Suburban Mosaic: How we covered our diverse suburban communities in 2021, and what we have in store for 2022

It's been a momentous year for our rich suburban mosaic of diverse communities, not the least of which was weathering Year Two of an unrelenting pandemic together.

In the past year, I've attempted to showcase ways in which people from racial, cultural, ethnic, religious and community groups of varying identities face unique challenges, mark triumphs and overcome tribulations. I've also sought to portray how much commonality unites us all.

In 2021, through this column and other stories, I have documented the devastating and disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color and how people have banded together to help each other survive.

I've written about changes to how public school students are taught the history and contributions of minorities, the adoption of new laws that promote greater awareness and understanding of certain ethnic cultures or groups, anti-racism and anti-bias initiatives in communities and schools, how schools are creating more equitable programs and policies to meet students' needs, and outstanding accomplishments of people from various walks of life, with the goal of making our coverage more inclusive and representative.

Here are some highlights from the year's suburban mosaic coverage. For more of my stories, visit

Asian history

Illinois made history becoming the first state to require public schools to teach Asian American history. The Teaching Equitable Asian American History Act will take effect in elementary and high schools statewide in the 2022-23 school year. It calls for teaching a unit of Asian American history in Illinois and the Midwest and for recognizing Asian Americans' contributions in the arts, sciences and civil rights. Asian Americans are among Illinois' fastest-growing populations - more than 700,000 people as of 2019.

Teaching Columbus

Controversy over Columbus statues nationwide sparked protests, leading to the removal of many of them, including monuments at Chicago's Grant and Arrigo parks, and changed the way Columbus is taught in schools. Columbus Day is recognized as a federal and state holiday in Illinois, but a growing number of states, cities, towns and counties celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead, to honor Native American history and acknowledge colonialism's impact on Indigenous communities.

Racial healing

Suburban colleges, libraries, and community groups conducted a host of events throughout the year as part of Healing Illinois, a racial healing initiative of the Illinois Department of Human Services in partnership with the Chicago Community Trust.

Uniform law

Illinois became the first state to adopt a new law providing students flexibility to modify their sports uniforms. The Inclusive Athletic Attire Act allows student athletes, male or female, the freedom to modify sports uniforms according to their cultural, religious, physical comfort and modesty preferences without the need for a waiver or a penalty.

Police recruitment

Recruiting diverse officers and building better relationships with minority communities has been a focus at many suburban police departments and a few of them have made strides toward achieving those goals. Among them are the communities of Arlington Heights, Aurora, Elgin, Hanover Park, Lake in the Hills, Palatine, Prospect Heights, and Naperville.

  Elk Grove Village resident Yasmina Blackburn helped launch an official Eid outfit for the 18-inch American Girl doll. She has been pushing for Muslim representation in the doll line since 2009. Mark Welsh/

American Muslim Girl

Elk Grove Village mom Yasmina Blackburn wrote a letter to the American Girl doll company seeking Muslim representation in its product line so girls like her daughter Aliya could see themselves reflected as part of American culture. And now, American Girl, owned by Mattel Inc., has launched an Eid al-Fitr doll outfit that Blackburn helped design as part of its new cultural celebration collection.

Black and white

After 23 years of Lutheran ministry in predominantly Black communities in the South, Michael Johnson was tapped to lead an all-white congregation in Arlington Heights.

George Floyd's death

More than a year after George Floyd's death at the hands of a white former Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020, conversations about racial injustice and race relations dominated all levels of suburban society, beyond a focus on police brutality. Many suburban Black community leaders expressed hope stemming from increased awareness about racial injustices bringing about change and reforms at the national and local levels.

Anti-lynching law

For the first time, lynching could become a federal hate crime. The House Judiciary Committee in December passed the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act, which now advances to the House floor. There have been more than 200 attempts to codify lynching as a federal crime since 1900. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, a Chicago Democrat who represents Illinois' 1st Congressional District, introduced the legislation.

Japanese history

For the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, suburban Japanese Americans reflected on how that infamous day altered the futures of thousands of people of Japanese descent who were uprooted and incarcerated in the months after the attack. The relocation and imprisonment of about 120,000 people of Japanese descent, mostly American citizens, from the West Coast brought nearly 20,000 people to the Chicago area.

MLK's dream

Suburban residents talked about the legacy of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Many suburbanites who believe King's dream remains unfulfilled 53 years later are calling people to action. Civil rights activists stressed it takes more than dinners, speeches and remembrances to foster the change King sought.

New year, new laws

Starting Jan. 1, Illinois schools may not regulate hairstyles historically associated with race and ethnicity, such as dreadlocks, braids and twists. And Juneteenth now is a paid state holiday. It celebrates June 19, 1865, two months after the end of the Civil War when slaves in Texas finally learned they were free. Juneteenth also is a federal holiday.

Doing our part

The Daily Herald has created a Diversity Advisory Panel to help our newsroom identify stories about underrepresented groups and to better reflect them in our coverage. Our inaugural 13-member panel is made up of people from varying walks of life, ages, experiences, and various ethnic, racial, religious, educational, professional and public service backgrounds.

I will oversee the panel's work. Its focus is highlighting important issues affecting those communities, as well as to help monitor our coverage for matters of sensitivity and accuracy. We have a lot of work ahead, and I look forward to what we can accomplish together in 2022.

Meanwhile, watch this space for updates on the panel's work. I hope you enjoy reading, as much as I enjoy writing, about the diverse people and issues that may often go unnoticed and why they matter.

Peace and felicitations for a happy new year!

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