Teaching Black history better - Legislation promises inclusive curriculum - Illinois Times

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Teaching Black history better - Legislation promises inclusive curriculum - Illinois Times
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FREE February 4-10, 2021 • Vol. 46, No. 29

 Black history
              Legislation promises
              inclusive curriculum
                             10 EDUCATION | Rachel Otwell
Teaching Black history better - Legislation promises inclusive curriculum - Illinois Times
2 |   www.illinoistimes.com   | February 4-10, 2021
Teaching Black history better - Legislation promises inclusive curriculum - Illinois Times
                                                                                                                                                                 People don’t like
Smile, you’re on court cam                                                                                                                                       being trickled on
                                                                                                                                                                 GUESTWORK | Stephen M. Soltys, M.D.
Justice in the 21st century
                                                                                                                                                                 We need to acknowledge the role of
UPON FURTHER REVIEW | Bruce Rushton                                                                                                                              economic inequality in creating an
                                                                                                                                                                 environment where many citizens doubt if
Years ago, I wanted to see the inside of Tamms,                                                             public business with no notice to the public.        our democratic institutions are concerned
the downstate supermax prison that closed in                                                                Xuosong “Gary” Yang, a former UIS recruiter          about their plight.
2013.                                                                                                       who raped a student, entered a guilty plea in            While America has always had
    The Illinois Department of Corrections said                                                             2017 without the hearing being docketed in           problems with elites trying to control
no. But Tamms had its own courtroom, where                                                                  advance, and no one I spoke with afterward,          wealth and resources, there have been
inmates accused of attacking guards were                                                                    including the judge, made any apologies for          efforts to counter this.
prosecuted and those who tore up bedsheets                                                                  this sort of by-invitation-only justice that             Unions formed to keep workers
to hang themselves faced punishment for                                                                     cameras might remedy.                                from being exploited, while legislators
destruction of property. Open courts are                                                                         In December, I saw Chase Brown’s face           developed antitrust laws to keep
sacrosanct, and so I attended a trial inside the                                                            instead of the back of his head as he was            monopolies from conspiring to suppress
lockup, and there was nothing prison officials                                                              sentenced to three years for fraud. At least one     competition and laws to combat racism
could do about it except search my car when                                                                 victim from out of state was present in the          that gave minorities more opportunity to
I arrived and grumble as they pawed through                                                                 virtual courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge       succeed.
McDonald’s wrappers and dirty socks, which                                                                  Richard Mills. There would seem value in that.           Since the economic crisis of 2008,
they put in piles. I thanked them and said I’d                                                              If I’d gotten ripped off for thousands of dollars,   many Americans feel they live in a system
appreciate it if they’d clean up the backseat,                                                              I’d want to see the thief punished without           where the opportunity only belongs to
too.                                                                                                        having to travel hundreds of miles.                  the few.
    While courts are public institutions,                                                                        Mills prefers sentencing crooks in person.          The Economic Policy Institute notes
Illinois, until last spring, had dawdled in                                                                 “Whatever good is there, is diluted by the fact      that since 2009 average annual wage
making courtrooms as accessible as they should                                                              that we’re not eyeball-to-eyeball in a physical      growth for nominal wage jobs has been
be. You still have to fill out too many forms for   objections, he adds.                                    sense,” the judge says. “There is not the aura       less than 4%, and often less than 2%.
permission to turn on a tape recorder. That’s           “I’ll call it the proverbial genie in the bottle,   of the courtroom. And I think that’s very            The annual inflation rate has been about
changed since pandemic hit, and journalists         especially when it comes to traffic court,” says        important, particularly in criminal cases, to        1.74%. So, adjusted for inflation, wages
aren’t the only beneficiaries.                      Wallis, who predicts that courts won’t return to        be able to see the court and the judge who is        have been essentially flat.
    Last week, I sipped coffee while watching       normal when things return to normal.                    passing sentence and imposing the penalty. It            The same is not true for Wall Street.
McHenry County traffic court, Zoom-ified,               Traffic court in Springfield still goes             means so much more to the defendant and to           Corporate income since 2009 has been
from the comfort of my living room. That            down largely in person – three Saturdays in             the public, whoever is there, whether it’s family    higher than for most of the time from
afternoon, I took in a Cook County rocket           March have been reserved for appearances                or spectators. I think it is almost crucial.”        1980 to 2008.
docket, listening as bail was set for folks         postponed due to pandemic. That seems silly                  Fair enough. Just because you can get                In such an environment of economic
accused of peddling drugs, possessing illegal       after watching what’s been done elsewhere.              married via Zoom doesn’t mean it’s a good            inequality, resentment and anger can
weapons and otherwise breaking the law.             Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John                idea. But cameras, welcomed at weddings, and         arise. Opportunistic individuals, both
    It is jolting to watch someone accused of       “Mo” Madonia says that the court here has               in-person court hearings need not be mutually        politicians and leaders of radical groups,
driving without insurance hold a purported          considered livestreaming major trials, but there        exclusive.                                           can then try to focus that anger on
proof-of-insurance card up to a laptop, but         haven’t been any. Circuit Clerk Paul Palazzolo               Cameras bring convenience along with            politically convenient groups, often taking
oh well. That’s not much different than             tells me that he’s keeping an eye on McHenry            transparency. Timothy Eaton, a Chicago lawyer        advantage of existing prejudice.
what happens in person, according to James          County to see how court via Zoom is working             who chairs a state Supreme Court task force              They tell us, “Your economic woes
“Dan” Wallis, trial court administrator in          out.                                                    on court operations during the pandemic, sees        are due to. . . ”: immigrants (legal
Woodstock, where the 22nd Judicial Circuit              We shouldn’t trust the judiciary or circuit         no reason for small-claims litigants to travel to    or otherwise), minorities, liberals,
is headquartered and folks with kids and jobs       clerks or the media to decide what’s worth              courthouses. Jury selection, Eaton says, could       intellectuals or fill in the blank with
and car trouble no longer have to journey to a      watching. If we treasure transparency, we               be done remotely so that would-be jurors             whatever other group to scapegoat.
courthouse to take care of tickets. Lawyers who     should have cameras in courtrooms as a                  could answer questions via laptops or phones         The incendiary speech sprinkled with
resolve matters no longer must appear before        matter of course, particularly in Sangamon              instead of spending hours in waiting rooms           misinformation over the last four years
a judge to finalize orders to which there are no    County, where judges sometimes conduct                  watching bad TV, and that might reduce the           by the White House stirred resentment
                                                                                                            number of folks who duck jury duty. In Lake          in many.
                                                                                                            County, he says, civil bench trials are being            Add the impact of COVID-19
  Editor’s note                                                                                             conducted remotely.                                  shutdowns where workers and small-
                                                                                                                                                                 business people (those workers who took
                                                                                                                 “Everything we can do to keep people from
  Ask bureaucrats why they’re so slow getting seniors vaccinated and they’ll tell you we                    having to go to the courthouse is encouraged,”       the chance to be local entrepreneurs) have
                                                                                                            Eaton says. Like Wallis, he predicts some            seen their wages and savings evaporate,
  don’t know how to use computers, or get on the internet, or check multiple websites.
                                                                                                            changes will become permanent.                       and you had a potential powder keg.
  They’ll say older folks are more familiar with telephones, bless their hearts, but there                                                                           All it took to ignite it was the lie that
                                                                                                                 “It was going to happen eventually, Eaton
  are already several people answering phones and adding more would be expensive. The                                                                            the election was stolen (in the absence of
                                                                                                            says. “Now, we’ve seen it happen. We’ve seen it
  message, for those of us geezers who manage to figure out a way to get it, is this: “At this              work out of necessity.”                              credible evidence). The result is a portion
  time, no appointments are available. Please check back soon.” I can’t decide whether I’d                                                                       of the public that doesn’t believe our
  rather get that news on the screen or on the phone. –Fletcher Farrar, editor and CEO                      Contact Bruce Rushton at                             economic system works for them wanting
                                                                                                            brushton@illinoistimes.com.                                                       continued on page 5

                                                                                                                                                                      February 4-10, 2021 |   Illinois Times   | 3
Teaching Black history better - Legislation promises inclusive curriculum - Illinois Times

                                                                                      Speaker Welch puts together his team
                                                                                      POLITICS | Rich Miller

                                                                                      Just a couple of weeks into a job that most        didn’t mention this, but considering the         allow for remote committee hearings.
                                                                                      people couldn’t imagine being held by              law enforcement uproar over the recently         The issue of remote floor votes is being
                                                                                      anyone other than the guy who had it for           approved criminal justice reform bill,           researched by lawyers, Welch said. But, he
                                                                                      decades, Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch        putting a Mount Greenwood resident - who         said, he’d like to “put that in the rules so
                                                                                      is putting together a House that looks both        has a ton of cops in her district and who        that we have that flexibility.”
                                                                                      familiar and different at the same time.           voted against the Black Caucus bill - in             Last year, Welch publicly pressured the
                                                                                          Welch’s first week included a rollout          charge of that special committee should help     Illinois Department of Healthcare and
                                                                                      of his new leadership team, with a Black           rebuild some bridges.                            Family Services to disclose data on the use of
                                                                                      woman as Speaker Pro Tempore and fresh                 “Those new committees should be a            Black-owned businesses for Medicaid-related
                                                                                      faces throughout. By the third week, we’ll         signal of where we’re headed,” Welch said.       professional services, primarily through
                                                                                      see committee membership rosters and vice          “Ethics reform is very important to me,”         managed care organizations. After finally
                                                                                      chairs. The following week will be the new         he said. “We need to rebuild trust in the        prying the information loose, Welch then
                                                                                      rules.                                             legislature, we need to rebuild trust in our     called on HFS to penalize MCOs for not
                                                                                          House Republican Leader Jim Durkin             process.”                                        meeting contract goals, and demanded that
                                                                                      told reporters he was “pleased” that Welch             Some of Welch’s members want Gov.            Attorney General Kwame Raoul step in. I
                                                                                      was allowing his party some input on the           JB Pritzker to move legislators into the 1B      asked Welch whether he intended to keep
                                                                                      rules. Durkin told the Chicago Sun-Times’          vaccination phase so they can immediately        up the pressure.
                                                                                      Rachel Hinton that Welch suggested the two         receive their COVID-19 shots. Pritzker has           Anyone who knows me knows that I
                                                                                      get together regularly for coffee or breakfast.    said they need to wait their turn.               know my voice,” Welch said. “I’m looking
                                                                                      I seriously doubt Durkin ever received such            “I understand what the governor’s issues     forward to using my new voice to continue
                                                                                      an invite from House Speaker Michael               are on that, and I respect his position. I’m     to highlight the issues that are important
                                                                                      Madigan.                                           going to take the vaccine when it’s my turn.     to me and to the communities that I serve
                                                                                          All of Welch’s new appropriations              Other members have their personal thoughts       and the core constituencies that our caucus
                                                                                      committee chairs are people of color. I asked      on that, and I’ll defer to them.”                represents, so I want to continue to find a
                                                                                      Welch if there was any particular reason for           Welch said he expects the new House          way,” to continue pushing those issues, he
                                                                                      this.                                              rules will be “similar” to the Senate’s, which   said.
                                                                                          “First of all, let me say that I think my
                                                                                      list is full of people that are super talented,”
                                1240 S. 6th, Springfield, IL 62703                    Welch said. “I’m really proud of the diversity
                                PO Box 5256, Springfield, IL 62705
                                                                                      of our caucus. I think that’s the strength of
                                Office phone 217.753.2226                             our caucus, the strength of our state. But
                                Fax 217.753.2281                                      also, I think you can’t not recognize the fact
                                                                                      that those people are high in seniority.”
                                                                                          Welch said that when you look at the
                                                                                      new chair list, “you’re gonna find that
  EDITOR/CEO                                                                          there’s a lot of consistency,” meaning several
  Fletcher Farrar........................... ffarrar@illinoistimes.com, ext.1140
  Letters to the editor...................................letters@illinoistimes.com   Reps. retained their committee posts. Rep.
                                                                                      Mike Zalewski, for instance, is still chairing
  Michelle Ownbey..................mownbey@illinoistimes.com, ext.1139                Revenue. “I think people were doing a good
                                                                                      job. And they should be allowed to continue
  James Bengfort..................... jbengfort@illinoistimes.com, ext.1142           doing a good job. Again, I tried to recognize
                                                                                      peoples’ requests and many of them wanted
  Bruce Rushton....................... brushton@illinoistimes.com, ext.1122           to continue doing the same thing that
  Rachel Otwell...........................rotwell@illinoistimes.com, ext. 1143        they were doing. And I think I was able to
  CALENDAR EDITOR                                                                     accommodate that.”
  Stacie Lewis.............................. slewis@illinoistimes.com, ext.1129           Up until his ascension, Welch had
                                                                                      chaired the Executive Committee, which
  Joseph Copley..........................jcopley@illinoistimes.com, ext.1125          handles much of the bigtime heater
  Brandon Turley.......................... bturley@illinoistimes.com, ext.1124        legislation. Rep. Bob Rita will take over that
                                                                                      important helm. “He’s someone that I know
  Beth Parkes-Irwin...................... birwin@illinoistimes.com, ext.1131          and trust with the tough issues that are
  Yolanda Bell..................................ybell@illinoistimes.com, ext.1120     going to come through that committee.”
  Ron Young................................ ryoung@illinoistimes.com, ext.1138
                                                                                          The new House Speaker also wanted
  BUSINESS/CIRCULATION                                                                to point out some new special committees
  Brenda Matheis.....................bmatheis@illinoistimes.com, ext.1134             he’s created, including Ethics & Elections,
  Published weekly on Thursday. Copyright 2020 by Central Illinois                    which will be chaired by Rep. Kelly Burke.
  Communications LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in any form                   Immigration & Human Rights will be
  without permission is prohibited. POSTMASTER: Send address
  changes to: Illinois Times, P.O. Box 5256, Springfield, IL 62705.
                                                                                      helmed by Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz.
  SUBSCRIPTIONS: illinoistimes.com./subscribe                                         The new Police & Fire special committee
                                                                                      will be chaired by Rep. Fran Hurley. Welch

4 |   www.illinoistimes.com                         | February 4-10, 2021
Teaching Black history better - Legislation promises inclusive curriculum - Illinois Times
                                                                                                                                                                 People don’t like
                                                                                                                                                                 being trickled on
                                                                                                                                                                 continued from page 3

                                                                                                                                                                 to overturn the election results. The assault
                                                                                                                                                                 on Congress Jan. 6 was the outcome…so far.
                                                                                                                                                                     What is the solution? There are no easy
                                                                                                                                                                 fixes, but one step is legislation that supports
                                                                                                                                                                 working people and small business directly,
                                                                                                                                                                 rather than assuming benefits will trickle
                                                                                                                                                                 down if large corporations and the economy
                                                                                                                                                                 do well as defined by Wall Street. Many
                                                                                                                                                                 people are tired of being trickled down
                                                                                                                                                                     A few examples of actions that could
                                                                                                                                                                     In the short run, we need a stronger
                                                                                                                                                                 COVID-19 economic stimulus package that
SCDPH is running vaccination clinics in its building and in drive-thrus seven days per week. PHOTO BY CAROL WEEMS                                                puts more money directly into the pockets
                                                                                                                                                                 of low- and middle-income Americans and
                                                LETTERS                                  sports complex to perform the       “Inclusive American History         small business owners.
   Aeneid poem # 1:                             We welcome letters. Please include       injections. She was a nurse         Commission” to help the                 For a major economic power, the U.S.
                                                your full name, address and telephone    and taught nursing for 30           board develop the new               stimulus packages at 18.3% of this year’s
   a quilter’s afterlife                        number. We edit all letters. Send them
                                                                                         years. She said that the process    standards (“Education bill          Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are lower
   By Elizabeth Crowley                         to letters@illinoistimes.com.
                                                                                                                                                                 than in weaker economies like Slovenia
                                                                                         worked well and was efficient.      to revamp social studies,”
                                                                                         The advantages of a mass            Jan. 28). That 22-member            (24.5%), Sweden (20.9%) and Finland
   fitted to this space with some added words                                                                                                                    (20.8%). Japan’s stimulus amounted to
                                                                                         inoculation process are parking,    commission will be charged
                                                 VACCINE LOTTERIES                       restrooms and continuous            with reviewing educational          42.2% of its 2020 GDP.
   Virgil you had it wrong or at least                                                                                                                               In the long run, we need a minimum
                                                 The existing policy for                 monitoring of vaccines,             resources that teachers can
   incomplete with your rowdy wrestling                                                                                                                          wage that is high enough to assure that a
                                                 COVID-19 vaccination                    supplies and cancellations of       use that “reflect the racial and
   warriors pitching javelins, spears –                                                                                                                          person working 40 hours a week is making
                                                 appointments in Sangamon                clients and vaccinators. There      ethnic diversity” of Illinois and
   eternal olympic games in the fields                                                                                                                           a salary above the poverty line. Right now
                                                 County is confusing at best             is also enough room for people      the United States, providing
   elysian: for in that same sweet                                                                                                                               individuals in minimum-wage jobs may
                                                 (“Vaccination challenges,” Jan.         to keep social distancing and       guidance for educators on
   greensward dwell those who sew                                                                                                                                need public assistance like food stamps to
                                                 28). At worst, it is shortsighted       not be exposed to the weather       how to ensure that their
   quilt weave humming singing as they                                                                                                                           make ends meet.
                                                 and cumbersome. We could                conditions, especially in the       class content is not biased in
   throw needles, shuttles on frames                                                                                                                                 Critics may counter that raising the
                                                 do better. I have family                winter.                             favor of certain cultures and
   looms blending fabric and thread to                                                                                                                           minimum wage will raise unemployment,
                                                 members in jurisdictions where              The existing vaccination        providing guidance on how
   create forever beauty, warmth, peace                                                                                                                          as businesses will employ fewer workers.
                                                 the approach to vaccinating             process in Sangamon County          to identify resources for “non-
                                                 appears to be more rational,            is a lottery in that you must       dominant cultural narratives.”      The counter to that argument is that
   2021 Jacqueline Jackson                                                                                                                                       employment statistics that count people who
                                                 if the goal is to vaccinate as          call or go to three or more             Translation: Teach as
                                                 many people as possible in              websites daily at different times   the Black Caucus tells you          are working, but not at a living wage, create
                                                 descending order of need and            of the day to check on vaccine      to or you will be punished;         a false impression that the economy is doing
                                                 vulnerability.                          availability. I have spoken to      both the individual teacher         better than it really is.
                                                     I have a colleague who              staff at the drug stores and they   and the school district will            Another solution is to stop the steady
                                                 lives in Oak Park, Illinois             say availability could change       be punished. It’s very Stalin-      movement towards right-to-work (for lower
                                                 (population 52,233). The                during the day, if there are        esque.                              wages) laws and other anti-union legislation.
                                                 health department registers             cancellations.                           I suggest everybody read       The struggles of unions in the early 20th
                                                 the residents and then gives                There may be people left        this legislation much more          century resulted in many working-class
                                                 them an appointment date.               out of the signup process           carefully, as I have.               individuals having better incomes with
                                                 I imagine that there is a               because it is too difficult for     Frank Goudy                         benefits like health insurance and pensions
                                                 confirmation process.                   them – the elderly, people          Via illinoistimes.com               that contributed to the prosperity of our
                                                     The fastest and most                without internet or those                                               country in the last century.
                                                 efficient way to notify, register       unskilled at computer               MORE ACTION                             It is not too late to reverse the tide of
                                                 and vaccinate is to set up a            technology. Those most              In response to Mike Jackson’s       resentment. But it will take bold legislative
                                                 mass vaccination system using           likely to be left out are the       Guestwork article about the         action in support of the average working
                                                 the convention center and high          underserved and highly              failure of proposed projects in     American and small-business owner to
                                                 schools. My mother-in-law               vulnerable.                         Springfield (“Springfield, home     do so. Otherwise we will continue to live
                                                 lives in the Shawnee Mission            Edward Haber                        of wasted opportunities,” Jan.      in dangerous times because there will
                                                 suburbs bordering Kansas City,          Springfield                         21), I can only say – in the        be politicians who try to exploit citizen
                                                 Kansas (population 602,401).                                                motivating words of Larry the       discontent to their own advantage.
                                                 She received her vaccination            TEACH THIS                          Cable Guy – Mr. Mayor and
                                                 through this process; the               The new education bill              the city council, “Get ‘er done!”   Stephen Soltys of Springfield is a retired
                                                 Johnson County Health                   passed by the state legislature     Mike Shepherd                       physician who still teaches medical students at
                                                 Department used a large                 calls for establishing an           New Berlin                          SIU on a voluntary basis.

                                                                                                                                                                         February 4-10, 2021 |   Illinois Times   | 5
Teaching Black history better - Legislation promises inclusive curriculum - Illinois Times
                                                                                                                                                                GANNETT ON A ROLL
                                                                                                                                                                CAP Gannett, parent company of the State

Vaccine hesitations and delays
                                                                                                                                                                CITY Journal-Register, got good news this
                                                                                                                                                                week with refinancing of a loan used to close
                                                                                                                                                                a 2019 deal that created the nation’s largest
                                                                                                                                                                newspaper company – Gannett, formerly known
At long-term care facilities, staff often say no to the shot                                                                                                    as GateHouse Media, owns more than 260
                                                                                                                                                                publications, including 23 in Illinois. The $1.8
HEALTH | Madison Angell                                                                                                                                         billion loan from Apollo Global Management, a
                                                                                                                                                                private equity firm, came with an eye-popping
                                                                                                                                                                11.5 percent interest rate and a 2024 maturity
                                                                                                                                                                date. The refinancing announced this week
CVS and Walgreens are situated to provide                                                                                                                       cuts the interest rate on $1 billion of the debt
up to 7 million vaccines to long-term care                                                                                                                      to 7.75 percent, extends the maturity date to
facilities combined, according to AARP.                                                                                                                         2026 and comes after $500 million of the Apollo
But the federal program pairing pharmacies                                                                                                                      loan was refinanced in November, lowering that
with long-term care providers has failed to                                                                                                                     portion of the debt to 6 percent and extending
meet initial benchmarks. Meanwhile, large                                                                                                                       the maturity date from 2024 to 2027. Gannett
percentages of staff at many nursing homes are                                                                                                                  figures that the most recent refinancing will
refusing the vaccine.                                                                                                                                           save $90 million a year in interest payments;
     “With staff, we have seen a lot lower                                                                                                                      the November refinancing is supposed to trim
participation because they do have that fear of                                                                                                                 $28 million in annual interest costs. Refinancing
‘how is this going to affect me’ and wonder if                                                                                                                  does not appear to mean that the company
there are going to be effects down the road,”                                                                                                                   will hire hordes of reporters and supply them
said Shana Lister. Lister is the administrator of                                                                                                               with free newsroom popcorn. In a Groundhog
Regency Care in Springfield, a nursing home                                                                                                                     Day eve message to Gannett employees, Mike
with 99 available beds according to online                                                                                                                      Reed, Gannett chief executive officer, wrote
listings.                                                                                                                                                       that paying down debt remains a top priority.
     Others are simply “holding off to see how                                                                                                                  Investors have cheered, with Gannett shares
it plays out,” said Lister. There was some                                                                                                                      quadrupling in value during the past three
unease among Regency Care nurses and staff                                                                                                                      months. Take that, GameStop.
who attended the first vaccination clinic,
but those who got the initial shot decided it
was worth it to keep residents safe, said the
     Lister said the facility spent 10 months
trying to prevent an outbreak and was lucky
to evade the first wave of the virus. However,
cases in nursing homes throughout Illinois
spiked around the end of November and
beginning of December. On Dec. 3, the first
case of COVID-19 was reported at Regency
Care in Springfield. By the end of the month,
20 staff and 37 residents had tested positive for
the virus, said Lister. In the last weeks of 2020
vaccine schedules were drafted for long-term           immunization efforts. In adherence with           the organization is putting immunization
care facilities and nursing homes. This gave           federal CDC recommendations, Walgreens            information in the hands of long-term care
residents at Regency Care hope after seven of          began vaccinating residents earlier in            staff. AARP is sending flyers to smaller
their neighbors had died due to COVID-19               December. But CVS representatives said the        facilities, staff and residents because
complications.                                         governor was at fault for the late ‘activation’   information online can be confusing and
     Vaccines were made available to the facility      date, scheduled Jan. 25. More than 495,000        frustrating, he said. The goal is to help ease
on Jan. 12. In partnership with Green Tree             shots have been allocated to long-term care       vaccine fears or anxieties by giving people            NEW LIFE FOR OLD LIGHTS
Pharmacies, 80% of residents received the              providers and residents statewide, but only       something tangible to reference and read.              CAP During the holiday season BLH
first immunization doses. But only 30% of              31.6% have been administered as of Feb. 2,            “It’s an outreach effort on our part in trying     CITY Computers installed drop boxes around
Regency Care staff signed up for shots in the          according to the Illinois Department of Public    to work as closely as we can with federal, state       the area for people to deposit their burned out
first clinic.                                          Health.                                           and local government to help get the word out          Christmas lights to be recycled. A total of 738
     The Pharmacy Partnership is the federal               Walgreens and CVS insist the slower           and to clear up the confusion and chaos that’s         pounds of old Christmas lights were collected:
vaccination program designed to put residents          rollout is attributed to low acceptance rates     out there during this rollout,” said Gallo.            300 pounds in Springfield, 220 pounds in
and long-term care providers at the forefront          among long-term care and nursing staff. Lister        While vaccine education and reassurance            Chatham, 132 pounds in Leland Grove and
of immunization efforts. Local pharmacies              said state officials “never really have done a    may cure some fears, staff bear witness to the         86 pounds in Rochester. BLH Computers is
are paired with long-term care and nursing             great job of keeping us educated so that people   uncoordinated vaccine efforts on local, state          donating proceeds from the recyclable materials
facilities to administer inoculations on-site. On      can make informed decisions,” but hopes more      and federal levels. Alongside listening closely        ($132.84) to the Rotary Club of Springfield
average, the state of Illinois receives 120,000        staff members will participate in a second        to the concerns of all Illinois residents, Gallo       Sunrise. More importantly, 738 pounds of
new vaccines every week and thousands are              vaccination clinic scheduled for Feb. 4.          said state leaders in Illinois need to “manage         old lights didn’t end up in a landfill, thanks
given to pharmacies enrolled in the program.               State and local outreach programs have        people’s expectations as well.”                        to local citizens. BLH Computers accepts
     Last week, Gov. JB Pritzker criticized            been designed and are near completion.                                                                   Christmas lights for recycling year-round at its
the federal partnership and CVS for lagging            AARP Illinois director, Bob Gallo, said           Contact Madison Angell at mangell@illinoistimes.com.   Springfield store at 1832 Stevenson Drive.

6 |   www.illinoistimes.com    | February 4-10, 2021
Teaching Black history better - Legislation promises inclusive curriculum - Illinois Times
Sangamon County sheriff
seeks armored vehicle
Worried that it might not happen

Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell
wants an armored vehicle but fears that he
may be out of luck.
    In September, the sheriff’s office paid
someone to travel to Nevada to kick tires
on an RG-31, a veritable subcompact in
the world of surplus military vehicles that
the Department of Defense sells to police
departments for practically nothing – pay
transportation costs, the feds have said, and it’s
yours. Campbell figures that he could bring
the vehicle he covets to Springfield for $1,500.
    It would replace a mine-resistant ambush-
protected vehicle (MRAP in military
nomenclature) that the sheriff’s office acquired     Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell in 2014
in 2014, then got rid of under former sheriff        with an armored vehicle that now belongs to the
                                                     LaSalle County sheriff's office.
Wes Barr, who deemed a 27-ton, 11-foot-tall          PHOTO BY BRUCE RUSHTON
vehicle designed for combat zones unnecessary
for a central Illinois police agency. The LaSalle
County Sheriff’s Department, about 140
miles north of Springfield, is happy to have         sheriff says.
the MRAP jettisoned by Barr. The vehicle                 The bill awaiting Pritzker’s signature
designed for Middle Eastern conflicts is,            prohibits police departments from acquiring
LaSalle County sheriff’s officials say, adept        tracked armored vehicles – an RG-31 and the
at keeping cops and civilians safe, and it has       MRAP owned by LaSalle County have tires
required practically no maintenance – just gas       and so would appear allowable under the bill
and go.                                              passed by the General Assembly during the
    “We didn’t pay anything to get it,”              recent lame-duck session. The bill also bars
says Jason Martin, chief deputy with the             police departments from acquiring bayonets
LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s an            or grenade launchers. “We don’t need any
amazing tool for us to have. … It’s gone out         bayonets – we checked our supply,” Campbell
on floods, it’s gone out in winter storms.           quips. The sheriff adds that he isn’t interested
Obviously, the snow doesn’t stop it. We’ve           in grenade launchers, either, and he criticized
had a shots-fired call.”                             legislators for banning stuff that cops don’t
    LaSalle County’s MRAP, once owned                want or need.
by the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office,                 “It seems like they’ve tried to resolve a
is considerably larger than the vehicle that         situation that didn’t exist,” says the sheriff.
Campbell has picked out from a Nevada                Campbell says he worries that the bill will
storage lot. An RG-31 weighs a bit more than         prevent local police agencies from acquiring
seven tons and has four wheels; the MRAP             surplus military gear he hasn’t yet imagined.
given up by Sangamon County and now used                 “We don’t know what the future’s going
by LaSalle County has six wheels and weighs          to hold,” Campbell says. “We don’t know
nearly four times as much, more than some            what the army’s going to come up with. I’m
Sangamon County bridges, local authorities           concerned about future restrictions and the
once worried, are rated to hold.                     current restrictions. It’s not been a problem in
    While the department has picked one              the past.”
out, Campbell says that he’s not sure that               Meanwhile, the LaSalle County sheriff’s
it ever will arrive. The acquisition process,        department says that it will continue using its
he says, has bogged down. Between the                MRAP as need arises, which isn’t an everyday
federal government under Joe Biden and a             thing. So far, it hasn’t required more diesel fuel
criminal justice reform bill now on Gov. JB          than maintenance, Martin says.
Pritzker’s desk that limits the type of surplus          “We try to keep it in the garage,” he
military gear police departments can acquire,        says. “We’ll take it for a ride just to keep it
Campbell says that his department might              going.”
have to live without a mine-proof vehicle.
“We’re told that this is kind of on hold,” the       Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

                                                                                                            February 4-10, 2021 |   Illinois Times   | 7
Teaching Black history better - Legislation promises inclusive curriculum - Illinois Times

Criminal justice bill would overhaul officer certification
                                                                     STATEHOUSE | Raymon Troncoso, Capitol News Illinois

A criminal justice package that passed both            violate the new standards of conduct.                 integrity of the process.                             simple majority vote needed either way. The
chambers of the General Assembly last month                If the board determines an officer committed          “We have to realize there have been incidents     recommendation is nonbinding. Then, and only
contains provisions that would grant the state         a felony or “decertifiable misdemeanor”               throughout the country that make the public           then, can ILETSB choose to decertify an officer
increased power over police discipline and             that would normally result in automatic               at large feel that they can’t have the greatest       through another majority vote.
standards of conduct starting in 2022.                 decertification, but the officer has not been         level of trust in law enforcement and we have             Outside of this process, an officer’s
    The omnibus package, which was backed              charged or convicted, it can decertify that officer   to restore that public trust,” Raoul said in an       certification can only be revoked if they’re
by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, has          through the discretionary process.                    interview with Capitol News Illinois last week.       convicted under the current decertification
not yet arrived at the desk of Gov. JB Pritzker,           Other misconduct that can result in               “Just like other professions where there may be       standards or rendered inactive if the officer fails
although he has said he looks forward to               discretionary decertification includes excessive      whistleblowers that their identity is protected       to submit a valid verification form to ILETSB
reviewing the bill which needs only his signature      force; failing to intervene in another officer’s      such that there’s no retaliation against them,        during their required reporting period.
to become law.                                         use of excessive force or failing to render aid;      but that doesn’t mean you don’t investigate the
    Pritzker campaigned on several issues in the       tampering with dashboard and body cameras             allegation thoroughly.”                               Transparency database
bill and indicated his support, but has not yet        or their footage; committing perjury or making            When ILETSB receives a complaint about            The legislation also requires ILETSB to enhance
said directly that he will sign it.                    false statements in an investigation of a crime;      an officer, it will conduct a preliminary review      transparency, both within law enforcement and
    One of the more controversial provisions in        and engaging in any unprofessional, unethical         to determine if there’s enough information to         for the broader public.
the bill would expand the scope of the Illinois        or deceptive conduct harmful to the public            investigate. If the review finds there’s sufficient       The Professional Misconduct Database,
Law Enforcement Training and Standards                 whether or not it caused actual injury.               cause, the board will conduct a full investigation.   a private portal for chiefs and sheriffs, will
Board, or ILETSB, which currently oversees                                                                                                                         be expanded and streamlined for all relevant
training and grant programs for law enforcement                                                                                                                    governmental agencies, law enforcement entities
and correctional officers throughout the state.                                                                                                                    and state’s attorneys. The portal will contain an
    Police certification standards would be made                                                                                                                   officer’s certification history, reported instances
more robust under the legislation, with law                                                                                                                        of misconduct, suspensions and terminations.
enforcement officers placed into three categories:                                                                                                                     Any agency looking to hire an individual in
active, inactive and decertified. Only those with                                                                                                                  a law enforcement capacity would be mandated
an active certification from ILETSB can be                                                                                                                         by law to view the individual’s entry in the
legally employed at an Illinois agency in a law                                                                                                                    database before offering employment.
enforcement capacity.                                                                                                                                                  ILETSB will also create and maintain two
    A decertified officer has 30 days to file a                                                                                                                    new searchable public databases in an accessible
motion with the board for reconsideration,                                                                                                                         portal on their website. One will contain
and all decertifications are subject to judicial                                                                                                                   officers’ agencies, their certification status and
review. Once an officer is formally decertified,                                                                                                                   confirmed instances of misconduct that led
the officer is prohibited from ever regaining                                                                                                                      to decertification. The other will contain all
certification.                                                                                                                                                     completed investigations against law enforcement
    Each officer will be responsible for keeping                                                                                                                   and correctional officers with any identifying
their certification active by submitting                                                                                                                           information of the officers involved redacted.
verification forms to ILETSB every three years
to confirm they’ve completed all mandatory                                                                                                                         Potential ‘clean-up language’
training and have no disciplinary actions taken                                                                                                                    Republicans and law enforcement groups have
against them that would result in decertification.                                                                                                                 voiced fierce opposition to the criminal omnibus
    Under current Illinois law, officers can           Kwame Raoul, Illinois attorney general                                                                      legislation as a whole, urging Pritzker in a news
only lose their certification under very narrow                                                                                                                    conference last week to veto the bill once it
circumstances. They must either be convicted                                                                                                                       arrives on his desk.
of a felony or a limited list of “decertifiable            While governmental agencies are required              If the board’s investigation determines               On police certification, Republican
misdemeanors” such as offering a bribe, theft          to submit violations to ILETSB within seven           the officer may have conducted decertifiable          lawmakers take issue with the unfunded
and prostitution. From 2009 to 2014, Illinois          days of their occurrence, the provision would         conduct, it will submit a formal complaint to         mandates involved in the new system and
decertified 64 officers. Over the same period          also allow for members of the public to submit        the Illinois Law Enforcement Certification            mandatory trainings for officers. The bill goes
of time, Florida decertified 2,125 officers and        a complaint about an officer, and they may keep       Review Panel, a new entity created by the             too far without providing more funding for
Georgia decertified 2,800.                             their own identity confidential as well.              legislation with 11 members appointed by the          police departments, they said, especially as
    Raoul, in his testimony in House committee                                                               governor and attorney general.                        the state is already hurting for revenue due to
in support of the provision during January’s           Decertification process                                   The complaint will result in a formal hearing     the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued
lame duck session, told lawmakers that while           Opponents of the bill have claimed the ability        before an administrative law judge who will hear      structural budgetary pressures.
he does believe Illinois has the best trained          to file complaints anonymously will result in         the allegations in the complaint and testimony            The bill’s sponsors in the General Assembly,
and most upstanding law enforcement in the             officers being targeted by disgruntled citizens       from the officer, their legal representation and      Chicago Democrats Sen. Elgie Sims and Rep.
country, the massive discrepancy in the numbers        and criminals who will flood the system to get        relevant witnesses to the case. The judge will        Justin Slaughter, have indicated budgetary issues
has more to do with how hard it is to fire and         them fired.                                           then deliver a conclusion and a recommendation        and clean-up language can be addressed in
decertify officers for blatant misconduct, even if         Raoul contends the provisions of the bill         to the panel.                                         follow-up legislation in the new session, which
the officers were known to be repeat offenders.        prevent unwarranted termination by filtering              The panel then votes on whether to                is why the bill’s effective dates are pushed back
    The new law would grant ILETSB broader             complaints through several layers, and that           recommend ILETSB remove the officer’s                 by a year or more instead of being effective
discretionary authority to decertify officers who      confidentiality is important to preserve the          certification or dismiss the complaint, with a        immediately.

8 |   www.illinoistimes.com    | February 4-10, 2021
Teaching Black history better - Legislation promises inclusive curriculum - Illinois Times
February 4-10, 2021 |   Illinois Times   | 9
Teaching Black history better - Legislation promises inclusive curriculum - Illinois Times

 Black history
                  Legislation promises
                  inclusive curriculum
                                       10 EDUCATION | Rachel Otwell

“Social studies has always been my least               in Gambia, his subsequent enslavement and             take classes in the department each semester. It    civil rights movement. It was just one piece of
favorite subject,” state Sen. Kimberly                 the plight of his descendants. The violence           was in college that her pride for her identity as   the hefty agenda created by Black legislators
Lightford told Illinois Times last October. That       represented the suffering so many endured.            a Black woman truly developed, she said.            and their allies. The legislative Black Caucus
was back when hearings about the “Black                “And I just remember me being in a ball                   “I know that we have to do better in            put forth four pillars aimed at building a more
Agenda” were ongoing. Lightford, a Democrat            and crying, completely traumatized,” said             elementary-level, leading up to middle school       equitable state – in the wake of a summer
from the Chicago suburb Maywood, was                   Lightford.                                            and high school. No children should have to         of unrest due to the police killing of George
the primary Senate sponsor of the education                Later on, in social studies classes, she’d feel   wait until they’re 18, 19 years old to begin        Floyd and regular demonstrations in cities
package that passed the General Assembly               there was something missing. “I really didn’t         to learn the true history of who they are and       such as Chicago, calling for widespread justice.
earlier this month.                                    learn of all the positive contributions and what      where they come from,” said Lightford.              In addition to education, the four pillars
    Lightford said she was introduced to the           it meant to be Black in America until I arrived           Part of the new legislation, which awaits       included criminal justice reform, economic
terrors of enslavement from a young age.               in college.” As a student at Western Illinois         a signature from the governor, would call on        access and health care.
She remembered being eight years old when              University, she said she felt she was finally         schools to teach pre-enslavement Black history.         Like the criminal justice bill, the education
the miniseries Roots came out in 1977. Her             taught a fuller picture. Lightford said she           Black history units would also have to include      omnibus was full of measures that would take
family gathered together to watch the story            ended up with a minor in African American             information about why African Americans             time and investment to implement. Some
of a young man kidnapped from his home                 studies by default – her curiosity led her to         were enslaved, as well as information about the     of the efforts were years in the making, and

10 |   www.illinoistimes.com   | February 4-10, 2021
sponsors said it was time to capitalize on the    Hill subsequently announced it would               teach history,” he said.
moment and the public’s growing awareness         change the language and recategorize                   The combined efforts could lead to a
about the myriad ways systemic racism causes      the migration accurately as being forced,          standard for education in the state that
injustice. Among other things, changes            according to The Atlantic.                         contains more perspectives and less bias.
are aimed at making college and advanced               The blunder is an example of how              Ultimately, the framing of history in schools
programming more accessible, increasing the       history written through a Eurocentric lens         can dictate whether or not kids learn to
number of diverse teachers and addressing         can leave many students wondering what             internalize messages of “white superiority,”
learning loss – due to the pandemic.              is missing from their education. While             said Ford. More inclusion of marginalized
Proponents say the legislation is a historic      it’s unlikely the task force will result in a      identities such as women, Native Americans
achievement in clearing the path to success       specific suggestion for where curriculum           and Black people is important, he said. Last
for students who have been on the losing end      should come from, it does plan to answer           year, an Illinois law went into effect that
of the achievement gap.                           what ISBE’s position is on teaching African        requires the inclusion of LGBTQ history in
    Tiffani Saunders, a sociologist and           American history.                                  public schools.
professor in the African American studies
department at University of Illinois                                                                 Regarding representation
Springfield, said her experience as a teacher                                                        Roy Gully teaches for Springfield Public
echoes Lightford’s sentiment about young                                                             Schools, where administrators and teachers
people being eager to learn more about                                                               have been discussing related changes to
the truth of our nation’s history. “Students                                                         curriculum. Gully is a social studies teacher
are asking for this. When I get them in                                                              and varsity football coach at Springfield High
college and I’m exposing them to things                                                              School. He’s on a committee where members
in history, so often they’re asking why                                                              are considering changes to make lessons more
they weren’t taught this before they got to                                                          inclusive throughout District 186.
college.” Saunders said the contributions                                                                The new legislation is “a long time coming
of marginalized people can be woven in                                                               to have it mandated,” Gully said. “But
through a variety of subjects throughout the                                                         I’m certainly glad that it has been adopted
school year – not just in a separate unit for                                                        and hopefully it’ll make an impact and a
February because it’s Black History Month.                                                           difference.” Gully said he has made it a point
    The measure is a step in the right                                                               to highlight diverse figures in each unit he
direction, Saunders said. “One component                                                             teaches. “For a lot of history teachers, it won’t
that’s going to be really important though is                                                        make that big of a difference,” said Gully,
how we’re training teachers.” Saunders said                                                          because they are already making the effort
teachers currently can supplement textbooks                                                          to teach inclusive history lessons. Making
with primary sources – autobiographies and                                                           sure District 186 has textbooks that better
resources from the Library of Congress, for                                                          represent diversity would be a step forward,
example. But time spent making history                                                               he said.
lessons more inclusive can be extra work                                                                  District 186 Supt. Jennifer Gill said the
for teachers. Educators don’t always go into                                                         legislation could provide support for ongoing
classrooms knowing how to address racism.                                                            efforts. “We need to look at what our
                                                                                                     African American curriculum is in District
Crafting curriculum change                                                                           186 – see if there is a place where we could
A recent meeting of the Black History                                                                provide a very specific textbook that covers
Curriculum Task Force offered a look at                                                              all of the standards that we want to address
what the state’s official stance on teaching      Kimberly Lightford is Senate Majority Leader and   in the future,” she said. Analyzing current
the subject might be. The task force,             chair of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.    curriculum could also result in finding online
                                                  PHOTO BY LEE MILNER, 2019
overseen by the Illinois State Board of                                                              resources and other supplements, Gill said.
Education, was a result of 2018 legislation                                                              According to ISBE, more than half of
sponsored by state Rep. La Shawn Ford. It             A draft summary states that Black              students in District 186 were nonwhite in
charged the state with auditing each school       history is integral to an accurate telling         2020 – with 40.7% of them Black, 12.8% of
district to see what current curriculum looks     and understanding of our nation, and               two or more races, 3.6% Hispanic and 2.4%
like. The report isn’t due out until later this   that students who participate in “ethnic           Asian.
year, but drafts reviewed during the meeting      studies” see better outcomes in terms of test          But those numbers aren’t reflected by
on Jan. 29 showed many districts that self-       scores, GPAs, attendance, earned credits           who is teaching in the district. For the past
reported still rely on McGraw Hill and            and civic engagement. “Effective Black             10 reported years, the percentage of Black
Pearson textbooks to teach the subject in         history education connects to events today         teachers has been between 7-9%, with the
elementary through high school.                   and progresses beyond learning about               lowest percentage, 7.1%, just last year. If
    In 2015, McGraw Hill was widely               Black Americans to learning from Black             you glance at the teacher page on Springfield
criticized when an excerpt from one of its        Americans,” the draft reads.                       High’s website, Gully’s photo stands out as
texts went viral. It stated: “The Atlantic            Part of the education measure legislators      being the only apparent African American.
Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s           passed earlier this year would create the          Gully said, last he checked, he was the
brought millions of workers from Africa           “Inclusive American History Commission.”           only full-time African American teacher at
to the southern United States to work on          Ford said the report from the Black                Springfield High School. Of the numerous
agricultural plantations.”                        History Curriculum Task Force would lay            committees he is on, one is focused on
    Many criticized the framing of                groundwork for the new commission. “We’re          the recruitment and retention of diverse
enslavement as a matter of immigration,           going to go further, because now we’re going       candidates.
and enslaved people as “workers.” McGraw          to know what school districts are using to             Gully is originally from St. Louis. While

                                                                                                                                                         February 4-10, 2021 |   Illinois Times   | 11
                                                       in high school, his family moved to a small
                                                       town in Iowa where he said he was the only
                                                       Black student. For 15 years he taught in
                                                       Galesburg, where he said he was the only
                                                       African American teacher at the middle
                                                       school. “I recognize the importance of being
                                                       able to identify with African Americans who
                                                       have grown up in similar circumstances that
                                                       I have. And the ability to see someone who
                                                       looks like you go to college and get a degree
                                                       and give back, coach, teach and educate is
                                                       important,” said Gully. “Because if you don’t
                                                       have those people to look to for that guidance
                                                       and direction, it’s easy to lose hope.”
                                                          In 2020 only 20.5% of District 186
                                                       teachers were male. Part of the new legislation
                                                       passed by the Illinois General Assembly
                                                       would set aside funds in the Minority
                                                       Teachers of Illinois Scholarship Program
                                                       to prioritize male minority candidates.
                                                       Meanwhile, there’s an overall shortage of
                                                       teachers. Finding more diverse candidates is            Lawmakers met in January for the lame-duck session, much of which included four pillars addressing systemic
                                                       going to “require us to think outside the box           racism, put forth by the legislative Black Caucus. PHOTO BY LEE MILNER
                                                       and do some traveling,” said Gully. “We’re
                                                       very dedicated to growing our educator
                                                       pipeline,” said Gill. “Our joint committee              Julie Hoffman, co-chairs of the Springfield              changes. Hoffman is on the education
                                                       with the union is something brand new ...               Education Association’s equity committee,                committee for the local NAACP chapter. Both
                                                       where we’re saying we need help, we can’t just          which aims to dismantle racism within the                are teachers.
                                                       recruit individuals alone.”                             context of education. The SEA is the union                   “Right now our committee is working
                                                                                                               representing District 186 staff and teachers.            on educating ourselves,” Jordan said of the
                                                       Community collaboration                                 Jordan is also part of a team based at the Faith         teacher union’s effort. One top goal is to figure
                                                       Partnerships are indeed key to needed                   Coalition for the Common Good also focused               out how to support teachers and help them
                                                       change, according to Laura Jordan and                   on supporting the district with curriculum               implement an anti-racist perspective into their
                                                                                                                                                                        lessons, she said.
                                                                                                                                                                            “This is 400 years plus of systems in
                                                                                                                                                                        place that are woven into the fabric of our
                                                                                                                                                                        history,” said Hoffman. Providing resources
                                                                                                                                                                        to the district is a shared goal of many
                                                                                                                                                                        community activists who want to work with
                                                                                                                                                                        the administration and educators, Jordan and
                                                                                                                                                                        Hoffman said.
                                                                                                                                                                            Springfield has a plethora of local history to
                                                                                                                                                                        draw from – such as a walking tour of markers
                                                                                                                                                                        updated in 2018, an effort by the city and
                                                                                                                                                                        the NAACP, which describe the events of the
                                                                                                                                                                        1908 Race Riot, a massacre by white people
                                                                                                                                                                        against Black residents which helped inspire
                                                                                                                                                                        the founding of the NAACP. And there’s much
                                                                                                                                                                        to learn about the contributions of Black
                                                                                                                                                                        Springfield residents. Places like the Route
                                                                                                                                                                        History museum and Springfield and Central
                                                                                                                                                                        Illinois African American History Museum
                                                                                                                                                                        offer valuable lessons about local history.
                                                                                                                                                                            Regardless of state law, change is needed,
                                                                                                                                                                        the two say. It’s time for a more accurate telling
                                                                                                                                                                        of the Black experience. “Our whole district,
                                                                                                                                                                        as far as curriculum, needs an overhaul,” said
                                                                                                                                                                        Jordan. Students should see books that depict
                                                                                                                                                                        a variety of different races, religions and
                                                                                                                                                                        nationalities. Curriculum should not relegate
                                                                                                                                                                        Black history to a single unit or chapter in
                                                                                                                                                                        a book, Jordan said. Black history “needs
                                                                                                                                                                        to be fully embedded into the whole entire
                                                       Roy Gully coaches varsity football at Springfield High School. He's part of a "Grow Your Own"                    curriculum,” echoed Hoffman.
                                                       committee that's looking at ways to hire more diverse teachers in the district.
                                                       PHOTO BY BRANDY FLETCHER, COURTESY OF ROY GULLY
                                                                                                                                                                        Contact Rachel Otwell at rotwell@illinoistimes.com.

12 |   www.illinoistimes.com   | February 4-10, 2021

Growing from the inside
Sexuality is secondary in Springfield author’s LGBT fiction
BOOK REVIEW | Shawna Mayer

Springfield native Martha Miller, a retired
composition instructor who taught at Lincoln
Land, is a versatile writer. She has written several
novels, as well as reviews, articles and a column
about her life. Her book of short stories, Tales
from the Levee, explores the gay and lesbian
community in Springfield from the mid-1960s
into the 1970s, and while officially labeled
fiction, it was inspired by the interviews she
conducted and the people she knew in the city.
Miller’s last book was a memoir centered on an
abusive relationship. Now she has branched out
into young adult LGBT fiction in order to add
a story to the genre where the main character’s
sexuality is not the cause of any angst, but
instead, remains secondary to other much more
dramatic events that unfold.
     Miller’s latest novel, Me Inside, begins when
Jeannie Baker’s father gets out of prison for bank
robbery. She believes her family will finally
return to normal. However, the very next day,
while Jeannie and her father are gone, her mother
packs up and leaves. The woman pilfers every
bit of cash in the house, including the money
Jeannie made collecting cans, and is even petty
enough to take the leftover cake from her father’s
welcome home party.
     Her ex-felon father turns out to be an
improvement over her vindictive mother, and
they settle into a routine. For the next five years
he works and raises Jeannie. Then one night she
hears him talking heatedly with a stranger, he
leaves, and is found murdered.                         Me Inside, by Martha Miller, 288 pages, September 2020. Available in paperback and Kindle editions at Amazon.com.
     Jeannie navigates her grief and the seismic
shifts in her life. Now 15, she is taken in by her
paternal grandmother, a pragmatic and resilient        returns for the funeral and tries to explain herself      than his funeral home. She also takes her coffee
woman whose name she shares. Grandma, who              and it gives Jeannie a chance to vent her anger in        black, a habit she picked up from her father, and
once was married and had two children, is a            a satisfying scene.                                       grudgingly decides to quit smoking in order to
lesbian who came out and made a life for herself            We see two types of adults in this story: those      be a better athlete.
during a less accepting era.                           who stay and take responsibility when tough stuff             The Me Inside is both Jeannie’s growing
     Jeannie decides she’s going to investigate        happens and those who run from it. We also get            awareness of her sexual identity, and her
her father’s murder with the help of Ruthie, her       a realistic depiction of the aftermath of trauma          developing maturity that helps her to let down
friend since kindergarten. As they dig deeper into     borne by those who get left behind. Nobody’s              her guard and trust the people around her after
his past, the story grows more ominous when            perfect, and everyone in this novel has made              so many losses and betrayals.
we learn the money from the bank robbery was           mistakes and suffers the consequences.                        Miller has written a contemporary coming-
never recovered, and it appears that someone                The story presents readers with modern               of-age novel that has tension, humor and heart.
dangerous believes Jeannie may be the key to           themes and doesn’t pull any punches. A recurring          This book is identified as the first in a planned
recovering the fortune. This novel, like the rest      element in the book is that when birth mothers            series to feature Jeannie Baker, and the reader will
of Miller’s work, is a well-structured and fast-       fail their children, others step in as surrogates to      certainly look forward to meeting her again to see
paced read.                                            provide support and love.                                 how she overcomes her struggles and thrives.
     Miller’s novel works on two levels. While              Despite some of the heavy subject matter, the
it is meant for young adult readers, it will also      book is full of dark humor as Jeannie isn’t shy           Shawna Mayer is a graduate of Quincy University
resonate with adults who have experienced the          about expressing herself. She describes the funeral       and UIS. Her poetry, short fiction and articles have
complicated grief of losing loved ones who made        director as “a shark-jawed, everyday jackass” and         been published in many journals over the years. She
bad choices and have hurt them. Jeannie’s mother       claims “the morgue had a better atmosphere”               is active in the Springfield writing community.

                                                                                                                                                                           February 4-10, 2021 |   Illinois Times   | 13
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