elder Larry Simmons, senior pastor at Greater Holy Temple Church, in his eulogy.

"You name it ... John Lee fought for the black community single-handedly," he said.

Simmons said Mr. Johnson was often at the center of controversy and criticism, and he had little patience for carelessness and things done hurriedly.

"Many disagreed with his frankness and simple truth," Simmons said. "But we all walked away with great respect for John lee Johnson."

Former Champaign Mayor Dannel McCollum spoke poignantly about Mr. Johnson as a fixture in downtown Champaign, so often seen in the area around the City Building in his signature T-shirt and baseball cap.

Mr. Johnson was passionate about his causes, McCollum said, and "he was one of the most intelligent people I've ever known."

A former Champaign City Council member, Mr. Johnson could be stubborn and opinionated, McCollum said, but "I never saw John Lee lose his civility."

For all his hard work, Mr. Johnson never received any riches or a big house, "not even a decent bicycle," the former mayor said.

But, he added, all Mr. Johnson ever wanted was an advancement of his causes.

"This city will never be the same without him," McCollum said.

Simmons summarized Mr. Johnson's life several times in his eulogy with two emphatically spoken words: "Well done!"

Simmons said Mr. Johnson was a product of the local community whose life was a lone, long journey upward.

"If I were to compare him to any character in the Bible, it would be Sampson, because Sampson was a one-man army and so was John Lee," Simmons said.

Simmons recalled a story about two men walking down a path, one stepping over a fallen branch and continuing onward and the other stopping to move the branch out of the way for those who would come along after him.

John Lee Johnson, Simmons said, was like that man who stopped to move the branch.

Simmons said no one could ever take Mr. Johnson's place, but people can honor his memory by continuing to work on the causes to which he devoted his life.

Vote and speak out at public meetings, he urged.

"We honor you by not letting your work be in vain," Simmons sang in the latter part of his eulogy.

Other speakers wondered who will pick up Mr. Johnson's causes.

"I ask who among you will address these issues," said Terry Townsend, who spoke of Mr. Johnson's civil rights work and called him an agent of change.

"Tomorrow will be a different world without him." Townsend said.

Rev. Claude Shelby, of Salem Baptist Church, also wondered, "Who will fill the void?"

Shelby said Mr. Johnson was a man who had meaning, and his work in the community "speaks volumes."

"Certainly, I trust the legacy he leaves behind will inspire all of us," he added.

19) Area groups boast efficiency in aid effort

Sun, 09/18/2005 - 1:00pm | Paul Wood
With the post-Katrina situation changing every day, people of good will aren't always sure what is the most effective way to help.

Large agencies boast of efficiencies of scale, while smaller groups or individuals say they can more quickly adapt without layers of bureaucracy.

Most smaller groups sending items from East Central Illinois to the Gulf are using trucks they already own or have been donated to them, rather than having to lease the equipment. They often are given the food, or get special deals from brokers.

Even as residents begin to move back into New Orleans, some parts of rural Mississippi and Louisiana remain underserved.

Carol Ammons is part of a group sending a semitrailer truck, lent by a local company, from Champaign to the rural Laurel, Miss., area with thousands of pounds of canned goods, water, diapers and infant formula.

She's aware of advice to send cash, not food, but says some parts of the Gulf Coast have been neglected, and money won't do much good there yet.

"They can use anything we can send," she said.

Rick Pontious of Monticello, who has driven supplies to Vancleave and Pascagoula, Miss., with donated trucks, has this advice for those who want to do good:

"Don't make assumptions about what survivors or volunteers want or need – ask them!"

Aaron Ammons, an organizer of a truck drive on Mattis Avenue last week, said that with a donated truck and a volunteer, his group was able to achieve efficiencies impossible for larger organizations.

The effort to aid rural Mississippians was sponsored by CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, the CU Area Project, Salem Baptist Church and a trucking company, Total Logistics Control.

Area churches chipped in, and members of the Books To Prisons project and Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center gathered more than $2,000 to buy food.

Truck driver Maurice Jake volunteered to drive the semitrailer truck.

Ammons said it would be difficult for the government or a group like the American Red Cross to operate this way.

"We felt like we had the opportunity through mutual friends to get money directly to the people without any administrative costs," he said. "From what we have seen, a large portion goes to administrative costs."

The Red Cross would be an exception to that, according to independent agencies Charity Navigator and Guidestar, which say that the national organization sends 91 cents of every charity dollar directly to where it is needed.

John Dickey, manager of the Illini Prairie Chapter of the Red Cross, 404 Ginger Bend, C, said the most efficient way to help people is to send cash, not boxes of food.

"We're not discouraging people if they want to be involved, but the Red Cross has no people to sort or clean or repackage food," said Dickey, whose group is helping about 300 survivors who have relocated here.

"We're encouraging people to work with local groups, too," he said. "For people who want to help those who were evacuated to this area, we're referring them to the Salvation Army and Salt and Light," a faith-based aid group in Champaign.

In the afflicted areas, he said, there are resources available that can make it unnecessary to truck supplies from long distances.

"There's more resources than you might think near the Gulf," Dickey said. "We try to work with local merchants in those areas. That helps local businesses."

He said it can be hard to guess what people need from hundreds of miles away.

"We request dollars so we can get what the victims need specifically. We work with a client assistance card – it works like a gift card – but we also do mass care, such as pallets of water or MREs," he said.

Maj. Lori Strode, the executive officer of the Champaign National Guard unit helping in New Orleans, said she believes the troops and large organizations can do a more efficient job of acquiring and distributing vital supplies than any individual could.

"I'd really suggest that you donate funds. So many great organizations have donated already their own time or product," said Strode, who adds that the National Guard workers repairing the city have bottled water, MREs and got two hot meals a day.

Nancee Moster Pontious, part of the Vancleave project, agreed that volunteers need to research what is most useful on the ground before they start their trucks.

"The Pascagoula distribution center initially rejected the donated clothing in our load. This wasn't because survivors don't need clothing. It was because the distribution center lacks the volunteers to sort the clothing," she said

Her advice: Mark clothing packets by gender and age, type, and size.

Kelly Vetter of Homer, who organized trips with a truck lent her by Paris-based Simonton Windows, has family from Gulfport and Laurel, Miss.

Her church immediately chipped in, which she believes gave them an advantage in efficiency over large, central organizations like the Red Cross.

"The people who've been working with (my family) have been great. People come forward when you need them," she said.

20) Safe Haven supporters still seeking permanent home

Photo by: John Dixon

David Nash talks about being beaten while living on the streets of Peoria. He now shares a room with five other adult men at Restoration Urban Ministries as part of the Safe Haven community.

Sun, 12/20/2009 - 11:39pm
By: Dan Petrella

By: Dan Petrella

By: Dan Petrella

By: Dan Petrella

CHAMPAIGN – David Nash knows how dangerous life can be for homeless people living alone on the streets.

While Nash was serving time in state prison for forgery in August 2002, his father was beaten to death by three teenage boys in a grassy area near the Martin Luther King subdivision in Champaign. Robert James Nash, 55, had been living nearby at the TIMES Center, a transitional housing facility for homeless men, but was kicked out for violating the center's rules, his son said.

The slaying baffled police for about a month until they received an anonymous letter implicating four teens. Three of those named in the letter were convicted and are serving prison sentences ranging from 15 to 27 years. The fourth was acquitted.

"Sleeping out there in the elements, anything can happen to you," Nash said.

Nash, 38, is now one of the leaders of Safe Haven, a self-governing community of homeless people that is attempting to create a new alternative to "sleeping out there in the elements." While the group has found temporary refuge at Restoration Urban Ministries, its sights remain set on establishing a more permanent community.

They hope to find a place where they can build small semi-permanent structures to serve as temporary housing for people who can't find room in, or don't want to live in, a homeless shelter. The concept is based on Dignity Village, a Portland, Ore., community that has existed with that city's blessing since 2001.

While the idea faces continued opposition from the city of Champaign, the group's organizers are preparing to present their plan to officials in Urbana.

Safe Haven formed in May in a backyard next to the Catholic Worker House, 317 S. Randolph St., C. A group of homeless people decided to pitch tents in the yard in hope of finding safety and a sense of community as a group, supporters said.

The community started at a time when the homeless population in Champaign County appears to be on the rise. The Urbana-Champaign Continuum of Care conducted a survey in early August that counted 594 homeless people in the county, a 20 percent increase from the 495 counted in January.

In its first seven months, Safe Haven has survived a protracted zoning dispute with Champaign and relocated six times.

It also has expanded its size and vision. Now numbering between 30 and 40 members, the group has elected a leadership council – to which Nash belongs – and established a set of rules banning alcohol, drugs and violence.

Abby Harmon, 27, is a graduate student in landscape architecture at the University of Illinois and a Safe Haven advocate.

"We believe that privacy is a part of dignity," Harmon said. "And one of the things that happens with emergency shelters or transitional centers, if there is no wall separating you from somebody else, it's very difficult to have your own sense of haven or sanctuary away from people, away from just the chaos of day-to-day events."

This spring was not the first time homeless people had set up tents in back of the Catholic Worker House, said Sara Kammlade, 21, a senior in biology at the UI and resident volunteer at the house. The house provides shelter mainly to homeless women and children.

"We used to have people camping out in our backyard all the time, and they were just friends of ours that would put up tents and stuff and sleep back there," she said. "And it wasn't a problem at all."

The community that grew into Safe Haven was started by Jesse Masengale, 22, a former resident of the Catholic Worker House, Kammlade said. Masengale, who has left Safe Haven but remains an advocate for its cause, did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.

"He just got together a bunch of friends that he knew that were sleeping outside," she said. "It's not very safe to be sleeping on your own; it works out a lot better when you have a group of friends that you're living with."

Last year, there were 106 violent acts committed against homeless people nationwide, 27 of which were fatal, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. In Illinois, there were attacks in Elgin and Peoria and a string of beatings in Rockford, none of them fatal.

Neighbors quickly lodged complaints about the tent community with the city, which ruled it violated zoning ordinances and could not stay.

After a brief stop at an RV park in Mahomet, two nights indoors at New Covenant Fellowship, 124 W. White St., C, and a weeklong stay at a private residence in Champaign, the group was welcomed to the place that would be its home for the next 100 days.

* * *

The Rev. Tom Royer is the pastor at St. Mary Catholic Church and a member of the Catholic Worker House's advisory board. After learning of Safe Haven's run-in with the city, he invited its members in mid-August to pitch their tents on the church's lot, believing the city would not insist on enforcing zoning laws on church property.

The city told Royer the church would be fined $750 per day if it allowed the tent community to continue in violation of zoning laws.

St. Mary then opened its parish center to the community, eventually allowing the members to live there full time. Royer offered to host Safe Haven for 30 days while organizers looked for a more permanent location, but its stay ended up lasting 100 days.

During its time at St. Mary, the community grew. Members started reaching out to people they encountered at soup kitchens and food pantries, and some service providers began referring people to the community.

Nash joined Safe Haven shortly after its arrival at the church. After the two-week probationary period required of anyone who wants to join, he became a full member and was eventually elected to be one of the group's five council members.

He grew up in north Champaign and moved back in August after living in Peoria for five years. His family convinced him to return when he was hospitalized after a group of men jumped him and beat him with bricks while he was out one night, he said.

"They brought my ex-wife along, and I was supposed to move in with her, but things didn't work out," he said. "So my family, they wanted me to come home, but I felt that for me to make it, I got to struggle on my own to make it."

Nash briefly moved in with his sister, but that didn't work out, either. He was walking with some friends one night when they decided to stop by the parish center, where he discovered Safe Haven.

Billie Creek is another member who joined the community during its stay at St. Mary.

The 44-year-old mother of three said she lost her job as a home health-care worker in March and had to move out of her apartment in October after getting behind on the rent. She tried to find housing in a women's shelter, but both the Center for Women in Transition and A Woman's Place had long waiting lists. She was told to call St. Mary Church.

"It's just by the grace of God this place opened," said Creek, whose 24-year-old son is serving in Iraq. Her 18- and 11-year-old sons live with family members, she said.

After a two-week probationary period, she was chosen to be the council's secretary.

Creek spends most of her time looking for jobs, she said. She sells plasma to earn extra money and does volunteer work at Salem Baptist Church, she added.

While the stay at St. Mary allowed the community to grow and focus on the future, the living arrangements lacked the privacy the founding members were looking for when they first pitched their tents.

With winter approaching, organizers were looking for a place that would provide more privacy for residents.

"When it's sunny and warm, people can sit outside," Royer said "But ... it creates more problems when they have to be indoors all the time in kind of a small space."

* * *

Restoration Urban Ministries, a faith-based shelter and social-service organization, operates out of a former motel near Bradley and Mattis avenues. The group had 17 rooms that were uninhabitable due to code violations.

With the help of Empty Tomb – another faith-based social-service organization – and other area churches, the rooms were renovated to provide a winter home for Safe Haven residents. They moved in right before Thanksgiving.

Ryan Britton, Restoration's resident director, said Safe Haven members will be allowed to stay at the shelter until May 1 and will be exempt from the self-sufficiency program normally required of Restoration's residents.

However, the Rev. Ervin Williams, executive director of Restoration, did require couples who were planning to live together to get married before moving in.

Because the shelter houses children, a few Safe Haven members who are registered sex offenders were not able to make the move. Among them was Robert Latham, one of the group's elected council members, who goes by the name "Red."

"It was very hard because we wanted everyone to come," Nash said. "That's one thing about Safe Haven, we don't turn nobody away. ... But we still consider them as members of Safe Haven, although they're over at another temporary spot."

While organizers work to find other temporary housing for them, some of those members are still living at St. Mary, Royer said.

Another member who was not able to move to Restoration is George Headley Jr.

Headley joined Safe Haven in mid-September after he was unable to find a spot at the TIMES Center or Salvation Army, which both have strict limits on the number of sex offenders they can house at one time.

Headley said he had a temp job driving a forklift at the Solo Cup Co. in Urbana until October 2008, when he was fired after the company found out about his background. He wasn't collecting enough unemployment to keep up with his rent and was evicted from his apartment in February, he said.

He spent nights in a tent in wooded areas of local parks until he met a Safe Haven member at the TIMES Center in September, he said.

"They welcome everybody," he said. "They try to help more than the others."

Meanwhile, the Safe Haven residents who made the move to Restoration are using the time to concentrate on the future, Nash said.

"They're out finding jobs and trying this time to prosper, instead of just laying around and using it as a place to stay," he said. "Everybody's more motivated since they've been here, because they sit back and they analyze, like, 'Man, this could be me in my own apartment.'

"It's been a good, positive thing."

* * *

Libby Tyler, Urbana's community development director, said former Alderwoman Danielle Chynoweth approached the city about possibly allowing Safe Haven to relocate there after their stay at Restoration ends.

While there have yet to be any formal discussions between Urbana and Safe Haven, the community and its supporters will present their plan to city officials in the near future, Tyler said.

Safe Haven has garnered some support from local agencies that aid the homeless. In August, the community was admitted to the Council of Service Providers to the Homeless, a networking body of government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Jason Greenly, supervisor of the TIMES Center, said that although there is already a variety of services available to the area's homeless population, a community like Safe Haven might be a good fit for people who don't mesh with the existing programs.

The TIMES Center's programs are designed to help men save enough money to secure housing as well as address underlying issues – such as mental illness or addiction – that might be the root of their homelessness. Residents are required to abide by a stringent set of rules.

"It may be somebody is not in a position at that time to be able to work a program like this," Greenly said. "If there can be a less restrictive program that they can be successful in, then great. I like the idea of diversity of services."

However, it is important for any provider of homeless services to form a good working relationship with the community, he said.

"The only reason TIMES Center functions is because of our relationship with both our local governments and our local community, period," Greenly said.

* * *

Like that of his community, Nash said his future is uncertain.

Since moving to Restoration Urban Ministries, he's applied for jobs, but much of his attention has remained focused on Safe Haven, he said.

"It's a good thing to help because maybe I'll be blessed later down the line. That's how I look at it," he said. "But in the same token, I've got to take this time myself, like everybody else, and try to accomplish something with this six months."

Even if he finds a steady job and is able to get a place of his own, he plans to stay involved with Safe Haven.

He said he wants to do what he can to make sure what happened to his dad doesn't happen to other homeless people.

About the Knight Project series

This report is part of a joint project of The News-Gazette and the University of Illinois Department of Journalism in an ongoing examination of poverty and its related issues in Champaign County.

The project is funded by the Marajen Stevick Foundation, a News-Gazette community foundation; a matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a journalism foundation based in Miami; and contributions from the UI.

The project also has launched a Web site for this and other material, including user-generated content, at www.cu-citizenaccess.org.

About this story

This is the first of two parts.

Today: Update on Safe Haven group

Monday: Plans proceed for small living spaces

On the Web: Reporter Dan Petrella has created a multimedia project to accompany the stories; it is at http://tinyurl.com/y99hy67.

21) Town hall meeting looks at plight of uninsured

Photo by: by Robert K. O''Daniell

The Rev. Zernial Bogan, who operates L&Z Cleaning with his wife, said they can't afford to purchase health insurance. Danna Passalacqua, center, and Lisa Bell also attended the town hall meeting Monday night in the Champaign City Council chambers.

Tue, 05/11/2004 - 1:00pm | Debra Pressey
CHAMPAIGN – After a long search for affordable health insurance, Becky Spoon says she and her husband finally gave up.

For the last three years, the Spoons – small-business owners in Charleston – have been uninsured, and living that way is frightening, Becky Spoon says.

"It's enough to make you sick," she adds.

Spoon joined about 30 people who gathered in Champaign last night for a town meeting that was held in conjunction with Cover the Uninsured Week – a national event this week that is intended to raise public awareness of the plight of some 44 million Americans living without health insurance.

The local meeting was organized by Dr. Robert Boone, a Champaign physician who is encouraging the local community, the state and ultimately the entire country to draw together and launch a new health care system that includes everybody.

One of the speakers joining Boone was the Rev. Zernial Bogan, both an associate minister at Salem Baptist Church in Champaign and a small-business owner.

Bogan said he and his wife, who operate L&Z Cleaning, also live without health insurance because the lowest-cost policy they could get at $700 a month for the two of them is still unaffordable.

"How can I say to prospective employees, 'Come work for me, but I can't pay any benefits – I can't even take care of myself?'" he asked.

The high cost of health coverage has "gone beyond being ridiculous," Bogan added. "It's a plague. We're the most powerful nation in the world and we can't even take care of our own."

Norbert Putnam of Mattoon offered one suggestion – ask the nation's politicians to give up their own health coverage until they address the problem.

"They are getting health care on the backs of our tax money. We ought to be getting health care also," he said.

Boone, who was a longtime doctor for the Frances Nelson Health Center in Champaign, opened the meeting with a moment of silence for all the people he said died on Monday for lack of medical care.

Boone said it's time to come together to develop something important for America, and he contends a universal single-payer system of national health care will solve the problem.

With about a third of every health care dollar going toward administrative costs, he said, such a system would greatly reduce overhead and leave enough to pay for everybody's care.

Joining Boone in supporting a national health care system was Dr. David Gill, an emergency room physician at Dr. John Warner Hospital in Clinton and a candidate for Congress in the 15th District.

Gill said he has seen firsthand the great toll the lack of health coverage has taken on everyone.

With no other options, the poor and uninsured turn to emergency rooms when they're sick, Gill said, and that both drives up costs and leaves overworked emergency rooms unable to provide emergency care as promptly and efficiently as they should.

"As a society, we all do pay for this problem," he added.

Still another speaker who advocated universal health dare was Jana McGregor, hot line coordinator for Champaign County Health Care Consumers.

McGregor said she has gotten a disturbing picture of life without health insurance from the callers she has spoken to in her eight months on the job.

There are people in this community having signs of a heart attack who say, "'Don't take me to the emergency room – I don't want them to take my house away or put me in jail,'" she said.

Boone said he hoped the meeting would be a starting point for the community. And he held up a mirror and invited everyone to take a look and begin by taking steps to make themselves healthier with diet and exercise and to also help their neighbors.

"We can't expect someone else to do more for us than we do for ourselves," he said.

You can reach Debra Pressey at (217) 351-5229 or via e-mail at dpressey@news-gazette.com.

22) Revisions on art proposal sought

Wed, 02/12/2003 - 2:00pm | J. Philip Bloomer
CHAMPAIGN - It's not that the Champaign City Council is necessarily opposed to the idea of art in public places.

But they sure want to keep it at a safe distance. As in distance from any liability, maintenance or other costs that might be associated with public art.

That at least was the message from five of the council members in response to a staff proposal outlining an approval procedure for requests to place donated art on public property. In a rare 5-4 vote in a Tuesday study session, the proposal was sent back for additional refinement.

The Rev. Claude Shelby of Salem Baptist Church wasn't too concerned. A member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Advocacy Committee, he has been working for several years toward the erection of a statue to Martin Luther King Jr. The committee wants to place it on a minipark at Wright Street and University Avenue.

?I think we'll get to where we want to go,? Shelby said after Tuesday's meeting. ?A new bronze statue of Dr. King will speak volumes about our community and to future generations. I think the council just wants more information.?

Quite a bit more.

Mayor Jerry Schweighart led opposition to the proposal, saying he was dissatisfied that the policy did not specify that donating organizations must be responsible for maintaining the art, that liability and necessary repairs must be the responsibility of the donating organization, and that it needed to be clearer that the city council is the final arbiter of what goes where and when.

With the city facing cutbacks across every department, that wasn't an expense the city needed to be adding at this time, Schweighart said.

Council members Sher Hampel, Vic McIntosh, Kathy Ennen and Jim Green agreed with him.

The policy as proposed would have established a two-tier approval system for any organization wanting to put a piece of art on public property.

The first phase would involve a city staff panel reviewing a proposal for safety and practical concerns, such as whether it met proper setback and site requirements.

A second review panel made up of people with artistic credentials would evaluate the proposals on various aesthetic criteria.

Council member Green wondered why the elaborate bureaucratic structure was needed to protect against constitutional concerns.

?What does a blade of grass have to do with the First Amendment?? he asked in reference to one proposal to erect a 25-foot-tall abstract blade of grass on University Avenue near Fifth Street.

City Manager Steve Carter said the minefield of legal risks makes such policies prudent.

?The items sought now may seem noncontroversial but the next one might be,? he said. ?We live in a university community where imaginations can be pretty broad.?

Council member Tom Bruno said the risks are very real and the guidelines are suggested precisely to protect the city from being accused of arbitrariness. But the risks aren't so great, he said, that the city should deprive itself of the appeal and individuality that such pieces provide.

?I have a fertile imagination. Maybe I have a sick imagination. I see this possibly being a slippery slope. We start with Martin Luther King and that's not too controversial. Then someone wants to put up a statue of David Duke or Matt Hale and we have to shoot from the seat of our pants. We're headed for disaster if we take it just one case at a time,? he said.

At the same time, trying to sanitize the city from risk invites blandness. Cities mark their identity by signature pieces of art, he said.

?I hope we don't develop a policy so risk-averse that we don't have any art,? Bruno said.

Bruno favored the policy as proposed, along with council members J.W. Pirtle, Michael LaDue and Ken Pirok.

Michelle Bailey, an assistant to the city manager, said she would draw up procedures and responsibilities based on the council's guidance and return to the council again for approval.

23) Issues play role in Champaign school board race

Tue, 01/28/2003 - 2:00pm | Anne Cook
CHAMPAIGN - Candidates for Champaign school board seats in April's election say the issues at stake have sparked a lot of interest in the races.

In Champaign, eight candidates are running to fill four seats. They include only one incumbent, board President Scott Anderson. Members Phillip Van Ness, Mark Klaus and James Butler are not seeking re-election.

Contentious equity problems have focused scrutiny on school board action, and the election is shaping up along those lines. Four candidates for the four open seats - Champaign candidates are elected at large - are black, most of them known for their community involvement. They are as follows:

- Charles Dunnum Sr., a UI information technology systems support analyst who's involved with the PTSA at Bottenfield Elementary School.

- Nathaniel Banks, an assistant UI dean of students for minority affairs and former chairman of the failed Charter School Initiative.

- Norman Lambert, a retired Air Force officer who' s now a counselor at Parkland College.

- Charles Young, a Savoy resident who's employed by the UI's Housing Division as a building service worker.

The four remaining candidates are:

- Anderson, a dentist who's now board president.

- Former board member Margie Skirvin, who regularly attends district meetings.

- Former city council candidate Doug Hurst, a property owner who has ongoing issues with the city for building code violations.

- Jim McGuire, who's been involved with school committees and PTSA and ran unsuccessfully for a board seat in 2001.

Skirvin served one term on the board and was defeated for re-election two years ago. She said the competition, especially from the black community, is a telling sign.

"It's a sign there are issues people are worried about," she said.

"There are people of color running this time who are all strong candidates involved in community affairs, who have done a lot and are well-known."

Most school board members in Urbana seeking re-election

URBANA - All seven Urbana school board seats are up for election every 10 years because they are tied to geographic "subdistricts" and are redrawn after every census.

This is one of those years. And most incumbents are in the running to be re-elected to their seats, although Laura Haber has chosen not to seek re-election.

In Urbana, there are new names in the candidate mix, including Carol George, who has become an advocate for equity in both Champaign and Urbana and is running for Haber's seat representing the northwest subdistrict.

A second newcomer running for election is Zernial Bogan, a minister who recently joined the district's equity audit steering committee. Bogan has a criminal record that includes a felony conviction for burglary and prior convictions for theft, burglary and possession of a controlled substance.

However, district officials say Bogan is eligible to run for the board because after he served a five-year prison sentence that dates from 1997, when he was 44, he again became eligible to vote. Board members must be eligible voters. He is also eligible to serve on the school board although his record would disqualify him for some public jobs and from being hired as a bus driver or an employee of the district.

Bogan is running against Ruth Ann Fisher, who has served on the board since 1999, for the East Urbana subdistrict seat.

Bogan, who's an associate minister at Champaign's Salem Baptist Church, said he doesn't think the felony conviction has anything to do with his plans to get involved with Urbana schools. He said the experience taught him some important lessons.

Bogan's six stepchildren attended Urbana schools, and he said grandchildren are now enrolled.

George and Bogan are the only two blacks on Urbana's list of candidates, most of whom are familiar faces.

Tina Gunsalus, who was first elected to the board in 1991, now serves as its president. Gunsalus represents the West Central Urbana subdistrict, and she's being challenged by a third newcomer to school board elections, Cope Cumpston, who, like Gunsalus, works for the University of Illinois.

Cumpston, a UI Press art director, also serves on Urbana's Human Relations Commission.

John Dimit, board vice president, was first elected in 1987. He is running unopposed for re-election to his seat representing the southeast subdistrict.

Dimit is executive director of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.

Also unopposed are Steve Summers, a contractor who represents the southwest subdistrict; Mark Netter, a UI facility management director who represents the west subdistrict; and Joyce Hudson, a Supervalu employee who represents the rural subdistrict.

24) Activist 'works tirelessly when he believes in a cause'

Photo by: Robert K. O'Daniell

Champaign resident Randall Cotton checks the vote-counting activity Tuesday at the Brookens Administrative Center in Urbana. Cotton helped lead an unsuccessful bid for a property-tax increase in City of Champaign Township.

Sun, 11/09/2008 - 8:50am | Mike Monson
CHAMPAIGN – Randall Cotton has closely cropped hair, wears serious wire-rim glasses and dresses somewhat conservatively. He speaks precisely and succinctly, like the computer engineer he is.

Abbie Hoffman he's not.

But Cotton, a 43-year-old Champaign resident, is every bit the committed, decidedly left-wing citizen activist.

"A lot of what I do is not high profile," Cotton said. "I speak out when necessary, but I'm not drawn to bringing attention to myself."

But in recent years, Cotton has quietly made himself felt on the local progressive scene. He led a successful yearlong campaign to get Urbana Public Television to carry the show "Democracy Now" in 2004.

He is active with AWARE, the Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort, that has led local protests against the Iraq War. He's working to get more community involvement in WEFT-FM, a community radio station.

And, most recently, he and fellow activists Martel Miller and Ricky Baldwin tried to rally public support for a property tax increase for City of Champaign Township, which dispenses a form of welfare, general assistance, to the extremely poor.

That tax proposal went down to defeat Tuesday, by more than a 2-to-1 margin.

"I'm disappointed, but I'm not entirely surprised," Cotton said, adding it will take a "massive communitywide campaign" to get approval of a township tax increase.

"I'm not going to abandon it," he said. "I view this as another step toward trying to rectify the situation."

Cotton comes to activism from a varied background. He spent his early childhood in Uruguay and Brazil, the child of an American couple, before moving to Libertyville at age 7 when his parents divorced. He spoke English, Spanish and Portuguese when he left Brazil.

He attended the University of Illinois, getting a bachelor's degree in computer engineering in 1990. After graduation, he went to work for the university as an academic professional in information technology.

In 2000, at the urging of a UI professor, Cotton went to work in Silicon Valley, working as director of information technology at Bytemobile, a Mountain View, Calif., firm that specializes in mobile internet software and services. He would work there for six months, putting in 100-hour weeks, before quitting in June 2001.

While he found the work exciting, Cotton said, he eventually decided "it wasn't worth the cost" of putting the rest of his life on hold.

"I just felt like it wasn't the right road for me," he said. "I was kind of disturbed by the incredible waste and excesses while I was out there. Venture capitalists were just throwing millions at all kinds of start-ups. It was just preposterous opulence."

While he didn't make a fortune, Cotton said, he did build up a healthy nest egg and moved back to Champaign, where he had kept his apartment. After a few months of rest, he decided he wanted "to develop this nascent social and political awareness and consciousness that was cropping up."

He made the jump to full-time activism in January 2003, appalled by the "deceitful" buildup to the Iraq War, which he strongly opposes. He believes the main reason the United States went to war was to dominate economic rivals by "having your hand on the oil spigot."

Nearly six years later, Cotton remains a full-time activist. On a typical day, he spends a few hours in the morning on his personal life, then puts in eight or nine hours on his various causes. That can include keeping minutes of meetings, announcing, organizing and attending meetings and doing research. He said he works every day until about 11 p.m.

It's an effort that many of his fellow activists appreciate.

Urbana resident Durl Kruse, active with AWARE, said Cotton brings exceptional technical knowledge with his background in computing, plus excellent organizational skills.

"He's just very thorough in what he does," Kruse said. "These are skills you don't usually find in people doing this. And he works tirelessly when he believes in a cause."

Miller, who worked with him on the township referendum, calls Cotton "very committed."

"You get involved in something he's involved in, you know he's going to finish it," Miller said.

But Cotton has also proved willing to set aside his causes when a friend is in need.

The Rev. Zernial Bogan, associate minister at the Salem Baptist Church, 500 E. Park St., C, calls Cotton his "guardian angel."

That's because when Bogan went into a coma on Dec. 16, 2006, from viral pneumonia, Cotton, a friendly acquaintance at the time, showed up at Provena Covenant Medical Center and took up a vigil at his bedside until Bogan came out of the coma 16 days later. He continued to help the Bogan family until Bogan was released from Provena on Jan. 31, 2007.

"I don't think I could have asked for a better friend when I was in need," Bogan said. "I was in a coma for two weeks. He was there continually. He made sure I got turned, that I was getting my medication, that the nurses were contacted when they needed to be.

"I was dying, and my family was in a state of depression and mourning. When they couldn't come or were too tired to stay all night, he was there. He's a hero to me."

Ever analytical, Cotton also kept a detailed journal of the various readings medical instruments were showing during Bogan's coma, detailing his decline and eventual recovery.

"I still have it," Bogan said. "Every time I look at it, it touches me someone was so interested in someone's well-being."

Cotton said he had come across Bogan many times while working on various causes and was "impressed with his heart."

"This is a really special person," Cotton said. "I knew if he had any chance at all of surviving, he was going to do it, but he might need a little help. I'm glad I could offer that help."

It's the kind of dedication that fellow activists have come to expect from Cotton, who says he's enjoying "this activist phase of my life."

"I've been stringing it out pretty long," he said. "Maybe I'll do it a little while longer, but certainly not indefinitely. I'm not independently wealthy."

But he has no regrets.

"I don't feel I could look myself in the mirror without trying to do my part," he said.

Getting to know Randall Cotton

Age: 43

Hometown: Libertyville.

Occupation: Full-time volunteer activist

Family: Single. "I'm not married, not looking, not ruling it out."

Education: Bachelor's degree in computer engineering, University of Illinois

Causes: "Peace through justice. I'm anti-war, anti-racism, anti-discrimination and push for public access to media."

What motivates him: "The world is a pretty messed-up place, and it's up to grown-ups who have the wherewithal to try and fix it."

25) Residents form group to help fight for cleanup

Sun, 01/27/2008 - 10:19am | Mike Monson
CHAMPAIGN – Like so many others in Champaign, M.D. Pelmore's basement sump pump goes into overdrive during the rainy season to keep groundwater at bay.

But every once in awhile there's something else: an unusual smell he can't quite place.

Pelmore lives steps away from the 3.5-acre site of a former coal gasification plant, now the focus of a cleanup effort by AmerenIP.

And that makes him nervous.

He built his basement over an old abandoned water well, and he's worried that contaminated groundwater or vapors might somehow find their way into his home.

He's also worried about what his children might have been exposed to years ago, when it was common for youngsters to play on the now fenced-off site.

"I don't think they told us anything about how dangerous all this stuff was," he said recently.

Pelmore raised his concerns at an open house held this month by AmerenIP at the Salem Baptist Church, where company officials talked informally about their plans to excavate and clean up the old coal gas site, possibly as soon as next year.

He said AmerenIP officials have agreed to test his house and basement for contaminants the next time water infiltrates his basement.

Pelmore said he was unaware of the history of the former coal gasification site, which operated at least from 1887 until the early 1950s, until a citizens' group started publicizing the issue a couple of months ago.

That group is now calling its efforts the Fifth and Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign. It's a coalition of two local community action organizations, the CU Citizens for Peace & Justice and the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, as well as neighborhood residents.

Coalition members held a neighborhood meeting Jan. 19 at the Douglass Center, drawing an overflow crowd. Aaron Ammons, an Urbana resident who helped found CU Citizens for Peace & Justice, told the audience that their efforts have already begun to pay off, with Ameren's promise to try to begin a cleanup by next year.

"What we're doing right now is making people aware," he said. "Why does it take 20 years to get something done? Because there's no public outcry."

Ammons said the coalition now needs to put together a proposal asking Ameren to address environmental, medical and possibly relocation issues for the neighborhood.

The coalition includes several students from an advanced urban planning class at the University of Illinois, who helped start the movement last spring by asking the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for copies of documents about the site through a Freedom of Information Act request.

One of those students, UI grad student Chuck Allen, said the documents they eventually received last September showed that several contaminants had migrated from the site into the surrounding neighborhood to the north, west and the east.

The contaminants found on the site include volatile organic compounds such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes; and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon compounds, a class of chemicals found in coal tars.

"We found the contamination had migrated under the roadbed along Fifth Street, that it had migrated under the railroad tracks to the north ... and that it had also migrated under the foundation of a house at Fifth and Hill streets," Allen said. That information was found in contour maps provided in the FOIA response, he said.

A new site investigation report done by a consultant for Ameren shows that most of the soil samples taken at the old coal gas site are contaminated with benzene or its derivatives, as were three perimeter monitoring wells, including one at the corner of Fifth and Hill streets.

Allen describes benzene as "dangerous stuff," and he says he's worried about its effect on residents who have lived near the site for decades.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Human Services, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, describes benzene as a colorless liquid that is highly flammable and evaporates into the air very quickly. The department classifies benzene as a known carcinogen.

The agency said the major effect from long-term exposure to benzene is on the blood, stating it causes harmful effects to bone marrow and can lead to anemia. Long-term exposure to benzene in the air can cause leukemia.

Federal agencies strictly limit how much benzene can be in public drinking water and workplace air.

Ameren officials say the site poses "no immediate health threat to the public" because human exposure to benzene and other chemicals is limited. Local drinking water comes from deep wells at least 1 mile away from the site, and the site itself is fenced off to the public.

Health concerns are what brought Claudia Lennhoff, executive director of the health care consumers group, into the coalition in December, with the approval of her board of directors.

"People need real information," she said.

The goal of the coalition is to help the neighborhood fight for a thorough cleanup – not only of the site but also of any neighborhood properties where contaminants have migrated, Lennhoff said.

Other key goals:

– Determine long-term exposure. Allen and Lennhoff said they're concerned about four cancer cases the coalition found among residents who live or have lived near the site, including two cases or multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. One of the multiple myeloma victims has died, Allen said. They also say the coalition has discovered a number of women who live near the site who have gynecological health issues.

– A transparent process. Coalition members want regular updates about progress on cleaning up the site. They say, until recently, that hasn't been happening.

Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said Ameren took over Illinois Power in 2004 and, since then, has "communicated with property owners as appropriate."

"When there is more information to share, we communicate," he said. "Lately, there's been a lot of information to share."

Ameren is not just focusing on the Champaign site, Morris noted, with a cleanup of a Pana coal gas site set to begin Feb. 13 and a cleanup of a Jacksonville site later this spring. The state's voluntary site remediation program for coal gas sites is a demanding, multiyear process that takes time, he said.

A key issue in coming months will be finding out the extent of off-site contamination and determining how it will be cleaned up. Brian Martin, a consulting environmental scientist with Ameren, said Ameren will clean up any off-site contaminants that can be traced to the site. He added that he believes the farthest contaminants have traveled off-site is 150 feet.

"If it's our contamination off-site, it's going to be our responsibility to address it," he said. "We'll be in touch with (property owners)."

Champaign City Council member Gina Jackson, whose District 1 includes the Hill and Fifth Street site, says she isn't supportive of the local coalition's efforts, accusing its leaders of "accentuating the negative in the community."

"What I really have a problem with are groups and coalitions coming in and not sitting down with people in the community and elected officials who have been working on this all along," she said. "The site is contained ... and it will be fixed next year."

"If I thought there was any danger to residents, I would be the first one screaming loud and hard."

26) Danville native returning to area to share gospel songs

Sat, 01/19/2008 - 10:33am | Pat Phillips
DANVILLE – As a youngster, Danville native Bryan Wilson made his recording debut in 1994 with the Mississippi Children's Choir singing "His Eye is on the Sparrow."

His high notes as a 12-year-old won him gospel music Dove and Stellar award nominations as well as two solo CDs and tours with other gospel artists, but a voice change and timeout to concentrate on his education left his career on the back burner.

And now that Wilson has a degree in religion and philosophy from Claflin University and is working on a master's of divinity from Princeton University, his recording career is on the front burner. He has new management, has started his own production company with partner Bill Carpenter and has begun a promotional tour for his new CD that includes interviews, radio shows, TV and concerts across the nation.

"We started our own company because of the way the recording industry is going today," said Carpenter, who was working with CeCe Winans when he and Wilson met. "They are cutting jobs, losing money to downloading and bootlegging. You've got to go out and promote yourself or it doesn't get done."

Carpenter knows from experience that if Wilson can get an even moderately successful catalog of songs he's written and either recorded himself or had other singers record, he will have a secure income, which allows him to continue to write and expand his career.

Wilson's "A Second Coming" CD hit the store shelves Jan. 15 and Wilson will return to Danville to share its songs during the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Day events.

"I'm very fired up about this CD," Wilson said from Atlanta, where his promo tour kicked off. "It's my reintroduction to the gospel music scene, my second coming into the business."

This CD has a number of firsts for Wilson.

"It's my first time producing. I'm kind of nervous about that, but I've had help from my family and friends and that made the process much easier."

When songs didn't come his way for the CD, Wilson wrote his own songs for the first time.

"I can play a little piano," he said, "but truthfully, I sang into a karaoke machine, taped it, hummed the melody and said the words, played a little vocal box drums and sent it off to Kris (Doc Sizzle) Bell. He put the songs that I wanted together. He was an unbelievable asset."

Bell is a producer and a childhood friend who has worked with a number of gospel artists, including John P. Kee, a Christian Music Hall of Famer.

"It's the first time I've recorded with my mother," Wilson added. "She sang backup and so did my brother Aaron."

"He and I used to sing all the time. The bathroom was our studio. We used to fight over the mirror for who was going to be on TV," Wilson said, laughing.

Though Wilson released "Bryan's Songs" in 1996 and "Growing Up" in 1999 under the Malaco record label, this is the first promotional tour for the 26-year-old.

"It's going good, but it is very tiring," Wilson said.

He performed in concert on Monday night and got to bed around 3 a.m. Tuesday morning only to have to be up at 5:30 a.m. to do an 8 a.m. morning show.

"I'm telling you, that pillow was holding me down," he said.

"My life would make a great reality show right now."

That possibility isn't such a stretch as Wilson will record a live CD with musicians from Danville and Champaign-Urbana who played on "Second Coming." The concert is set for the Salem Baptist Church, 500 E. Park St., C, on Monday evening. The live recording will be released with an accompanying DVD.

"Plus we'll add footage from the promo tour, so it really is my life right now," Wilson said.

Wilson will appear at the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Banquet at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Days Inn, 77 N. Gilbert St., Danville.

Tickets are $20 and reservations are available by calling 431-2280. He will also perform at the MLK service at 11:30 a.m. Monday at St. James United Methodist Church, 504 N. Vermilion St.

"The MLK Mass Choir is one of the places I got my start. It was the largest crowd I sung to back then," Wilson said. "It's awesome to be able to come back where I was born to perform on this special day. Gospel artists used to go on tour like I am now and couldn't stay in the hotels and had to use the back door to places. It's of great significance to me to celebrate the equal rights Dr. King worked for."

Wilson said his friends and family and others from Danville have been nothing but supportive of his efforts.

"It's fitting that I come here to start my career all over again," Wilson said. "The CD is 'Second Coming.' It's not only about my new career, the songs are meant to bring the second coming of Jesus Christ to the audience."

The first single released to gospel radio from "A Second Coming" is "My Soul Boasts in the Lord."

27) Keynote speaker remembers King's achievements

Sat, 01/19/2008 - 10:09am | Mike Monson
CHAMPAIGN – It was nearly 40 years ago, but Joyce E. Tucker vividly remembers how it felt to be a black undergraduate student at the University of Illinois and hear that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated.

Tucker, a 1970 UI graduate, was the keynote speaker Friday afternoon at the seventh annual countywide celebration honoring King, held at Champaign's Hilton Garden Inn.

Tucker, an attorney, is vice president of global diversity and employee rights for the Boeing Co. From 1990 to 1996, she served on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But she was just a coed, one of about 300 black students attending the UI, when she received an urgent telephone call from her grandmother on April 4, 1968.

"I picked up the phone, and she was crying," Tucker told the audience. "She said, 'He's dead. They killed him.' I knew instantly it was Dr. King because we were always afraid for him."

The news of the assassination in Memphis, Tenn., left her "devastated and afraid," Tucker said.

She said King served as the black community's moral compass and was the one figure who could get blacks and whites to work together "so African Americans could be free."

After learning of King's assassination, Tucker said, the black students on campus almost immediately began marching toward the fraternities, where she said the black students heard chuckles and taunts.

"We heard people say, 'Your King is dead; what are you going to do now?'" she said.

"The hostility was so pervasive we decided the best thing for we black students to do was leave campus," Tucker said. "We made a mass exodus for our homes, most of us to Chicago, because we were afraid and we were devastated."

But Chicago, her home then and now, didn't prove to be a respite, as it was one of 120 American cities that began to burn, as blacks rioted in anger.

"There would be no peace; our King was dead," she said.

Tucker said Americans can celebrate that America in 2008 is much different than the America that King experienced in the 1950s and 1960s, when he was the leading figure in the civil rights movement.

That America had institutionalized discrimination and segregation laws. In many areas of the South, black could not vote and were subject to "separate but equal" use of public facilities like restaurants, theaters, buses and even cemeteries.

"The dead could not be buried together, six feet under the ground," Tucker said.

King succeeded, through his nonviolent protests, to hold up a mirror to what America really was.

"Speaking truth to lies, peace to injustice, was what really made the difference," she said. "America had to be made to feel shame toward itself, to bring it to its knees, and that's what Dr. King did."

Tucker said the fact that hundreds of people, of different races and ethnic backgrounds, came together Friday in Champaign to celebrate King's dream of a society where people are judged, not by their race, but by the content of their character, shows that his dream has taken root.

"It says to me the dream did not die," she said.

Tucker urged the audience to make a personal effort to "eliminate your personal biases" and "not to prejudge people because they look different from you."

The celebration was sponsored by the cities of Champaign and Urbana and the Champaign County Board.


The following winners of various awards were announced at Friday's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Countywide Celebration.

City of Champaign awards

Drum Major Award: David Gillon, senior vice president and Community Reinvestment Act officer for Busey Bank. He specializes in creating and implementing special loan program mortgages that help low- and moderate-income residents buy homes.

Susan Freiburg Award: Restoration Urban Ministries. The Champaign-based organization is a not-for-profit organization that helps the needy and desperate by providing housing and training.

City of Urbana awards

Outstanding Achievement Award: Champaign-Urbana Tenant Union. The not-for-profit organization provides more than 2,000 tenant households with information, housing counseling and advocacy.

Outstanding Achievement Award: Florence Yeri. A Nigerian, Yeri has been living in Champaign-Urbana for the past five years. She is a regular volunteer at the St. Jude Catholic Worker House. Next month, she will return to Nigeria to open a shelter and start a soup kitchen.

Champaign County awards

James R. Burgess Sr. Humanitarian Award: Marilyn Denise Garmon-Starks was given the award posthumously. She died June 22, 2007, at the age of 30. Mrs. Garmon-Starks worked for the Champaign-Urbana Area Project as the delinquency prevention specialist, which included coordinating and monitoring the county's juvenile post-detention and antirecidivism programs.

Doris Hoskins Prestigious Community Service: William A. Sweat. A Rantoul resident, Sweat is an active volunteer helping those in need both through his church and through his membership on the board of the Northern Champaign County Community Service Center.



Community Celebration in Urbana: 5 p.m., Great Hall of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., U.

Martin Luther King Scholarship Banquet: 4 p.m., Days Inn, 77 N. Gilbert St., Danville. Dinner and program. $20 per person with reservations available from the Danville Human Resources Department, 431-2280.


Unity Breakfast: 8:30 a.m., Vineyard Church, 1500 N. Lincoln Ave., U.

Youth Festival: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; for all ages; sponsored by Urbana Rotary Club and Urbana High School Interact in the Illinois Street Residence Hall multipurpose room, 918-1012 W. Illinois St., U. Lunch for participants included.

Danville parade/motorcade: 10 a.m. lineup on Logan Avenue. Groups then proceed south, east on Main Street, north on Vermilion Street, east on Seminary Street and north on Jackson Street. Ends at the St. James United Methodist Church, 504 N. Vermilion St., Danville, where there will be an 11:30 a.m. service.

Champaign Concert with Bryan Wilson: 7 p.m. Salem Baptist Church, 500 E., Park St., C. Admission is free.

28) Couple finds riches untold by serving the less fortunate

Photo by: Robin Scholz

John and Sylvia Ronsvalle have run Empty Tomb for 35 years in Champaign-Urbana.

Sun, 08/19/2007 - 9:07am | Julie Wurth
They met at a campus bar called the Wigwam through a most unusual pickup line: How would you like to change the world in Jesus' name?

Sylvia Slivon was intrigued. The year was 1969. Anti-war protests were the norm, and political change was in the air.

The man who popped the question was graduate student John Ronsvalle, a thoughtful campus rabble-rouser who led the fight for student representation on the University of Illinois senate and board of trustees. He was also a Christian dedicated to fighting poverty locally and around the globe.

Slivon, for her part, was a brilliant English education major, a Christian and civil rights activist who helped organize the first campus blood drive.

They soon joined forces, personally and professionally. After completing their degrees, they married and founded the nonprofit service organization Empty Tomb to marshal church resources for the poor worldwide. And 35 years later, it remains their life's work.

Early on, friends advised them to use politics, not charity, to fight poverty – "when we started, charity was a dirty word" – but at Sylvia's insistence they kept their focus on churches.

They chose the name Empty Tomb to recall Jesus' resurrection and the responsibilities of those who believe in it.

The 14 founding churches came from all corners of Christianity – liberal to conservative, Catholic to mainline Protestant to small evangelical congregations. Some members didn't believe there were poor people in Champaign-Urbana. Many hadn't ventured north of University Avenue. Others simply didn't know where to start. Empty Tomb became the catalyst, supplying clothes, furniture and help to those in need.

"They were very important at a critical moment when Christians in this country were very confused and divided on how you address social ills," said founding board member Milo Kaufmann, a retired UI professor. Empty Tomb provided "a way to get involved."

The Ronsvalles work as a team. Sylvia, 57, describes John, 68, as the "thinker" and herself as the "speaker," though John demurs that she's the only Phi Beta Kappa in the room.

For 17 years their annual reports have documented the declining rates of church giving to anti-poverty and mission programs, and the huge impact even a modest increase would have on childhood deaths worldwide. Their research has won national acclaim.

From the start they chose to live among the people they served. When Empty Tomb opened in 1972 in a donated house on West University Avenue in Urbana, they lived upstairs.

They had an open-door policy and never locked their apartment. One day they came home to find someone carrying out their pots and pans. Then Sylvia noticed a client wearing her high school ring.

"They decided, 'Maybe we can love people and still keep our doors locked,' " Kaufmann said.

They scraped by on food stamps, a $75-a-month stipend and a '56 Ford pickup supplied by Empty Tomb. They each owned two pairs of jeans and a few T-shirts, which they wore everywhere, including weddings.

Their Bible study group would sometimes go to Dairy Queen for a 10-cent cone. The Ronsvalles would always find some excuse to skip it: "Between us we did not have a dime," Sylvia said.

Both had come from middle-class backgrounds, but they weren't subsidized by their parents. Their families were a bit perplexed by their chosen vocations.

John's mother ran a candy-making business in upstate New York that she hoped he would take over someday. John attended Syracuse University and then a year of medical school at the State University of New York before switching to seminary school, feeling a pull to study spiritual matters.

Sylvia was one of four children born to middle-class parents in Oak Park. She had a fairly typical 1950s childhood, going to movies and Marshall Field's Walnut Room with friends.

Once her uncle, who was vice president of Libby Foods, mistakenly assumed Sylvia worked at a cemetery called Empty Tomb.

"I thought that was more respectable, so I let him think that," her father told her.

Though attracted to missionary work, young Sylvia always pictured herself as a novelist, perhaps volunteering at a place like Empty Tomb – not running it.

"This is not how I would have scripted my life," she said.

Thus, when John broached the subject of moving into a public-housing project in 1980, his wife wasn't so sure.

Then one night they had dinner with the Rev. W.H. Donaldson, former pastor of Salem Baptist Church, who helped coordinate Empty Tomb's "family to family" dinners to promote interracial understanding.

A speaker with great presence, Donaldson reminisced about growing up black in the South. He told them how his mom once hid him in a coal bin when a lynch mob was looking for someone to blame after a white person was insulted. He spoke with no bitterness, but his words were stunning.

"It was so clear to me," Sylvia said. "This man whom I respect so much experienced all this and he did not have any choice. As we walked out, I thought, 'I have a choice.' I turned to John and said, 'We have to move to Bradley Park.' "

The couple moved into the housing complex near Fourth and Bradley a month later and lived there until it closed in 1999. Their goal was to "just live," but that was difficult.

Almost immediately, the couple launched a four-year fight to fix sewers that backed up regularly. Their car windows were broken. Sylvia had to shoo away men smoking crack outside her apartment. After one trip to the grocery store, the couple came home to see a man tackled by police on the front lawn.

Still, she said, most problems were caused by people who didn't live there. Their neighbors were "lovely people," many relocated when their property was claimed through eminent domain. They were "just as frightened to live there as we were," she said, something that surprised her despite eight years of working with the poor.

"I realized how prejudiced I was. Everybody wants the same thing mostly: safe, decent places to live."

The Ronsvalles now live next door to Empty Tomb, at 308 E. Church St. They bought the tidy, two-story white house in 1999 after the city moved it there to make way for a Boneyard project. The Ronsvalles took it as a sign from God.

They've already signed it over to Empty Tomb, with the provision that they can live there until they die. They each earn $20,000 a year plus health insurance from the agency.

Empty Tomb has a staff of 16 and a strong core of volunteers, and the Ronsvalles hope it survives long after they're gone. They're excited about a new Mission Match program that raises money for churches hoping to increase mission work. Locally, the desperate poverty they saw in 1970 has eased, though they're helping more people "living on the edge," Sylvia said.

"We'll just keep showing up to work as long as God allows," she said.

29) Cowan a longtime friend and force within UI, Champaign-Urbana

Photo by:

Chris, Larine and Alex Cowan in California.

Sun, 05/03/2009 - 8:00am | Rebecca Mabry
She closes her eyes and thinks back to her childhood.

She's 5, dressed in a little dress, a brown burlap crocus sack on her back.

The sun's beating down as she walks an Arkansas cotton field with her mother and big sister, stuffing handfuls of cotton into the burlap sack. But she's happy. Carefree.

At 12, the mental picture of herself changes. She sees herself chopping cotton, miserable in heat hovering at 110 degrees. She's angry. Determined. She looks toward the heavens and makes a vow.

"Lord, if you help me get out of this cotton field, I will go to college and I will do everything I can to make sure I never return to this life."

Larine Cowan's dark eyes glow recalling the journey that took her away from the rock-hard dirt of Arkansas' cotton country to the oak-lined sidewalks of the University of Illinois.

The country girl from Kensett, Ark., finished college, earned a master's degree and a doctorate and mapped out a trajectory of career moves that earned her a title with 13 words: assistant chancellor and director of the office of the equal opportunity and access.

She retired March 1, and she will be honored at a reception at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Salem Baptist Church, 500 E. Park St., C. Students in the African American Sacred Music Class will perform a concert after the reception. conducted by Willie Summerville will conduct the singers.

Larine Cowan leans back with comfort and joy to recall her early years in Kensett, where she was the second of six girls. Her father worked in a wood mill, as a chauffeur and later had a long career on the railroad. Her mother worked as a domestic in homes for a few years, but mostly raised her girls and cooked and cleaned. She took Larine along to the cotton fields. And Larine picked cucumbers, squash, okra – whatever grew on her grandparents' farm.

Her mother taught her to do housework and cook, but the self-described tomboy preferred helping her father with yard and garden chores.

"I was never afraid of work, hard work, honest work," she said.

Her parents raised their girls to have good Christian principles – and to love learning.

Larine calls herself a daddy's girl, and she still admires him for his persistent optimism and ever-present smiles. He has a gift for liking people, getting along with them with ease and he reaches out to help others. Characteristics, her friends say, she inherited in ample quantities.

But as a teen, she would escape to solitude to contemplate the world and all its trouble. Moody and mopey, she said, she recalls summers when she would sit outside in a kitchen chair propped against the side of the house, reading novels like "Tom Sawyer" and "Moby Dick." She would wonder why things were the way they were, and she would ponder ways she could fix them.

But at school, she played starting guard on the girls' basketball team, which went to the state tournament her senior year. She dated the star of the boys' team. She joined clubs and kept active, and when she graduated she desperately wanted to go to college.

"How are you going to do it?" her parents asked. They would have loved for her to go, but they didn't have the money.

She went to live with an aunt in Omaha and worked in a laundry and dry-cleaning business for about six months.

She returned to Kensett even more determined to get a college degree.

She applied to two colleges, got accepted to both, and settled on Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College at Pine Bluff. With no idea of how she would pay for college, Larine met with a financial-aid officer and told him exactly what a degree meant to her.

He liked her enthusiasm. She left his office with a loan, a grant and a job through the work-study program.

She graduated in 3 1/2 years with a degree in sociology, and then earned a master's degree in social work at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

An aunt, Louise Mitchell, who lived in Champaign, promised: "There's plenty of jobs at the University of Illinois." So in July 1973, she and a sister moved into their aunt's apartment on North Fourth Street. A month later, Larine had a UI job as assistant director of clerical learning.

She looks back and retrieves a mental picture of herself on the day she graduated college. She and a friend are walking in their black gowns and mortarboards to pick up that hard-fought piece of paper. She feels liberated.

"It was a euphoric time for me and my family," she said. "I was the first one in my family to receive a four-year degree. And I knew there were no limits. I could do what I wanted to do and go as high as I wanted to go.

"I also knew I wouldn't ever have to pick or chop cotton or any of that stuff anymore."

Her first UI job paid about $7,000 a year. She rented a "beautiful" efficiency apartment on Edgebrook Drive, a neighborhood of young singles and families. Life couldn't get much better, she thought.

Larine says she always seemed to be growing and evolving, just as the world around her seemed to need a nudge to grow and evolve itself. All of her schooling in Kensett was in segregated, all-black schools until her junior year, when they were integrated – without the aid of police or National Guard soldiers who were needed in Little Rock, 50 miles away.

Her white schoolmates wanted the black children to feel accepted and welcome, but she and the other black girl on the basketball team were treated cruelly at opponents' schools.

In college at AM&N, a mostly black school, she got involved with issues that took her to protests at the governor's office, and she marched in protests and took part in boycotts. After getting her master's she applied for jobs in Little Rock. Her applications mysteriously got lost. It was an awakening.

"I wasn't a radical radical," she said with a laugh. But she did seek a career path that mixed those good qualities she inherited from her father with her teenage concerns about fixing the wrongs of the world – fairness and justice.

"Having been born in an area where there was separatism and segregation, it was more important to me to work with people and to make those changes of inclusion, diversity and of having people accepted for the talents and gifts they bring to the table and not just the color of their skin."

She worked for the city of Champaign as director of community relations, focusing on improving the relationship between the police and community, fair housing and equal employment opportunities. She returned to the UI in positions that assured equal employment hiring opportunities, and she worked with deans, directors and department heads on ways to recruit and retain women and people of color.

"In college we acted like typical university students, boycotting and being loud and angry, but as I matured and grew, I learned that sometimes just sitting down and talking with people – negotiating – is very important.

"And that's how I handled things when I got to the city of Champaign. And that's how I handled things at the university. Getting angry, hitting the table, wasn't my style but I think we got a lot accomplished through conversation and coming to a meeting of the minds."

Friend and colleague Willie Summerville of Champaign has known Larine for more than 30 years. He says she's one of the most loyal people he has known.

"First, she's a good Christian lady," he says. "And I worked for her for at least a year at the university and what everybody says about her – the one thing that all people will say about her – is that she was a fair person.

"Fair with all groups. And she really made a difference in bringing (the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access) to the prominence where it is today. The whole university depended on her office being everybody's advocate – not just minorities. And everybody had a voice."

Another longtime friend, Kathleen Holden, who is the director of the UI's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, describes Larine as a woman with a gift for cutting to the heart of things. "She's just a wonderful friend to have."

And she made a difference in her years at the UI, Holden said.

"Larine has a gift. She doesn't blame. She doesn't put people down. She just tries to help them understand. And people learn better and are more accepting when you don't blame them. And that's what she did in her lovely, gentle way – she helped people understand how hurtful prejudice is."

And as a friend, she's funny, kind and giving, she said.

"Beautiful inside and out," Holden said. "I feel privileged to have her as a friend."

A force to be reckoned with – that's how longtime friend and college Elyne Cole, associate provost for human resources, describes Larine.

"She's been a force within the university," Cole said. "She's been a champion of the people of this community, the university, faculty and staff and students. And in 35 years she never shied away from tough issues or difficult situations.

"Because of that, she's well-respected and appreciated by all walks of life, and our campus is going to miss her presence. And she's a wonderful friend – someone who's willing to help you do whatever you need – to support you and to share with you your joys as well as your troubles."

As her career bloomed, and she became a beautiful woman in her 30s, a few loves led to engagements and promises of marriage. But a wedding didn't happen, and at 38 Larine desperately yearned for children. As a teen she had said she wanted at least 12. As a single woman she decided to settle for one.

Her family expanded to include fraternal twin boys, blessing her with what she describes as the happiest years of her life.

She named them Christopher and Alexander, and they're now 21 and both still at home. Smart, gifted and talented, she says, she is eager to see what directions they choose in life.

"My desire now is to see them successful because I know that they can be," the mother said.

As a busy single mom and career woman she never shirked from being involved in numerous community organizations. To name a few, she became a charter member of Canaan Missionary Baptist Church, and was very active in establishing the Champaign Girls Club and served as president of the board and worked to raise money for the first house for the girls.

She has been active in the Martin Luther King Jr. Advocacy for Justice Committee that has sent more than 200 young people to college. She won community and national awards for service and human rights work. And she remains very active in Canaan Baptist Church.

Her future now looks to be split half-time between Champaign and Kensett, so she can be close to her parents, William and Ola Mae Cowan, who are both in their 80s. And she wants to work on getting healthier.

The picture she sees of herself now is a woman who is tired. She sighs deeply.

"I see myself as someone who wants to relax and take it easy for a while," she said. "Someone who wants to reflect and see what's next. What do I really want to do with the rest of my life?"

Leaving her office at the Swanlund Administration Building, she did pause to think about how far the little country girl had come. But in many ways, it didn't surprise her. She had worked hard all her life.

"I always tried to be true to myself and my beliefs," she said, "and just tried to do a good job and see where things would take me."

30) Variety of activities to honor civil rights leader

Photo by: by Robert K. O''Daniell

Young members of a community choir performed last year at a community celebration in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. The event was held at Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana.

Thu, 01/15/2004 - 2:00pm | Lynda Zimmer
Area plans to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. include speeches, music, prayer and awards.

Universities plan a candlelight march and film festival. And a civic club will sponsor a daylong seminar, in King's honor, that includes ideas for conflict resolution.

All planned events are free and open to the public.

King would have been 75 today if not for his 1968 assassination.

The official observance of his birthday and civil rights dreams is the third Monday of January, Jan. 19 this year, with federal offices and some schools closed.

Commemorations are scheduled Friday through Jan. 23.

A Community Celebration and Scholarship Awards Program is planned at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Krannert Center, 500 S. Goodwin, U. The theme is "Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On, Not a Day Off!"

The Rev. Claude Shelby Sr., pastor of Salem Baptist Church, Champaign, and president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Justice for Advocacy Committee, will give the call to celebration. The Rev. Glenn Trost, pastor of St. Peter's United Church of Christ, Champaign, and vice president of the committee, will give the invocation.

Former Miss America, Erika Harold of Urbana, will speak. An ecumenical, interracial mass Gospel choir made up of community members will sing.

Larine Cowan, assistant chancellor and director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access at the University of Illinois, will give a call to commitment. The Rev. Steve Shoemaker, director of the University YMCA, Champaign, will lead a thanksgiving prayer.

The nonprofit King advocacy committee will award 16 scholarships. Committee members represent the University of Illinois, Parkland College, local governments and churches and Sinai Temple, Champaign.

Academic awards go to Jeremy Gipson, Christopher Kerns, Antione King, Shaquala Martin and Xuan Wang, all of Urbana High School; Samuel Howard Jr., Phoebe Mbuvi, Christopher Rhodes-Wilson, Muhammed Savage and Kimera Seward-Coburn, all of Champaign Central High School.

Vocational scholarships will be given to Shantel Pettigrew, Joseek Reed and Keshia Reilly, all of Urbana High School.

Teacher scholarships go to students who promise to return to the area to teach. Current winners are Jamel Jenkins, a student at Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, who plans to teach at an Urbana school; Jacquelyne Kalipen, a student at the University of Illinois, who plans to teach at a Champaign school; and Isaac Bobo, a student at Urbana High School.

Each recipient gets $1,000 and the UI adds more benefits for students who enroll at its campuses. Currently there are 49 scholarships in use.

Other events planned to honor King include:

– Champaign County commemoration "In Search of a Dream" at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Convention Center, 1001 Killarney, U; 4 p.m. Friday; with talk by U.S. Senate candidate and current state Sen. Barack Obama, D-Chicago, and community awards co-sponsored by Champaign, Urbana and Champaign County.

– Prayer breakfast at Vineyard Christian Fellowship, 1500 N. Lincoln Ave., U; 8:30 a.m. Monday with talk by Clyde Mize of Atlanta, Ga., a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law and a former King scholarship winner.

– Workshop with study circles and conflict resolution for any interested high school students, sponsored by Urbana Rotary Club; Illinois Street Residence Hall, 1012 W. Illinois St., U; 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday; lunch included; Arthur Culver, superintendent of the Champaign School District, and Del Ryan, principal of Mahomet-Seymour High School, as speakers; music by Urbana High School Choir.

– Danville motorcade (Logan to Vermilion to Seminary, to Jackson, to Vermilion), 10:30 a.m. Monday start; followed by program at St. James United Methodist Church, 504 N. Vermilion, Danville.

– Dinner and movie "Nat Turner"; Florida Avenue Residence Hall multipurpose room, College Court, U; 4 p.m. Monday; talk by film director Charles Burnett.

– Film festival "NightJohn" film; Beverly Cinema Art Theatre, 910 Meijer Ave., C; 7 p.m. Monday; talk by director Burnett.

– Candlelight march across campus of Eastern Illinois University, Charleston; starting at Thomas Hall, 2120 Seventh St., and ending at the Grand Ballroom in the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union; gathering at 6:30 p.m. Monday for 7 p.m. march; program celebrating King's life; Grand Ballroom; 7:30 p.m. Monday.

– Lecture on "The Affirmative Action Battle: New Directions for the Civil Rights Movement" by Christopher Edley Jr., founding co-director of The Harvard Civil Rights Project; Smith Hall Auditorium, 805 S. Mathews, U; 4 p.m. Tuesday; followed by a reception.

– Film festival "La Cuidad" film; 112 Gregory Hall, 810 S. Wright St., U; 7 p.m. Tuesday.

– Film festival "Free David Wong & Race – The Power of an Illusion" film; 112 Gregory Hall; 7 p.m. Wednesday.

– Film festival "The Intruder" film; 112 Gregory Hall; 7 p.m. Jan. 22.

– Moving to the Beat of the Drum program with Amira, African percussion music; Native American Drummers; World Percussion Ensemble; middle- and senior high school essay contest awards; and Vinx performance; Krannert Center; 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Jan. 23.

– Film festival "Rabbit Proof Fence" film; 112 Gregory Hall; 7 p.m. Jan. 23.

You can reach Lynda Zimmer at (217) 351-5224 or via e-mail at zimmer@news-gazette.com.

31) Harold welcomed home

Photo by: by Holly Hart

Grace Woods, center, and her daughter Ana Woods meet former Miss America Erika Harold and have her autograph the scrapbook they've made of Harold's clippings from the past year.

Fri, 09/26/2003 - 1:00pm | Melissa Merli
CHAMPAIGN – Coming full circle and receiving a standing ovation from the audience, former Miss America Erika Harold on Thursday evening took the Virginia Theatre stage where she had won her first local pageant.

After thanking those attending the "Strengthen the Spirit" homecoming event in her honor, Harold belted out the hymn, "To God Give the Glory," setting the tone for her short and rapidly delivered speech.

"Growing up I never imagined I would be Miss America," said the Urbana native, who recently passed her crown to Miss Florida, Ericka Dunlap. "I faced challenges in my life, and all of you know about that. But out of the ashes came my rise, kind of like the phoenix, and I was able to rise not on my own power but the power of my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ."

The 23-year-old spoke of her time as Miss America, giving few details and mainly putting the year into the context of helping others, primarily young people. She said that as Miss America, she worked with the Children's Miracle Network, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for 170 children's hospitals throughout North America.

On behalf of the organization, she accompanied a group of children, many facing multiple medical problems, to the White House. The children, she said, had mistakenly been told that they would meet President Bush. Their visit happened on the same day he declared war on Iraq.

When a 10-year-old boy in the group was told the president couldn't see him, he said, "Why not? I'm here," Harold related. She told him that the president was too busy that day, and the boy suggested that they drop by his Oval Office.

"He was a World War II history buff, and he was very afraid that President Bush was going to declare war without hearing his insights on military strategies."

Miss America 2003 said that when she felt down, she took consolation from the children, who lived with dignity each and every day.

"You have to believe in yourself on your own terms and not on the way people choose to perceive you," she said.

She said she learned, after being thrust on a national stage, how to deal with criticism and the negative things that people said about her. She said she decided to continue to stand up for the things she believed in and quoted Gandhi: "You must be part of the change that you wish to see in the world."

She encouraged people to decide what the most important thing was in their life. It shouldn't be a material thing but instead a value, something like working with children or young people or visiting nursing homes, she said.

"Get involved in something larger than yourself, then you realize that your problems are not that big. When I encourage people, I let them know that it doesn't matter what happened in their lives or what mistakes they made in their lives.

"It's not about the crown. It's not about the scholarship money. It's not about somebody giving you a title," she said. Instead, the opportunities that came with being Miss America, she said, allowed her to leave a legacy of significance. She urged others to do likewise.

She said that while growing up she never felt lovable, but that community members supported and encouraged her, particularly the congregations of Salem Baptist Church and the Urbana Assembly of God. She attends both.

She said the encouragement she received from them and the community, including during her time as Miss America, meant a lot. "On behalf of my family, I want to thank you as well for supporting them and not only me."

Her parents, Bob and Donna Tanner Harold, sat in the center of the third row, after greeting people outside the Virginia before the event. Also present was Harold's younger sister, Alexandra "Alli" Harold, a recent Eastern Illinois University graduate who competed in the most recent Miss Illinois pageant. She is now working as a writer and producer at WCIA Channel 3 Television.

Erika Harold's speech was preceded by a screening of family photographs, beginning with one when she was a baby and closing with a shot of her at the Miss America pageant last week. At the end of her speech, she thanked Stevie Jay Khachaturian, general manager of WDWS NewsTalk and WHMS Lite Rock radio stations, who had interviewed her monthly while she traveled the country speaking out on her themes of youth violence prevention and abstinence.

She gave Khachaturian a plaque that read "Thank you for making this a wonderful year. Welcome to the family." Receiving the gift, Khachaturian apologized for not helping the Harold family move recently to another house in their neighborhood.

"Every family has to have a black sheep," Harold quipped.

Harold will greet community members again from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at the Stone Creek Golf Club off Windsor Road in east Urbana. At that reception, which is free and open to the public, people may pose for photographs with her and present her with items to autograph.

After that, Harold, who will be based in Urbana, will tour the country to continue speaking on youth violence prevention and abstinence. Next fall, she will begin attending Harvard Law School. She plans a career in public policy and constitutional law and hopes to become president of the United States some day.

32) Friends remember 15-year-old slain in scuffle

Fri, 10/16/2009 - 5:19pm | Paul Wood
CHAMPAIGN — Friends at the funeral for 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington remembered him Friday as a computer and basketball fan who was always ready to help.

Mr. Carrington, who was fatally shot in a scuffle with Champaign police a week ago, was also remembered for his favorite phrase, “Straight up!”

Pastors speaking at Salem Baptist Church, 500 E. Park St., C, also called for being slow to anger in the controversial situaiton.

33) Building up community from within

Sun, 03/23/2003 - 2:00pm | J. Philip Bloomer
CHAMPAIGN - James "Ervin" Allen is 69, blind and crippled. He lives in a little, three-room rented bungalow on Garwood Street. It's a simple house with simple furniture, a well-worn brown couch and a kitchen chair with a broken leg leveled by a brick.

At his age and in his condition, he doesn't take to change easily. But there's a change coming next month he's happy to accommodate.

Allen is moving to a new house, the first house he has ever owned.

"I'm very proud of it. I'm in love with it," he said. "I've bought me some furniture. It's just like new. Now I need to go down to Sears and get me a coupla legs and a coupla eyes, and I'll be OK."

His new house is right around the corner and down the street on Roper and Bellefontaine, in the Bristol Place neighborhood that includes some of the worst conditions in Champaign-Urbana.

That's why the Metanoia Center has de-cided to station itself here, on Clock Street, and why it de-cided to pool the resources available to it and build a new house on an empty lot for Allen.

Metanoia Center is a faith-based organization that established itself in Bristol Place two years ago, mainly because that's where its backers saw the greatest needs, and the needs have only grown more acute, they say.

One of those backers is the Rev. Eugene Barnes, who along with the Central Illinois Organizing Project, has been instrumental in persuading large banking interests such as National City, Bank One and Union Planters to begin reinvesting in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods under the provisions of the Community Reinvestment Act.

For Barnes and Metanoia, the effort is larger than getting decent owner-occupied housing built in a neglected neighborhood.

"This is an area no one seemed to want to be involved in," Barnes said. "There's open drug dealing, prostitution, gambling, threatening behavior. You see the older residents come out in the morning, but by afternoon, everybody's back in, and that's where they stay. It's tantamount to terrorism by default."

A mini-social services center, Metanoia offers after-school help to children and locates rides, meals and health care for the needy in the neighborhood.

The center has conducted neighborhood walks at night, joined forces with the Apostolic Faith Church on Bellefontaine Street, organized cleanup days and lobbied city hall to change the one-way streets they say act as a maze that contributes to a sense of enclosure.

They aren't very happy with the lack of response they say they've received from the city.

For a clean-up day last July, Metanoia went to its own expense to rent a Dumpster, though the city provides them in other neighborhood clean-ups.

Metanoia delivered signatures of 96 people who wanted one-way streets changed back to two-way, but the proposal was rejected.

City officials applaud the work of the Metanoia Center, and while they haven't gotten together on a couple of projects, there is support, said Neighborhood Services Director Dorothy David.

The city provided three lots to the center to build homes on in the neighborhood, plus $84,040 in federal Community Development funds for down payments. Allen is the first person to qualify, and his is the first house built, with two more to follow. Meta-noia is in the process of trying to pre-qualify several people for the other homes now.

National City is providing the financing.

David said the city continues to work with the center to get Bristol Place registered as a neighborhood organization, which would allow it small grant funding from the city and city sponsorship in such things as cleanup events. To become a registered neighborhood organization, the city requires that at least 50 percent of the signatures on petitions be from residents.

Petitions circulated in the neighborhood drew 96 signatures, but David said most of those who signed did not live in the neighborhood.

"We put a high amount of emphasis on actual residents being part of this effort. The key for success is neighborhood participation," David said.

Conversion of the one-way streets back to two-way also is a battle that likely won't go the way Metanoia wants, at least in the near future.

The streets were converted to one-way in early 1998, partly as a way to make the neighborhood less accessible for quick drug transactions. Police were recording drug sales every two to three minutes. Two-way streets made it easier for buyers and sellers to get in and out, and harder for police to detain suspects and investigate street-level transactions, according to the police department.

In late 1998, the city demolished the so-called Green Apartments, a primary site for criminal activity.

The demolition and the one-way traffic pattern contributed to a significant drop in calls for service, according to police statistics.

In 1997, there were 749 calls for service in the neighborhood, including 100 felonies and 148 misdemeanors; in 1998, after changes in the traffic pattern, police responded to 347 calls for services, including 42 felonies and 95 misdemeanors. In 2002, police responded to 746 calls, with 44 felonies and 84 misdemeanors.

"Given the current condition of the neighborhood, staff fears that a return to the old traffic pattern could increase street-level drug sales and again restrict the police department's ability to monitor criminal activities," according to a Jan. 31 memo from Police Chief Jim Luecking.

Despite the disagreements, David said the city is pleased with what Metanoia is attempting to accomplish.

"They represent a tremendous positive," David said.

Barnes said that while the city can be a force for good and has been, the impetus for change must come from within.

"It's not a city hall problem. It's everybody's problem," Barnes said. "There's an apathy here born of neglect. And once apathy sets in, residents become inured to the notion things might change.

"When you see moms running to pick up their kids from the bus in the middle of the day, you know things are not right. We will make it right."

The Bristol Place neighborhood is bordered by Market Street, Roper Street, Chestnut Street and the Illinois Central tracks, and Bradley Avenue. There are 77 homes within that area; 71 are occupied. Twenty-six are owner-occupied, and the rest are rentals, according to the Neighborhood Services Department.

In the most recent city solicitation for people to apply for home improvement grants, only two people from that neighborhood responded, David said. One didn't qualify because the needs of the house exceeded the $25,000 spending limit. Another application is in the process.

Patricia Martin, a resident and organizer of the center, said she has found that people don't respond, are mistrustful or don't know how to respond without spending time and face-to-face contact with them.

Martin has done much of the legwork in establishing contact with neighbors, running after-school programs and acting as an intermediary between residents and social services.

"I had to first convince them I wasn't trying to get anything out of them," she said.

Besides the houses, success has come in getting five women off the street and into drug treatment, in signing up 26 children for after-school programs and in getting 28 houses signed up for a beautification contest.

"We're trying to get the kids to help with painting, picking up trash, fixing gates, mowing, planting flowers, little things that make a big difference," she said.

One of Metanoia's biggest allies has been Roger Huddleston, owner of Roger Huddleston Manufactured Homes, and the Mahomet man who may be best known for his advocacy for Chief Illiniwek.

He is also a successful businessman whom Barnes credits with providing financial advice, money and spiritual support for the Metanoia endeavor.

Huddleston, in turn, calls Barnes "the practical radical."

"We meet a lot of people who are do-gooders interested in building up mainly themselves or their agencies. Not Rev. Barnes," Huddleston said. - "He doesn't have an office in Huntington Towers. He's right there in the neighborhood, and he recognizes that change doesn't come from bricks and mortar but from building up the people. Everything he does is about the client, the neighborhood, never about himself. And that's what drew me to him."

Group partners with banks to aid low-income area

CHAMPAIGN - The Metanoia Center, at 1313 N. Clock St., is a faith-based initiative that began in Champaign two years ago.

It is part of the Bloomington-based Central Illinois Organizing Project, a network of 26 faith-based organizations, churches and labor groups from Danville, Bloomington, Decatur, Springfield and Peoria.

Participation in the public interest watchdog group has played a critical part in allowing Metanoia to put its ideas into practice.

Don Carlson, executive director for the Central Illinois Organizing Project, said the organization's evaluations of lending data from federal regulators and the force of the Community Reinvestment Act have led to a slow but steady recognition of the needs in overlooked segments of nearby cities.

As a result of the project's work, National City Bank and Union Planters Bank have made new commitments to working and lending in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods in the central Illinois cities. The organizing project also supported the federal government's lawsuit against City Financial and its subsidiaries for predatory lending practices that resulted in a $250 million settlement that will be paid out to borrowers throughout the country.

The project's longest relationship is with National City, formerly First of America. When negotiations first began with First of America more than five years ago, Carlson said that bank's loans to low- and moderate-income neighborhoods were in the range of 12 percent to 15 percent of total loans made.

An agreement was negotiated with National City to bring that percentage up to 30 percent. In recent years, it has been more like 50 percent, Carlson said.

National City has also formed the National City Community Development Corp. geared to service in lower-income neighborhoods. A member of that corporate board is the Rev. Robert Freeman, who is also president of the Central Illinois Organizing Project board and the pastor of First United Methodist of Rantoul. One result of that is the establishment of a branch bank on Springfield's east side.

National City has also made more than a half-million dollars in charitable contributions to grass-roots organizations, including Metanoia. National City is providing the financing for the three houses in Bristol Place.

National City and Union Planters have joined the Fannie Mae Anti-Predatory Lending Pilot Project, a federally chartered initiative that assists the project with a pool of capital that can be drawn down on to refinance high-interest predatory loans.

The organizing project, in probably its best-publicized undertaking and as a result of negotiations that lasted 11 months, recently won a memo of understanding from Union Planters Bank to commit $10 million per year in loans to central Illinois poorer neighborhoods, plus the hiring of a loan specialist whose primary duty is to generate applicants from those neighborhoods. A range of other commitments, checks and balances also was negotiated.

"Collectively, we're able to influence these institutions. Union Planters might be able to ignore Metanoia, but not an organization that can put 100 people in their lobby in Decatur," which is their Illinois headquarters, Carlson said.

"The real change, though, is bringing increased awareness to the banks that there are whole segments of these communities that need decent homes and that there are many nontraditional borrowers who are just as good homeowners as stereotypical middle and upper-class homeowners."

Participating with Carlson and Barnes in the Union Planters negotiations were the Rev. Claude Shelby of Salem Baptist Church and the Rev. Charles Jackson of Bethel AME Church, both in Champaign, and Freeman.

Tom Woodbery, spokesman for Memphis-based Union Planters, said in a recent interview, "We're sensitive to what they're sensitive to, which is being good corporate citizens and making lending decisions regardless of race or income. I think we have mutual interests. We're not looking at this as a confrontational situation."

Carlson said the process has been lengthy and requires extensive analysis of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data, trips to Washington, D.C., collaboration with federal regulators and negotiations with banks. But it has been worth it, he said.

"There's money that's getting out there on the street now," Carlson said. "The success you see with Mr. Allen is just the beginning.

Phil Bloomer is a . He can be reached at 351-5371 or via e-mail at bloomer@news-gazette.com.

34) Two contested races for Urbana school board

Thu, 03/27/2003 - 2:00pm | Anne Cook
URBANA - In Urbana, where school board representatives run in wards, not at large, current board President Tina Gunsalus and challenger Cope Cumpston are waging battle right down to the wire.

In a second contested race, incumbent Ruth Ann Fisher is challenged by newcomer Zernial Bogan, a mechanic and minister who has faced information about a felony conviction in his past squarely, saying "it's all about learning."

Because voters decided in 1998 to divide the school board into wards or "subdistricts," all other seats are open in this election too. Incumbents John Dimit, Mark Netter, Steve Summers and Joyce Hudson are running unopposed in their districts. Newcomer Carol George is the only candidate on the ballot for the seat to be vacated by Laura Haber, who did not choose to run for re-election.

But in the wake of questions about George's residency qualifications, Urbana residents Alan Douglas and Jerry Moreland have filed as write-in candidates in that area, District 2.

Gunsalus and Cumpston are running in District 4. Bogan and Fisher and are running in District 3. The election is on Tuesday.

Tina Gunsalus

Gunsalus, a University of Illinois attorney and associate dean, said in spite of the fact that the board has been forced to focus on an overload of bad financial news for the past two years, board members can also report good news about district programs, personnel, students and all their accomplishments.

"This is a district with a very child-centered focus," she said. "We're moving together in a bottom-up way toward higher expectations, achievements, standards and better accountability. "

She said stable leadership, including that of 11-year Superintendent Gene Amberg, means change has occurred without "turmoil and turbulence."

Gunsalus, who has served on the board since 1991, is proud of the district's diversity leadership and its quick response to equity problems when they surfaced.

"The Office of Civil Rights came in the late '90s, and representatives had five issues," she said. "Three were resolved right away. We were monitored for two issues, minorities overidentified in special education and underidentified in gifted education and minorities."

Gunsalus said the district quickly retrained employees, adopted a national model for identification, held programs about placement and the OCR endorsed those efforts.

Urbana's effort to help fund the education of qualified minority employees who want to advance has also paid off, Gunsalus said. She said about 13 staff members have received tuition assistance in that district program.

Gunsalus said today about 21.3 percent of the teachers and support staff represents minorities, up from 15.7 percent six years ago. About 34 percent of the schools' support staff members are minorities, about 13 percent of the district's teachers are from minority populations and about 20 percent of the central office administrators represent minorities.

A mentoring program that starts at Urbana Middle School also pairs youngsters with an interest in education with adult staff members who follow them for years, even when they're at college.

"We hope they'll come back to Urbana to teach," Gunsalus said.

Gunsalus said even though money is tight, the district has continued its commitment to keeping full-time librarians in each of the district's schools.

Gunsalus, her husband and her children all attended Urbana schools, and she and her husband have volunteered there since 1985.

"We're trying to make things better for all children," she said. "I know what teachers want and what children face. They've done so much for me, and this is a way to give back."

"When I started on the board, we had false starts," Gunsalus said. "We've made dramatic changes in secondary disciplinary approaches and other practices."

"This is a two-year term, and finances will dominate the issues we face," she said. "Teachers' negotiations start April 2. Experience and knowledge are going to make a difference the next two years."

Other district strengths listed by Gunsalus and other incumbents, strengths developed long term, short term, and in the face of deteriorating finances include:

- An award-winning arts program.

- A summer academy for youngsters with very low test scores who live within the district and outside it that can bring them up to their grade level.

- Facilities kept upgraded with "creative" funding approaches, including Urbana Middle School and Leal School renovations and planned expansion of King School with funds secured by then-state Rep. Tom Berns - funds now stalled by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

- The new Aquatic Center at Urbana Middle School. "We worked with the Urbana Park District and the English Fund to make it happen," said Joyce Hudson, who represents rural Urbana on the board and is running unopposed. "We were all creative at the table."

Cope Cumpston

Cumpston, Gunsalus' challenger, takes issue with the district's progress. Her daughter attends school in the district, and Cumpston is a UI Press art director.

"Equity's how I got involved," she said. "I don't think it's a high enough priority. Yes, there's a steering committee, but the things they recommend are not high on the list. You build a pool first."

Cumpston was very involved in promoting the successful 1998 referendum proposing to zone Urbana school board elections to encourage greater diversity on the board, and that activity led her to work with Urbana's Human Relations Commission.

"I got involved with the election issue because there was no representative from the African-American community on the board in a district that's one-third African-American," she said. "Now we have two candidates representing that community."

Cumpston said the changes at King School have alienated the community and so have district plans for long-range changes at the middle school, high school and Leal School.

"The issue is communication with the community about campus development," she said. "The community doesn't feel adequately consulted. Some people feel the district is targeting their property."

She said one woman asked the district about expansion plans before she bought her house, but when the board presented a long-range campus plan recently, the woman saw her property on the blueprint.

The plan presented by district employees at a board meeting this month described long-range campus proposals for possible actions as far in the future as 30 years.

Like current board members, she supports efforts to find new sources of funding for schools, including raising tax cap ceilings for schools. Like board incumbents, she believes the education funding system needs reform.

"The most pressing problem in our district is to stabilize the budget and lay the groundwork for future school funding that will allow for quality education for all students," Cumpston said.

Ruth Ann Fisher

Incumbent Ruth Ann Fisher is challenged by Zernial Bogan in the district they share. Fisher, a long-time Urbana resident and Urbana High School graduate who's served on the board four years, said board members are taking equity issues seriously and putting people in place in the schools and in the central office to keep a close eye on district progress.

"We're following students and learning there is progress," Fisher said. "With the high mobility rate in the district, it's hard, and it's going to take time to see results."

She has two children still attending school in the district, and her interest in their education extends to the education of all Urbana children.

"They're getting a good education," Fisher said. "We look at it in a positive light."

"Being on the school board is a 24/7 job. It infiltrates your private life and your work life. You never know when a call will come or how long it will take you to get information to answer a question."

She finds it encouraging - and indicative of the spirit in the district - that everyone from board members to administrators to teachers to support staff members has become involved in addressing budget issues.

"This isn't being addressed by just a handful of people," Fisher said. ""Each and every employee is affected, and they're taking the situation seriously. We've asked for suggestions and continue to ask for suggestions. "

Zernial Bogan

Bogan, who's lived in his district for 13 months, said, like Cumpston, he's not impressed with the current board's action on equity issues.

"They haven't handled it well," he said. "On paper, it looks fine, but they filtered on one side and forgot the other. We have to have steps so everything comes out even.

"We want to make sure all our students get the education they need to be worthwhile producers in our community," Bogan said. "If we fail to teach a student, we not only fail the student, we fail ourselves. We're losing those students, and we're losing others who fail to return to our community."

He said districts have to go beyond federal "no child left behind" initiatives.

"If we don't, we're setting ourselves up for failure," Bogan said.

"My focus is no child forgotten. What about the children on the outskirts? What happens when children come out of reformatories? They're going to strike in the community, propagate drug crime and unemployment. We have to ask what else we can do."

Bogan's felony conviction in 1996 for burglary landed him a five-year sentence in 1997 to the Department of Corrections. He had prior convictions for theft, burglary and possession of a controlled substance.

People with drug convictions are not allowed unaccompanied in schools, and schools may not employ them, but the rules do not disqualify candidates with felony records from serving on school boards.

Bogan has made a major change in life direction. He's now an associate minister at Salem Baptist Church and treasurer of the local Ministerial Alliance.

"Since I've been back in Champaign-Urbana, I've been talking about my conviction because I want children to see there is always hope," he said. "There's always a chance to better yourself.

"It's all about learning lessons," Bogan said.

Eligibility issue surfaces in District 2

URBANA - A candidate for the Urbana school board may not be eligible to serve because she doesn't live at the address she listed on her petition, and her former landlady says she hasn't lived there since last July.

But Carol George's name is on the ballot anyway.

George says she lives in Rantoul but is attempting to buy a home in District 2, where she said she lived when she filed her candidate petition in January.

Meanwhile, this week, two write-in candidates have emerged in the city's northwest district where George is running.

They are Alan Douglas of 817 Fairview Ave., a former state trooper who has a student in Urbana schools, and Jerry Moreland of 703 North Mathews Ave., a parent who has been active in King School issues.

Both are members of the city's African-American community.

George's will be the only name on the ballot, however, for a four-year term as the district's board representative. When she filed for the election, she claimed she lived at 925 Linview Ave., a house that now stands vacant, for sale. George, who has a 13-year-old child at Urbana Middle School, initially said she had a 7-year-old second-grader at Martin Luther King School.

However, George said in a recent interview that her second-grader attends school at Rantoul City Schools, where her mother lives, because the child has developmental difficulties and George said she needs her mother's help.

She said she had planned to buy the Linview home but the mortgage wasn't approved because of "structural difficulties" there.

"Now we're trying to buy a house a block away on Busey," she said. "We're working with a Realtor, living temporarily with my mother at Rantoul. We got word about the mortgage not going through last month, and we've been trying to find a home since then."

However, Rosetta Gordon, owner of the Linview property, said George and her family moved out last summer.

"It's been vacant since the end of July," said Gordon, a Champaign resident. "At the beginning of July, I asked them to move."

She said George's family tried to buy the property but didn't pass the credit check.

George, contacted Wednesday, said what Gordon says about her date of departure from the Linview home and her credit status is "not necessarily so," but she declined to say when her family moved out or respond to the credit question. She said she must consult with advisers, "people who are aware of the situation."

"I don't know enough about the process, and I don't want to put anything out that's not the best thing for me to do," she said.

She said she should have a contract for a house on Busey by Friday. "We're planning to move into the house, but it's all still in progress," George said. She said that includes the credit check.

But George may not be eligible to serve on the school board because qualification rules specify that the candidate must be a resident of the subdistrict for at least a year to be eligible.

Since the deadline to challenge her candidacy and remove her name from the ballot is long past, that's not an easy question to answer.

Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden said after the election, the district could ask State's Attorney John Piland to file a legal petition that seeks to declare George ineligible.

He said that's never happened during his tenure.

Shelden said the rules are clear.

"In a civil case, to prove residency, you have to have a bed there," he said. "The electoral board could have challenged this back in January. An eligible candidate has to live in the district one year prior to his or her first day in office."

Piland was out of the office this week and couldn't be reached to discuss whether he would take action in the matter.

Urbana school board District 3

Zernial Bogan

Age: 50

Address: Has lived at 127 Scottswood Drive for a year and one month. Has lived in Urbana for five years.

Phone: 344-0908

Born in: New York City, came to Champaign-Urbana in 1971.

Occupation: Mechanic and contractor. Associate minister for Salem Baptist Church. Treasurer of the Ministerial Alliance.

Family: Wife, Lorean; one daughter; five stepsons.


1) "The most important issue is the achievement gap. We have to be able to have a cultural workshop for teachers so they understand and accept diversity. If teachers aren't instructed in diversity, they can't connect with children, and that connection is the main thing. Teachers are mentors, parents, friends, disciplinarians. They're there with children five days a week, and they have to make that connection."

2) "The most important improvement we must make is reducing class sizes and increasing teachers. If we don't, we're moving into the black ages. We need a more personal approach in the classroom, but I'm afraid we can't do it with the current taxing structure."

3) "Urbana will say we're taking steps and we have improved achievement; yes, but on what side. You can't show you've taken steps in the minority community. You claim to be making improvements, but we don't see them. We have to make disciplinary action changes. Children on detention aren't getting taught. If they're in the juvenile facility, they're not getting taught. The way we handle these issues when children are in kindergarten will determine how they'll do in fifth and sixth grade."

4) "This is very important. If we want to keep teachers, we have to pay them. Their education wasn't free. We have to negotiate with teachers to pay them an equitable living wage. I think we'll have to find a way. What's most important is the students, but the second most important thing is the teachers. I'd sell property and keep teachers rather than hold onto it and hope the money comes in."

Ruth Ann Fisher

Age: 46

Address: 1214 Lanore Drive

Phone number: 367-9004

Born in: Seattle, moved to Urbana in August 1966.

Occupation: Administrative assistant.

Political experience: Four years on Urbana school board. Trustee for the village of Ellsworth in McLean County.

Family: Gina, 19, EIU sophomore; Robin, 17, Urbana High School senior; Curtis, 14, Urbana High School freshman.


1. How would you represent your district? That is, which issues are most important and what's your position?

Every issue is important in this district and I do not weigh one against the other. I approach each issue with the same interest and dedication.

2. What's the most important improvement Urbana schools can make? How can that be achieved?

I think we've made an honest effort to address issues as they came up and to make improvements as they were needed, and I believe we'll continue to do that. When it comes to educating kids, all improvements are important.

3. What's the most pressing need to achieve racial equity and what would you do to accomplish it?

I will support any and all efforts brought to the board for implementing programs and services which will achieve this.

4. How would you approach upcoming salary negotiations with the Urbana?

With an open mind and the understanding that this district, as it continues to strive to attract and retain the best of the best, is in a current financial crunch and we as a board will make every effort to spend the public's money wisely.

Urbana school board District 4

Cope Cumpston

Age: 51

Address: 402 W. Nevada St.

Phone number: 239-5338

Born in: Pittsfield, Mass., moved to Urbana in 1996.

Occupation: Art director, University of Illinois Press.

Political experience: Chair of Citizens for a Representative School Board, which succeeded in 1998 passage of proposal changing election of Urbana Board of Education from at-large to district system. In second term on Urbana Human Relations Commission (since 1998).

Family: Married to Walter Matherly 20 years. One daughter: Sarah Matherly, age 14, freshman at Urbana High School.


1) How would I represent my district?

First, I would represent my district by opening communication between the board and the community. I would make district business more available to the public and staff, make organized efforts to get community input on issues such as campus development and equity needs, and be more responsive to relations with the city council and the University of Illinois.

What issues are most important? No. 1: funding for the schools. We need to expand a comprehensive evaluation of all sources of funding, and pursue additional ways to make up lost tax revenue, from Urbana and Champaign, and the University of Illinois. We should work more extensively with the University of Illinois and Parkland for all possible sharing of resources, including opportunities for professional development for support staff, and application of current research and utilization of faculty/staff in educational programs. We may need to consider a referendum to raise the ceiling of tax caps for school funding. We need to work with state legislators to work toward reform of school funding across the state. Other important issues: racial equity in the schools (see below), teacher recruitment and retention, school campus expansion.

2 & 3) What's the most important improvement Urbana schools can make? How can that be achieved? What's the most pressing need to achieve racial equity and what would you do to accomplish it?

We need to understand and close the difference in experience of groups of students (including white, African-American, Hispanic, low-income) in the issues of achievement, discipline and family involvement. We need to address the needs of all students in both the climate of our schools for students and parents, analyzing ways to bring up to grade level those who are not achieving, and offering sufficient challenge to those who are achieving at high levels. I would focus on several areas simultaneously: school climate for all students; active outreach and support for families of low-achieving students; training of teachers and staff in current research on dealing with students of varying needs; and seeking ways to individualize attention to different students in classrooms even when class size is larger than optimum.

4) How would you approach upcoming salary negotiations with the Urbana Education Association, especially in light of the district's budget troubles?

The quality of our teachers is the single most important element in the schools. We must be able to attract and keep good teachers, and must find ways to do this through competitive salaries and comprehensive benefit programs, including professional development. I would enter the negotiations recognizing what a difficult time this is for teachers and be prepared to consider deficit spending to ensure adequate raises in the short term, as other districts in Illinois are already doing. Long-term, this is of primary importance and will require local and state reform in school funding, and creative negotiations with both the union and other bodies that can contribute to teachers' welfare (including increased professional development opportunities with release time from the district, through Parkland and the UI).

Tina Gunsalus

Age: 45

Address: 511 W. High St.

Phone number: 344-7000

Born in: Urbana.

Occupation: Attorney, University of Illinois, adjunct professor, special counsel, Office of the University Counsel.

Political experience: Urbana school board since 1991; board president eight of those years. Nine-plus years on the Urbana Plan Commission. Served on boards of various community and civic organizations, including Lincoln School Neighbors Association, High and Dry Neighborhood Association, Champaign County Alliance Board of Directors (and several committees, including service as chair of the task force on human resources policies); U.S. Commission on Research Integrity.

Family: Husband Michael W. Walker; daughters Kearney (18), attended Urbana schools; Anna Shea (11) sixth-grader.


Overall: The term of office for subdistrict 4 in this election is two years. Over that period, financial issues are going to be among the most challenging facing Urbana. These include the state funding situation, Urbana's general budget outlook and the upcoming contract negotiations with the Urbana Education Association (teachers and support staff), scheduled to start April 2. I bring extensive experience and knowledge of Urbana's teachers, schools, students, facilities, budget from my 12 years of board service (eight as board president), and almost 20 years of volunteering weekly in the schools.

1. How would you represent your district?

I will best represent my district by continuing to put before all else the interests of the children of Urbana and the quality of public education in this community. Public education is the foundation of democracy: we cannot differentiate among our children in making decisions about how to deploy public resources to improve how we help children grow up to become productive citizens. This means asking about every issue how it affects children.

2. What's the most important improvement Urbana schools can make? How can that be achieved?

Increased parental and family involvement in education is the single most important improvement we can make. We must find and use every successful idea we can, and we must innovate and collaborate to achieve the highest possible level of parental involvement in our schools. We must also continue to attract our community's adults beyond parents to invest in and to work with our children. We have a large and successful mentoring program and we should look for other ways to support and expand it. We must continue to provide the most attractive professional environment we can, so the best teachers and staff want to be in Urbana, working with our children.

3. What's the most pressing need to achieve racial equity and what would you do to accomplish it?

Throughout our school system and our community, we must have the highest possible level of expectation for each and every one of our children, and provide them the tools for achieving at their highest possible level.

4. How would you approach upcoming salary negotiations with the Urbana Education Association, especially in light of the district's budget troubles?

As I have every negotiation since 1991: with respect and knowing that we are partners in education. Our teachers and staff members are professionals who are the ones in the classrooms and schools with our children. They bring important insights and information about how to improve the quality of education in Urbana. We have always used interest-based (win-win) bargaining since I have been on the board; it serves us well. At the same time, the board has a duty to be fiscally responsible and to assure that we as a district live within our means. This will require patience, good communication, trust, experience and mutual respect. The process we have developed over the years where we first agree upon the resources available and then work within that framework has been very constructive and I am pleased that we are continuing it.


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"News-Gazette Clippings on Salem Baptist Church," in eBlack Champaign-Urbana, Item #176, http://eblackcu.net/portal/items/show/176 (accessed June 26, 2022).

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