Rev. Jesse Jackson to DuPage leaders: 'Racism hurts the racist and the victim'
The Rev. Jesse Jackson met with DuPage County religious, educational and law enforcement leaders from diverse communities Tuesday to promote healing and peace after two high-profile occurrences of racial unrest in Naperville.
His visit addressed both the situation Oct. 26 at Buffalo Wild Wings in Naperville -- in which a multiracial group of 18 was asked to move because restaurant staffers said two white customers did not want to sit by them -- and a Craigslist post by a white 14-year-old Naperville Central High School student -- who now is facing hate crimes charges -- that showed a black student and said "Slave for Sale (NAPERVILLE)."
Jackson called the recent occurrences "a wake-up call" of the problems "inherent in our times."
"I challenge us to learn to live together -- that takes effort," he said.
Jackson, a longtime civil rights leader who runs the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said racism is a belief system that falsely claims one group is superior and one is inferior. He challenged the audience of roughly 50 people at Cantigny Park Golf Club in Wheaton to provide better education against racism, which he called "ungodly" and illegal.
"Racism hurts the racist and the victim," he said, asking the audience to repeat his words. "We must teach our children better."
Jackson's message promoting anti-racism education was exactly what two Naperville parents said they wanted after instances of such bias affected their children in Naperville Unit District 203.
"I hope it'll bring peace and change," parent Marla Baker said.
But Baker and fellow parent Tamara Wallace said the work toward change must continue after the speech Jackson gave Tuesday, when he addressed leaders invited by DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church and Unity Partnership, a group that works to promote youth development, outreach and relationships between law enforcement and minority communities.
"This is not going to be enough," Wallace said. "This can be a steppingstone, but if it's not a consistent walk, it's not going to be enough."
Wallace, whose teenage son's image was shown in the "Slave for Sale" post, said her son has continued to be "harassed" by peers after the post, with some now trying to paint the student who made the post as the victim. She said her son feels overwhelmed by what has happened, but she will continue teaching him to love, not hate.
Wallace also said she hopes the racist post can shed light on what administrators in District 203 have called an uptick in use of racial slurs among middle school and high school students this year.
During a forum last week, Rakeda Leaks, District 203's executive director of diversity and inclusion, said the increase seems tied to white students using a vulgar racially-charged word after being given a figurative "pass" from black students.
But Wallace said she challenges that explanation, as she doubts any black students have given white students permission to use a racial slur. She said black students in some cases put up with disparaging statements because they don't see adults addressing the behavior.
"They're numb," Wallace said. "They don't like it, but they're taking it."
Jackson said it's time to choose unity over divisiveness to recover from a "very dangerous and very violent" environment in society as a whole.
"We need help, and we need help from each other," he said. "We have to change the narrative."
District 203 Superintendent Dan Bridges was among a panel of eight who joined Jackson in speaking during what was called a "Leadership Forum to Address Community Concerns and to Promote Peace." He said the racist post has served to "wake us up" to the need to do better.
"I'm not proud of the fact there are students who are walking in our hallways today that are subjected to racism, discrimination or hatred," Bridges said. "I'm asking for your help as a community to ensure that every child who walks in the halls of our schools has an opportunity to grow, has an opportunity to learn, has an opportunity to feel safe."
Regina Brent, founder and president of Unity Partnership, said she's confident Jackson's presence and outreach in DuPage County will be effective as leaders look for solutions in a "very respectful and dignified manner."
"He's considered our leader of the African American community," Brent said, "and right now, people are hurting and they need healing."
A variety of Naperville groups also were gathering Tuesday night along the downtown Riverwalk for what organizers called a "Hate Has No Home Here" rally in response to the recent cases in the city.