Participants in Thursday night’s virtual Bloomington-Normal NAACP candidate forum were unified in denouncing white supremacy.
But the language candidates used to talk about race diverged from there.
Asked about previous involvement in the African American community, Libertarian candidate for the 88th House District Kenneth Allison said because of his more than 27 years of military service, “I stopped seeing color forever ago.”
“The military really taught me and showed me that it’s all one fight, it’s all one team, we’re all one human race,” Allison said.
His Democratic opponent, Karla Bailey-Smith, said after the police killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, she began working to understand her own white privilege.
Bailey-Smith said she worked to get a “Black Lives Matter” sign installed outside the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Bloomington Normal, and more recently joined the local campaign to end cash bail at the McLean County Jail.
Republican incumbent Keith Sommer did not attend the forum.
State Rep. Dan Brady, a Bloomington Republican, seemed to allude to “Black Lives Matter” when he said, “the idea of slogans are very nice, and they’re important, but the reality is, how you treat people with respect for one another, I think is the key ingredient.”
Brady said that’s exactly what he’s done during his 11 terms serving the 105th House District, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic that’s disproportionately impacted people of color.
“By providing the constituent service that I’m known for--being accessible nights, weekends, and holidays, and never once closing my district office for an extended period of time--I have tried and continued to provide government relief to all that contact me,” he said.
Brady also noted his membership in and partnership with the NAACP on programs aimed at ending violence and supporting at-risk youth. He touted his voting record in the Illinois General Assembly, co-sponsoring a police body camera bill, supporting legislation reducing penalties for nonviolent offenders, and opposing the Traffic Pedestrian Stop Act he said didn’t go far enough toward its intended goal.
His Democratic challenger Chemberly Cummings said as a Black woman, she’s always worked with and for communities of color.
“I’ve been taught that it is important that I definitely be engaged, especially having a grandmother that fought to get people registered to vote,”said Cummings, adding she continued that work as a precinct committee person and while serving on several NAACP committees.
Cummings also said she advocated for a bill to end the practice of racial profiling in Phoenix, Ariz.
“For me, this is reality, and I know what it’s like to be the disenfranchised, the marginalized, and also the dismissed,” she said.
Val Laymon, Democratic candidate for McLean County Board District 7, said she believes words do matter, especially when followed up with actions.
“So let me start by saying, Black Lives Matter, unequivocally,” said Lamon, who said she participated in marches, protests and civil actions this summer to back up those words. “In marching in solidarity, in recognizing my own privilege, I want to be an advocate for anti-racist policy on the county board,” she said.
District 7 Republican incumbent Jacob Beard said while attending college he lived in the most diverse fraternity on campus, befriending Black and international students of color. He’s still surrounded by diversity working at State Farm, Beard said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work for and with people who are different than me, and I’ve appreciated that.”
Beard also said as a foster parent for many years, “the chance to parent kids who are different than me has really been an eye-opening experience.”
Vying for the McLean County District 8 seat, Democrat Lea Cline said her life has been “greatly enhanced by the Black community,” from growing up in New Orleans to engaging with her colleagues and students of color as an art history professor at Illinois State University.
“Life is a learning process, and I am committed to continuing to open myself up and learn and improve, whether that is learning how to be more actively anti-racist, or lending my support to Black students in their appeals to my campus leadership,” Cline said.
Her Republican opponent, Jordan Baker, admitted his involvement with the African American community needs to improve.
Baker said he served on a task force at Illinois Wesleyan University formed shortly after Black Lives Matter posters on campus were found defaced.
“In that task force ... instead of having symbolic actions being taken, I really wanted to focus on concrete solutions,” he said. “I think the biggest thing for me was wanting to sit back and really listen to the perspectives that, for the most part, I really have never experienced before.”
Also joining the forum were the Democratic candidate for McLean County Auditor Rob Fazzini; Democratic candidate for McLean County Coroner Abbi Sorrells; McLean County State’s Attorney Don Knapp; Democratic candidate for McLean County Board District 3 RJ McCracken; candidates for McLean County Board District 4 Adelita Cruz (R) and Ben Webb (D); Democratic McLean County Board District 5 candidate Rachael Lund; Democratic County Board District 6 candidate Hannah Beer; and Democratic County Board District 9 candidate Jackie Gunderson.
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