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A 'mission since birth': Normal Town Council member Chemberly Harris named to national equity council

Normal town council member Chemberly Harris will serve on a national council that addresses race and equity issues.
Chemberly Harris

A Normal Town Council member will look to address race and equity issues on a national level.

Chemberly Harris is the first person of color ever elected to the Normal Town Council. She will serve on the National League of Cities' Race, Equity, and Leadership (REAL) Council.

“There’s a lot of things that have racial equity impacts that we sometimes don’t like to talk about, but we need to,” said Harris, adding she'd like to explore ways to reduce gaps in home and business ownership among minority populations. That could include seeking minority businesses as preferred bidders for city contracts, she said.

“There’s a lot of areas where we as the Town of Normal can improve and have a racial equity conversation,” Harris said, noting those conversations can be difficult because some believe fostering equity amounts to handouts.

Harris said even though she is the only minority to serve on the town council, she feels supported by the town in her efforts to foster equity.

“None of us do things alone. It does take all of us, but I think as more people get it, the easier it becomes to make those moves,” Harris said.

Harris said she follows generations of women who fought for racial justice in their own way, noting her great grandmother housed and fed civil rights activists when they came to Cleveland because hotels would not take in people of color.

“It’s been my mission since day of birth,” she said.

Cannabis stores

Harris was the only town council member who voted for a second cannabis retail store earlier this month. Some council members objected to its location in a high-traffic area near The Shoppes at College Hills.

Harris said the town already set good boundaries for cannabis stores, keeping them away from schools and residential areas.

“We’re coming to a place (of) regulating business and I get nervous about that,” Harris said. “I think when we looked at it and said ‘no schools, no residential areas,’ I think we’ve outlined some very good boundaries to identify what’s a clear zoning space for a dispensary.”

Mayor Chris Koos has said he wants the council to have a broader discussion about where cannabis stores should be allowed to locate.

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