Emma Scott Bridgewater: Lived Experience Marked by Race and Discrimination

Erma Scott, ca. 1930. Courtesy of Cassandra B. Woolfolk, Ronald and Cecil Bridgewater. The Illio, University of Illinois Yearbook, 1937. Courtesy of University of Illinois Archives

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 Black woman of the late 1900s. Born on November 24, 1913, her parents were Raymond Mack Scott (1892-1957) and Sarah Pauline Wilson Scott (1892-1991). Erma was the oldest child, but her brother Raymond (1916-1965) soon followed. Both siblings attended an otherwise all-white school, Lincoln School. Mr. and Mrs. Scott advocated for the use of the Champaign High School swimming pool for their children, but “separate but equal” prevailed, and the Scott children could swim after school only. Nevertheless, Erma became, and remained, an avid swimmer.

The family settled on 109 Ells Avenue in Champaign, a predominantly white neighborhood, owning their house. A faithful congregant, Raymond was a choir and Baraca Bible Class (for men) member at Bethel; he played the saxophone and led the band “Mack Scott and his Footwarmers.” Known to enjoy cigars, Raymond was a messenger for the University of Illinois, a common occupation for Black men then. Sarah moved to Champaign from Old Shawneetown in 1911, after her father had passed; she followed her mother, who had relocated here to work as a cook, a frequent position for Black women. Sarah was a member of the women’s Philathea Bible Class. Continue reading

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FirstSteps Community House

Renovating 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 about the impending opening of FirstSteps Community House, a residence in Champaign for people returning home from prison.

“Experts who have studied our current corrections programs agree that every individual leaving prison needs three key things—employment, housing and healthcare. In fact, without the most basic of human needs—a roof over a head—justice-involved individuals struggle to reintegrate, at great cost to Illinois’ public safety and to the fabric of our communities.”

Re-Entry Housing Issues in Illinois, 2019 report by Illinois Justice Project and Metropolitan Planning Council.

In the summer of 2016, a group of peer mentors from FirstFollowers, including Casandis Hunt, attended the annual Champaign-Urbana Days celebration in Douglass Park. While most people showed up ready for barbecue and connecting with old friends and family, we arrived with a stack of surveys. We knew that the majority of those attending C-U Days would be Black people who had been touched by incarceration in one way or another. As an emerging organization trying to advance the rights and interests of formerly incarcerated people, we wanted to hear from the community about how well they thought the needs of people coming home from prison were being met.

Most of the answers we got from our survey told us things we already knew—that people with felony convictions had a hard time getting employment, that incarceration had a negative impact on families, that landlords were not very welcoming to people with a criminal background. But one statistic shocked us thoroughly: 85 percent of those we surveyed believed that authorities should provide transitional housing for people when they were released from incarceration. This statistic launched us on a mission. We wanted to delve deeper into this issue. Continue reading

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It Happens Again: Noose Found in UIUC Dorm

Reprinted with permission from Drums!, a Black webspace, created by Black Students for Revolution.

A noose was found hanging within the Allen Hall dorms at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Saturday night, continuing a long tradition of racist imagery at the midwestern campus.  The noose was found by Black undergraduate students and spread on social media throughout the weekend, while the University administration has yet to inform the student body about the incident or its investigation. Continue reading

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Violence as a Public Health Issue: One Nurse’s Perspectives

Student-led March For Our Lives Walk Out/Teach-In event at UCIMC in March, 2018

Another round of mass shootings in the news and once again Americans ask, “What can be done to keep my loved ones safe?”  Sadly, these tragic events are only the tip of a terrible iceberg of violence that devastates families and communities each day. Despite increases in law enforcement, incarceration, and investigation of criminal networks, the violence continues.  Desperation and fear have even resulted in misguided calls for the arming of teachers or other community members. Rather than adopt quasi-vigilantism, however, we need to address violence as a public health priority. Just as past public health campaigns were effective in decreasing the incidence of communicable diseases and workplace injuries, public health approaches can work to reduce violent acts.

The FBI and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) categorize violence in slightly different ways, but by any measure the impact is appalling. In 2017, there were 1.28 million incidents of violent crime in the U.S, including 19,510 homicides (14,542 by firearms, with 117 killed in mass shootings), another 85,000 non-fatal gun injuries, and 47,000 lives lost to suicide. Violent events also include often under-reported incidents of domestic violence; sexual assault (affecting one out of every six US women); approximately 674,000 victims of child abuse and neglect each year, in addition to victims of trafficking; and law enforcement violence. Each individual victim also represents family members whose lives have been changed forever by an act of violence. Continue reading

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Right-Wing Libertarian Minor at UI Springfield

Graphic by Ábel MGE

In February of 2013, the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS) adopted something called a “Liberty Studies” minor. There was dissent within the academic senate, but the proposal carried the day. The description of the minor begins, “It is a course of study focusing on the foundations, meanings, and implications of ‘What can I do with my life?’” The  minor requires one course in each of three categories: liberty and commerce, liberty and authority, and liberty and culture. There are also three required courses: liberty studies, ethics, and moral theory.

Political Philosophy Professor Richard Gilman-Opalsky objected. He wrote to fellow senators, “I strongly believe that this programming will raise our reputation within certain ideological communities but will damage our reputation among scholars more widely. I would not associate myself with this program for professional reasons. I am not alone.” The problem with the program, which might sound innocuous enough, is its real sponsor. Continue reading

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Strike Averted! Workers of SEIU Local 73 Ratify Contract with University Administration

SEIU workers and allies at the August 8 rally on the University of Illinois Quad

From November of 2018 until August, 2019, the workers of Service Employees International Union Local 73 were negotiating a new contract with the UIUC administration. In July, members of the local overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. Formal notice of intent to strike was filed on August 8, after a rally on campus.

Local 73 is split into two bargaining units, Building Service Workers (BSW), and Food Service Workers (FSW). BSW cleans and maintain the buildings and outdoor areas on campus, while FSW feeds the thousands of students, faculty, and staff that pass daily through the university’s dining halls and cafes. BSW and FSW represent about 500 and 200 workers, respectively.

With the threat of a strike looming, which would have been the sixth strike in six years within the University of Illinois system, representatives of the union and the administration held another bargaining session on August 9. With the help of a federal mediator, they reached a Tentative Agreement (TA) on wages and the other remaining bargaining issues. Recently, a majority of the union membership ratified the TA, making it their new contract and avoiding a strike. Continue reading

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Incarcerated Activists Raise the Bar on Parole

Over-incarceration in this country takes many forms. One form that is
particularly egregious in Illinois is that of keeping people imprisoned for
years, or even decades, beyond the time that they pose any risk to public
safety—and even beyond their life expectancy.

Illinois stands out in this “lock ‘em up and forget about ‘em” form of
over-incarceration because the state has no inclusive system of
discretionary parole. For the vast majority of the 40,000 men and women
incarcerated in Illinois, the state has no mechanism for early release and
no periodic assessment of whether their continued incarceration is
necessary for public safety.  If nothing changes, the state faces an
impending crisis of geriatric prisons, and at least 5,600 people will die
behind bars. Continue reading

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May Day Rally 2019

This is the text of a speech given at the GEO May 1 rally on the UIUC Main Quad.

Thanks to the GEO for having me. Not just because May Day is truly and historically a celebration of anarchist labor organizing, but also because I usually feel very left out of May Day, despite being an anarchist. So I figure I’m going to talk about why that is, and about the kinds of labor that a lot of folks don’t care about and what it does to us.

My name is Kristina. I have three young children, all under the age of ten, and I have three part-time jobs. I currently have no health insurance, and a disaster or big emergency would likely destroy me financially or seriously injure my extended family should they offer to help. I have trouble with my eyesight, a natural part of aging, as well as needing regular dental visits; but I can’t attend to either. It’s too expensive. Continue reading

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Opposition to the Proposed ICE Dwight Detention Center Continues.

Detainees in a McAllen, TX ICE facility

Efforts to halt the construction of a 1200-bed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Dwight, Illinois continue at both the state and local level. The proposed facility would be built and operated by the Virginia-based, for-profit prison company Immigration Centers of America (ICA). Although the village approved the annexation of land for the project in March, the final paperwork has yet to be completed, and human rights groups across the Midwest continue to work to bring attention to the economic, moral and legal concerns about the proposed facility in hopes that the village will ultimately reject the project.

UIUCAyuda, an organization founded last year to give voice to the Latinx student community concerned with the inadequate federal response to hurricane damage in Puerto Rico, has planned a series of visits to the Dwight during the summer months. By reaching out to community groups, including churches, teachers, and service organizations at venues like the weekly farmer’s market, they hope to share information on the poor track record that for-profit prisons have in contributing to the local economy. Continue reading

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Need for System Change

The time is long past due for American citizens to realize that our political and economic systems are untenable.

Trump is awful, no question there. And for those who continue to support the Democratic candidates as the lesser evil—fine, that’s your choice. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting change is a sign of denial. Continue reading

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