Former U-46 board member to take social justice advocacy to national stage
Traci O'Neal Ellis hopes her experience on the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board helps her advocate for educational equity and criminal justice reform nationally.
Ellis resigned at Monday's board meeting citing opportunities "to take my social justice activism to the national level" arising from a controversy last fall over her comment about the American flag.
In a Sept. 24 Facebook post, Ellis likened the American flag to "toilet paper" while expressing support for NFL players who were kneeling during the national anthem last season in protest of black people being shot by police and how minorities are treated by law enforcement. It prompted death threats against Ellis.
She apologized for causing a "distraction" yet stood by her original statement.
Ellis will join a Washington, D.C.-based national think tank working to support black legislators and blacks running for national office.
"I'm going to be part of a policy brief writing team on issues of importance particularly to the black community," she said. "The importance of getting black candidates elected who are well versed in the policy issues for black America ... it was too enticing an opportunity to pass up."
She will focus on education equity, policing of black communities, criminal justice reform, and poverty.
Ellis, 56, an Elgin attorney, is not quitting her day job as executive director of human resources for Aurora-based Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. Her work for the think tank will involve a lot of travel, weekly meetings with the group's policy team, and evenings and weekends spent writing briefs, she said.
"It's going to require a lot of time and attention," Ellis said in explaining why she couldn't finish her school board term, which expires next April. "It's like the opportunity is here now. I felt like I was at a crossroads and had to make a decision. I love the ability to influence and impact policy."
Ellis has been outspoken about inequities in education for minorities at U-46 having raised two boys who attended school in the district, one graduating from Larkin High School, as she did in 1980.
"The outcomes for black children are the worst," she said, speaking of U-46's statistics of racial inequities with the overrepresentation of black students in referrals for discipline. "The educational experience for black children in this country ... there is so much more to talk about than solely (closing) the achievement gap."
Though she won't be serving on the board, Ellis said she will remain an Elgin resident and continue to pay attention to what goes on in the district.
"U-46 is what launched and prepared me to go into the world and compete among the best this world has to offer. U-46 has a building that carries my father's name and therefore this district will always be held close in the heart of my family."