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Kingsley Junior High students will find Black History Month inspiration a lot closer to home

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Staff
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WGLT
The Black Student Union at Kingsley Junior High School in Normal has teamed up with the McLean County Museum of History for the Local Black Leadership Symposium at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the school.

They may not be household names, but some of the most influential Black figures in Bloomington-Normal history will soon have their stories heard by the next generation of Black leaders.

The Black Student Union at Kingsley Junior High School in Normal has teamed up with the McLean County Museum of History for the Local Black Leadership Symposium at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the school. The event, which will feature speakers from the museum, is open to the public.

“I’m hoping to learn more about local Black leaders. They’ve always lived so far away,” said Zeniah, one of the leaders of the Black Student Union at Kingsley. “If I have a project, I don’t have to just do it on Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. I can do it on a local leader.”

The event will spotlight those who made and helped preserve Black history in McLean County – people like Caribel Washington, Mildred Pratt, and “Black Santa” himself Merlin Kennedy.

Black Leadership poster graphic

“These are the folks we’re going to bring to the forefront. In so many ways, these are more or less contemporary voices, folks who have only just recently passed. Folks who were engaged in the type of activism that’s shaped our current community, and we’re still living in their ripple effects,” said Hannah Johnson, director of youth and family education at the museum.

Speakers will also touch on the Bloomington-Normal Black History Project and some of the earlier, foundational Black families in the community, Johnson said.

Eric Stegemann is a Kingsley teacher and BSU sponsor. He said the event aligns with the BSU’s mission: to “empower and celebrate Black student identities by connecting with the community through service and providing a safe space to voice their experiences.”

“We’re looking for some experiences that are based in McLean County, that our kids can use as a mentor, someone they can look up to,” Stegemann said. “To see that these people who have changed our society and Bloomington-Normal and the country, they don’t just live in some far-off land. They can live in Bloomington-Normal as well.”

Normal West’s BSU and its leaders were a major driver of activism in Bloomington-Normal during the summer of 2020, as George Floyd’s death rekindled the civil rights movement.

Kingsley’s BSU chapter started in 2020. Another BSU leader, Aniyah, is in her second year Kingsley.

“At my old school, we never had anything like this,” Aniyah said. As for why she was interested in organize the Local Black Leadership Symposium: “I wanted other students and people in general to learn more about our history and what a lot of Black people went through in the past.”

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