Category Archives: African Americans

A Time of Monsters: The New Nadir and the Crisis of the Black Worker

We currently reside in what Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci called “A Time of Monsters.” Exacerbated by the catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic, the Black working classes continue to struggle under what Black Studies scholar Sundiata Cha-Jua has dubbed “the New Nadir.” For … Continue reading

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Juneteenth Freedom Day

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19 that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with … Continue reading

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Reckless Law, Shameless Order: Behind the Scenes

  One afternoon in April of 2021 Faranak Miraftab called me to ask if I was interested in holding an art workshop with formerly incarcerated artists in continuation of the “IDENSCITY,” a conceptual art space that I had been developing … Continue reading

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Shamar Betts Case Moves to Federal Appeals Court

On April 8, the case of Urbana resident Shamar Betts moved to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Betts was arrested in June, 2020 in the midst of a national crackdown on protests against the murder … Continue reading

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“It’s a Money Grab”: Billions in COVID Relief Going to Fund Police and Prisons

If you’re from inner-city Birmingham, Alabama, there’s a “99-percent chance” you have a family member or friend who has been incarcerated, according to Veronica Johnson, deputy director for the Alabama Justice Initiative, which has been fighting against a proposal to … Continue reading

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Passing: Can One Ever “Pass”?

I recently watched one of the most beautiful and perhaps also one of the most significant movies I have seen in a long time. Passing, based on a 1929 novel by the Harlem Renaissance author Nella Larson (1891–1964), is a … Continue reading

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Local Community Protests Former Champaign Police Chief’s Teaching Appointment at Parkland College

Former Champaign Police Chief Robert T. Finney was hired in August, 2020 to teach Community Policing as well as Introduction to Criminal Justice at Parkland College. “Unbelievable” is what one African American community member thought on hearing the news; “Shocking,” … Continue reading

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Countering Violence in Champaign-Urbana

The uptick in murders in 2021 represents a national crisis. In 2020, the FBI counted 21,750 homicides in the US, a 30 percent increase over 2019 and the largest percentage increase since 9/11. The total number of murders rose slightly … Continue reading

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Ending Gun Violence Requires Long-Term Investments in People and Communities

Quansay L. Markham (17 years old), Jonathon McPherson (17), Jadeen Moore (19), Acarrie Ingram-Triner (19), and Jordan Atwater-Lewis (17) are among the people who were shot and killed in Champaign-Urbana in 2021. Are there things we could have done as … Continue reading

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Urbana’s Long Search for Traffic-Stop Equity

In 2004 the State of Illinois required all law enforcement agencies to report their annual traffic stop data to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The Urbana Police Department’s (UPD) data shows they have enforced traffic laws inequitably every year … Continue reading

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The Unacknowledged and Ongoing Genocide: Violence against African Americans

I began writing this reflection on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2021, a national holiday created by President Lincoln in the hopes of healing the wounds following the Civil War. Yet for many the wounds still run deep. One of the … Continue reading

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The Ubuntu Project and the Need for a Progressive Shift in Policing

Ubuntu is a term that originated with the Zulu people and roughly translates to “humanity” in English. The term emerged as a political concept following apartheid’s disintegration in South Africa. Now a collective of local community members, scholars, clergy, and … Continue reading

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Scapegoating and the 2020 Marketplace Mall Riots

I watched the legal machinery eat further into the life of a young man this past month. On June 14, I joined others at the sentencing hearing for Shamar Betts at the federal courthouse in Urbana. Betts is accused of … Continue reading

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Black Art Politicized: A Discussion with Leslie Smith

I had the amazing opportunity to interview Leslie Smith, a board member of the Urbana–Champaign Independent Media Center (UCIMC) and the founder of Black Voices Theater Production. As someone who grew up in a household with a father who is … Continue reading

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“It’s Scary Having a Fifteen-Year-Old Son”: Community Voices on Gun Violence in C-U

In the midst of the global pandemic, Champaign-Urbana has its own local epidemic: gun violence. As of July 20, police had received 95 reports in 2020 of shooting incidents in Champaign alone. This is more than double the total for … Continue reading

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The Decline of African Languages at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois used to be one of the best universities for learning African languages. Emeritus professor of Linguistics Eyamba Bokamba would always say, “here in Illinois we offer African languages from A to Z, Arabic to Zulu.” Unfortunately, … Continue reading

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We Don’t Live in a Food Desert, We Live under Food Apartheid: Interview with Dawn Blackman

Dawn Mosley Blackman, a Chicago native, moved to Champaign in April, 1993. She is the current steward of the Randolph Street Community Garden and a pastor at the Church of the Brethren. As a military wife she lived in Europe … Continue reading

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Emma Scott Bridgewater: Lived Experience Marked by Race and Discrimination

I met Mrs. Erma Pauline Scott Bridgewater (1913-2013) in Spring, 2009, during my research visits to Bethel A.M.E. Church. She led a life of service, racial work, and local activism in Champaign, being, arguably, the most interviewed and celebrated local … Continue reading

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FirstSteps Community House

“Our community needs a transitional house … we’re gonna reach out and help people get employment, help them bond back with their families and be able to give back to the community.” — Casandis Hunt, peer mentor at FirstFollowers, talking … Continue reading

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Attacks on the Campus Left Then and Now: Fighting Student Activists on Illinois’ Campus in the 1930s

In the 1930s, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was home to a thriving anti-war and anti-imperialist community of different radical, socialist, and communist groups. The National Student League (NSL), later called the American Student Union (ASU), the Communist Youth … Continue reading

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