'A lot of times we are judged': Black U-46 students meet to discuss race and equity
Nine Elgin Area School District U-46 Black students took part in a forum Saturday at South Elgin High School to share their experiences about race and equity both in society and their schools.
Kenyon Woods Middle School dean's assistant Jim Cook moderated the forum, "Breaking Barriers in Education: An African-American Student Leader Forum." It was broadcast live on the district's YouTube channel and is part of U-46's response to an equity survey that showed just 13% of students said they engage in important conversations about race at school.
Cook began the discussion asking students to share a concern as an African American citizen either locally or nationwide.
"You can look a certain way and a cop will automatically think that you are stealing or just because you look this way you are violent," said Elgin High School student Aniah Hodge. "Right now it is a problem and it shouldn't be. I feel we can make sure cops are trained appropriately. The question I have is why everybody isn't treated the same way when it comes to the criminal justice system?"
Larkin student Ariana Sowers said she doesn't like being judged by what she wears.
"If we dress a certain way they may think we are a criminal or thug or we have a criminal background," Sowers said. "We may just be a normal person. I feel a lot of times we are judged before the people know who we are."
The students, who attend Streamwood, South Elgin, Bartlett, Elgin and Larkin high schools, expressed concern about treatment from law enforcement.
"Growing up as a kid we were taught the police are here to help you," South Elgin student Jaeden Jordan said. "But seeing stuff where people are dying, Black people specifically at the hands of the police, it's not supposed to happen. I feel there shouldn't be a fear of police in this world, especially in America."
Cook asked the group about problems -- and potential solutions -- to what they have encountered at school.
The group spoke of wanting more African American studies classes.
"As a Black young woman I'm being pushed into normalizing social injustices and pushed into normalizing pain because I'll be seen as a complainer," Bartlett student Caylen Harmon said. "I should walk away from what I feel and look on the brighter side. We need more education. I feel like our African American history book is so much larger than we are taught."
Larkin junior Dontrell Maxie agreed.
"I feel like Black History Month shouldn't just be a month," Maxie said. "It should be all year round."
The forum lasted about an hour.