Living Black In Bloomington-Normal | WGLT

Living Black In Bloomington-Normal

Living Black In Bloomington-Normal is a limited series featuring interviews with community members about their own life experiences as a person of color. It's produced by WGLT's Jon Norton and student reporter Darnysha Mitchell. 

If you'd like to be interviewed for this series, please share your information with us and a reporter will be in touch.

You can also learn more about why we call the series Living Black in Bloomington-Normal.

Brandon Bell grew up in Normal and now resides in St. Louis.

Bell spoke with Ariele Jones for the WGLT series Living Black in Bloomington-Normal. Contact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.

Jen Brooks was born and raised in Bloomington. She worked at State Farm for a few years before becoming a language arts teacher. She taught at Peoria Manual High School beginning in January of this year and begins teaching at Bloomington Junior High School this fall.

Brianna Rivera-Thompson will receive her master's degree from ISU in December
Andres Rivera-Thompson

Brianna Rivera-Thompson was born in Galesburg and was raised in Normal. She attended Unit 5 schools and will receive her master’s degree in speech pathology from Illinois State University in December. She and husband Andres met at ISU and were married in December 2019.

Brandon Lusala's parents immigrated to the United States from what was then the Congo for work. His father worked for State Farm in Bloomington, his mother was a nurse. He attended Northpoint Elementary School, Kingsley Junior High and Normal Community High School.

Joel Johnson is a Normal resident, New Orleans native, an object-oriented developer and owner of Silky Soul Entertainment. He's lived in Bloomington-Normal for decades, is a married father of two daughters and loves his family, faith, and exploring entrepreneurial ambitions.

Kevin Graham and his family
Kevin Graham

Kevin Graham was born in Springfield and moved to Bloomington at age 3. He says he grew up “on both sides of the tracks," first in the Sunnyside projects in west Bloomington, then in Lancaster Heights apartment complex in Normal. He attended Sugar Creek Elementary, various Catholic schools in Bloomington-Normal and Springfield, Chiddix Junior High for one year and graduated from U-High. 

Graham spoke with Jon Norton for the WGLT series Living Black in Bloomington-NormalContact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.

As journalists, we expect transparency and hold people accountable. That cuts both ways. As our listeners and readers, you should expect nothing less from WGLT: transparency and accountability.

Christie Vellella is a Chicago native who came to Illinois State University in the 70s. She is a retired teacher and social worker in Bloomington-Normal.

Lloyd Davis is a Bloomington-Normal software developer
Jon Norton / WGLT

Bloomington resident Lloyd Davis is originally from the south suburban city of Chicago Heights. The software developer spoke with Jon Norton for the WGLT series Living Black in Bloomington-NormalContact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.

Kayla Bullock is a historian who was born in, and now lives again in Lincoln, Neb. Her family moved to Bloomington-Normal when she was in elementary school. She graduated from Parkside Junior High and University High School. She attended college in both South Africa and England.

Elisha Coffrin is an Eastern Illinois University graduate and owner of Coffrin's ATA Martial Arts in Bloomington-Normal along with her husband, Corey.

Calvin Jones on the bleachers at Miller Park in Bloomington, IL
Jon Norton / WGLT

Calvin Jones was born in Peoria, where he spent his very early childhood. He remembers acting as the protector of his best friend “Andy,” the only white kid in what he described as a poor mostly Black neighborhood. His family moved to Bloomington before he entered 5th grade, then to Normal shortly thereafter where he attended Fairview Elementary.

Lissette Hall grew up in both Chicago and Bloomington-Normal and is a graduate of Parkside Junior High, Normal West high school, and Heartland Community College. She studied at Columbia University, UIC, and ISU before becoming the first person to earn a bachelor's in comedy writing and performance with a minor in arts in healthcare at Columbia College Chicago.

Bloomington native and now Normal resident Dr. Cedric Williams is the founder and CEO of the Twin Cities based Legacy Consulting & Research Group. Williams is a psychologist who has served in the United States Army and Reserve Components for over 18 years, including time serving in Iraq.

Leon Jones
Willie Thomas

Leon Jones is a Bloomington High School graduate and a Bloomington native.

He spoke with Darnysha Mitchell for the WGLT series Living Black in Bloomington-NormalContact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.

Aubrey Barlow
Staff / WGLT

Chicago native Aubrey Barlow believes COVID-19 has given white people a small glimpse into what it’s like to be black in America.

Brandon Thornton
Lyndsie Schlink

Brandon Thornton is a teacher at Bloomington High School and is a graduate student (B.S. '11, M.S. '16, Ed.D '22) at Illinois State University.

He spoke with Darnysha Mitchell for the WGLT series Living Black in Bloomington-NormalContact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.

Thurston Stevenson is a 28-year-old Bloomington native studying comedy writing and performance at Columbia College in Chicago. The Normal West grad is also in the Army National Guard and a member of the Bloomington-Normal advocacy group The Next Gen Initiative.

Candice Byrd at a recent Black Lives Matter rally in Bloomington
Adam Sitton

Candice Byrd describes herself as a person of color. She prefers that over the term “Black” because she says that means absence of color. The Bloomington native is a case manager at YWCA McLean County and mother of three.

Janine Peacher is a professor at Lincoln College. This year, she became the first tenured Black professor at the college.

She spoke with Darnysha Mitchell for the WGLT series Living Black in Bloomington-NormalContact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.

Bloomington native Dashea Crockett is a leader at Illinois State University's Impact Ministry, a Grayslake North High School graduate, and community activist with the Next Gen Initiative group. John Findley, Dashea's grandfather, has called Bloomington home after living on a farm with his family in Tupelo, Mississippi, and coming north during the Great Migration. 

They spoke with student reporter Darnysha Mitchell for WGLT's series Living Black in Bloomington-NormalContact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.

Jayana Fennell and father Louis Fennell Jr.
Jon Norton / WGLT

Bloomington native Jayana Fennell is a Normal Community West High School graduate. She’s currently a junior telecommunications major for video production at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She’s also minoring in French. She spoke with Jon Norton for WGLT's series Living Black in Bloomington-NormalContact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.

Chadman James, a.k.a. "Grill Billyenz"
Jon Norton / WGLT

Chadman James, a.k.a. Grill Billyenz (or Billy Yenz) is a 30-year-old budding hip-hop star and self-described all-around creative. The Normal native spoke with Jon Norton for the WGLT series Living Black in Bloomington-Normal. Contact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.

Christopher Belt with son Louis
Jon Norton / WGLT

Christopher Belt is an English teacher at Normal Community High School. The Normal native spoke with Jon Norton for the WGLT series Living Black in Bloomington-NormalContact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.