Diversity discussions starting Wednesday in Naperville
A history lesson on race-related policies and practices in Naperville is how one city council member plans to start a series of conversations aimed at fostering inclusion and trust among all sectors of the city.
Council member Benny White is hosting an event called Naperville Neighbors United, or Neighbor to Neighbor: A Diversity Discussion, at 7 p.m. Wednesday in meeting room B on the lower level of the Naperville Municipal Center at 400 S. Eagle St.
A panel led by a historical presentation from Donna Sack, vice president of community engagement and audience for the Naper Settlement museum, will share facts and experiences before those in attendance will be asked to discuss their reactions within small groups.
"The whole purpose and vision of what we're trying to do, ultimately, is to build trust within our community," White said. "We do that by establishing relationships."
The free, public discussion comes after freshman state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, who represents parts of Naperville within her 81st District, sparked controversy with an online comment in January saying Naperville has a "history of white supremacist policies" that is "ongoing."
But White said he has discussed his idea to host a series of community conversations about diversity and inclusion with Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico for about the past 10 months. Stava-Murray's comments, he said, energized and sped up the process of getting the conversations started.
"It's not in response to that (comment). It's something we had already planned on doing," White said. "The city needs it more so now."
Joining Sack on the panel will be Saily Joshi, chairwoman of the Parent Diversity Advisory Council in Indian Prairie Unit District 204; Michael Raczak, school board president in District 204; Regina Brent, president and founder of a group called Unity Partnership that fosters police-community relationships in the DuPage County area; Roger Chawla, treasurer of Unity Partnership; and possibly others, White said.
Stava-Murray said she's pleased her comments have started a sustained conversation. She encourages people not to fear addressing race or to make it taboo, but to discuss "the many ways white supremacy can and does re-emerge," such as "'color blind' policies that make race and racial disparities invisible."
"I'm thankful that historical context and perspective will be shared on this important topic," Stava-Murray said.
Brent said Stava-Murray's comments have shocked some, especially as the representative defended her words and brought up concerns about racial profiling during traffic stops, questionable police hiring, discrimination in housing and home showings, largely white teacher populations, high rates of black student suspensions and low rates of black student enrollment in advanced placement courses.
"I know her to be someone who stands up for justice," Brent said. "What she said may not have been music to a lot of people's ears. But it got a conversation started."
Brent said she hopes those with the power to make change will be in attendance for the first event in this new series of discussions. Stava-Murray said she can't make it herself because she will be in Springfield, but her chief of staff plans to attend.
"I've always had a passion about getting those who matter into the room for vital discussions when it comes to change," Brent said. "The only way we're going to make progress is to bring the key players into the room to hear the concerns from the citizens themselves."
After Wednesday's event launches the series, White said gatherings may be monthly at first, then likely will become quarterly. He said his goal is to bring in future panelists or speakers from various ethnic or religious groups and sexual orientations to share their realities in "rich discussions on things we can do as a community to get better."
"We're a great community," White said. "But for us to get better, we've got to understand where we've been in order to get to where we want to go."