Racism has proven deadly when allowed to fester in atmospheres born of ignorance and intolerance where hate and fear thrive. The most effective tool in ending racism’s spread is exposure and education.
For the past 12 years, attorney Anita Kontoh Scott and Bernard Winston, two of three original founders of the Black History Month Awareness Club, have employed these tools via a Bolingbrook-based social venue for the purpose of halting the spread of racism.
"It took a long time for people to understand and respect that this is not a tool of division, but a tool of inclusion," Kontoh Scott said. "So many different people, organizations and businesses have stepped up. None of this would be possible without their help."
Locally, the group draws broad support from entities such as the , Jack and Jill of America Incorporated, , Summit Chiropractic, and JM Printers.
The club’s 12th annual community-wide Black History Month Celebration, held Saturday at , reached that goal by promoting diversity and heightened understanding of black heritage in an entertaining format.
"Perceptions of others can be correct and on target, or they can be incorrect and off target," Program Director Raymond Townes said. "A lot of times the perception of African Americans is off target. We try hard to reach out to the community and build a bridge so people can understand the past and move on to the future. What we’re really promoting is change. Change is inevitable. And positive change can only evolve from education, enlightenment and understanding."
Much of the credit for the 2012 program is attributed to the newly minted partnership between the Black History Awareness Club and the West Suburban Chapter of Jack and Jill of America Incorporated, through their Program Director Tarah Townsend.
"Our chapter president Terri Ransom is a resident," Townsend said. "She has attended these events since their inception and has seen them grow. She felt there could be some synergies between our organizations so I attended one of the clubs steering committee meetings. I couldn’t believe they put on such a large event with just four or five people on their steering committee. By the end of the meeting I offered to be on one of the committees."
That partnership resulted in a collaberation geared toward children—melding the objectives of both groups. Overall, Jack and Jill of America strives to provide constructive educational, cultural, civic and recreational social programs for children.
An estimated 600 person crowd, including Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar, was wowed by a series of youth performances featuring the Bolingbrook Dance Force, South Shore Drill Team, Victory Cathedral Children’s Choirs as well as their Step Team and spoken word performers Team Plainfield and Bolingbrook’s Lindsey Miller a scholar, speaker, musician and teen editor.
The programs adult "components" Master of Ceremonies Tom Finch, a marketing consultant, and keynote speaker Superintendent James Mitchem served as examples of African Americans who strive for the pinnacle of excellence in their respective fields of business and education.
Mitchem’s impassioned speech hit its mark as he compared and contrasted personal struggles within the education system to those that still exist today. He brought the crowd to its feet in a burst of applause, sharing the sentiment that he cares about every kid in the district as much as he does his own.
Mitchem posed the question "Why should our effort not be infinite to insure our students learn?"
He then said the institutionalized system of marginalizing students would not be tolerated in Valley View schools.
"I think big … I think globally … We want VVSD on the map because we have taught our students how to succeed," he said.
After a brief intermission, local middle school honor students of all races were summoned to the stage to be recognized for their academic achievement. Honor rolls for sixth, seventh and eighth graders at , and middle schools were also printed in the events program book.
For all who were unable to attend, the program was taped for re-broadcast on Bolingbrook Community Television Channel 6.
For more information about the Black History Awareness Club, call the office of at 630-783-8241.
To learn more, visit the West Suburban Chapter of Jack and Jill of America Incorporated's website.