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Ex-Unit 5 administrator Harden to keynote student scholarship event

James Harden
Carleigh Gray
WGLT file
James Harden served at Unit 5's director of human resources and student services from 2017 to 2019.

James Harden, the former Unit 5 administrator who was accused of inappropriate workplace conduct before accepting a buyout from the district, will serve as keynote speaker for a scholarship celebration in Bloomington.

Mount Pisgah Baptist Church is hosting the annual Joint Scholarship Celebration from 5-7 p.m. Saturday.

Carla Campbell-Jackson is vice president of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP, one of the groups that has organized the event through a mentoring and scholarship program. She said the celebration serves to honor students of color whose achievements in the classroom are often overlooked.

“We mentor many students throughout the year, and it saddens me to hear students say they are never recognized at their schools,” Campbell-Jackson said.

Harden resigned from Unit 5 as its director of human resources and student services in 2019 after less than two years with the district. That resignation came after investigations into his workplace conduct.

One employee who later left the district sued Unit 5 for allegedly retaliating against her when she raised her concerns against Harden. That case has not yet gone to trial.

Harden has maintained his innocence. He said he experienced racial insensitivity and "professional sabotage" while on the job at Unit 5. He is now the executive director of engagement and social emotional learning for the Unit 4 school district in Champaign.

“We cannot judge Dr. Harden's posture of innocence (almost like I would not expect anyone to judge my decision to "whistle-blow" on State Farm),” Campbell-Jackson said, referring to her racial discrimination lawsuit against her former employer.

Campbell-Jackson said Harden will speak to students on the theme of “generation determination fueled by inspiration,” adding that she saw Harden give a keynote speech for the Bloomington-Normal chapter of Jack and Jill of America. “He excellently and creatively engaged the entire audience,” Campbell-Jackson said.

The group awards about $80,000 in scholarships to high school seniors each year, according to a flyer promoting the event.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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