West Chicago mayor steps up COVID-19 education campaign

  • Ruben Pineda

    Ruben Pineda

  • Eira Corral Sepúlveda

    Eira Corral Sepúlveda

  • Sharmin Shahjahan

    Sharmin Shahjahan

  • Liza Gutierrez

    Liza Gutierrez

  • Rakeda Leaks, executive director of diversity and inclusion for Naperville Unit District 203, talks about how the entire school community has a part to play in helping promote equity.

    Rakeda Leaks, executive director of diversity and inclusion for Naperville Unit District 203, talks about how the entire school community has a part to play in helping promote equity. YouTube Screenshot

  • David Sam

    David Sam

 
 
Updated 8/29/2020 6:34 PM

West Chicago Mayor Ruben Pineda is stepping up an ongoing coronavirus pandemic education campaign in September to help combat rising cases.

The city has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases -- 1,024, as of Saturday morning -- in DuPage County. Its Latino community, which represents nearly 53% of the city's population and accounts for nearly 56% of cases, is among the hardest hit in the county.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's been a concern for us," said Pineda, the city's first Hispanic mayor.

Multigenerational Latino families living together in smaller spaces and socioeconomically disadvantaged "essential workers" are especially vulnerable. To curb the spread, West Chicago has canceled all festivals and events through Dec. 31, including next month's Mexican Independence Day Festival.

"I put a letter out to every single business in town, every grocery store, every church to ask them to help get the information out," Pineda said.

The city's website, westchicago.org, is updated daily with bilingual resources on COVID-19, including new hours for DuPage County's drive-through testing site starting Monday.

"There's no such thing as too much information," Pineda said. "My hope is that everybody out there is looking at it and listening to it."

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Regional response:

Pineda has been working with DuPage County, mayors of several neighboring towns and superintendents of schools to coordinate outreach efforts toward Latinos and other affected populations.

Officials will be visiting hard-hit neighborhoods in those communities to distribute hand sanitizers, masks, thermometers, and information on pandemic safety and available community resources.

"(The virus) has no idea what boundaries are," Pineda said. "The data is worrisome, but we're getting better. We have already put signage all over to keep reminding people -- wash your hands, keep your social distance. We need to work together on this, if we want to continue dropping our numbers and making sure everybody is safe and healthy."

Women's vote:

Suburban women leaders this month are marking the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920, granting American women the right to vote. Yet, women of color had to wait nearly five decades later to exercise that right, they acknowledged.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The suffragettes are such a big part to whom I owe the legacy of being able to just exist in this space as a woman in government by being able to vote and participate in our great democracy," said Hanover Park Village Clerk Eira Corral Sepúlveda. "I also owe it to women of color, such as Ida B. Wells, who fought for Black women's rights, and Dolores Huerta, who through the civil rights movement fought so hard and continues to fight today for Latina women and immigrant women to have equal rights in the United States of America."

Sepúlveda and Hanover Park village trustees Sharmin Shahjahan and Liza Gutierrez spoke about women's equity issues within families, places of worship, workplaces, schools and local government during a recent Women's Equality Day program.

Shahjahan said women and children need to be fully integrated into societal spaces, including government meetings, restaurants and social gatherings.

"We are the front-line workers. We are the house managers," Gutierrez said, "our voice shouldn't be muffled and put in second place. A whole lot of us are still being left out of the conversation."

Racial injustice:

Naperville Unit District 203 school leaders released a video this week highlighting the importance of overcoming systemic racism, ending racial injustice and supporting diversity and inclusion.

"We are tapping our staff of color, staff from marginalized groups to support us in this work," said Rakeda Leaks, executive director of diversity and inclusion. "It's just important for every person to realize the role that we all play in creating an equitable, welcoming, inclusive environment, so that requires people of all backgrounds, especially our white educators and school administrators to show some initiative and to work on themselves, as well as if they are in a position of influence or power, to identify ways in which they can support this work."

In June, the school board passed a resolution pledging to review policies, practices, programs, curricula and culture to undo inequities, celebrate diversity and achieve an inclusive district culture. Its objectives include to: elevate student voices to effect positive systemic change; continue programmatic funding to achieve equitable student outcomes; recognize the value of a diverse staff and administration, as well as a continued effort to recruit and retain employees of color; and speak out against acts of racial and social injustice.

College equity plan:

Illinois colleges and universities are partnering to help raise degree completion and graduation rates for underrepresented students with racial and socioeconomic disparities.

The Partnership for College Completion has published more than 20 strategic Equity Plans as part of the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative (ILEA). They provide road maps for closing racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps and increasing student success, particularly for Black, Latino, and low-income students, at 28 of the state's four-year and two-year colleges, including College of Lake County and Elgin Community College.

"As a Hispanic Serving Institution and a college of choice for students who are first in their families to pursue higher education, ECC is using the ILEA framework to guide strategies around teaching, holistic support services, student mentoring, and inclusion," ECC President David Sam said.

In Illinois, 68% of all Latino undergraduates and 42% of all Black undergraduates are enrolled at ILEA institutions.

• Share stories, news and happenings from the suburban mosaic at mkrishnamurthy@dailyherald.com.

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