Elgin nonprofit helping teens address racial injustice

  • The Boys & Girls Clubs of Elgin's "Raise Your Voice" program will focus on establishing social justice clubs in middle schools and high schools.

    The Boys & Girls Clubs of Elgin's "Raise Your Voice" program will focus on establishing social justice clubs in middle schools and high schools. File photo

Updated 3/13/2021 5:26 PM

An Elgin nonprofit is launching a new social justice program aimed at helping teenagers, especially Black and brown girls and boys, find their voice on racial issues.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Elgin's "Raise Your Voice" program will focus on establishing social justice clubs in middle schools and high schools in Elgin that will engage in community projects.


"We're hoping to launch it before the end of this school year, but it's really going to kick off in the next school year," said Vine Culpepper, club director of social justice.

The program is funded by a $45,000 Illinois Department of Human Services grant. The state agency has funded dozens of nonprofits statewide through its "Healing Illinois" initiative to promote programs and activities addressing racial injustice.

"One of the topics that we really want to focus on is educating our members about what social justice is and steps that they can take to really kind of fight for change in their communities," Culpepper said. "It's important for us to be able to facilitate those conversations and create a safe space for it."

The club serves nearly 300 students within Elgin Area School District U-46, of whom 85% are youth of color. It has been purchasing books and curriculum that are more inclusive to help boost reading levels and academic performance and is working to create a youth leadership development program for high school students.

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"Prior to COVID, we had programs in six of the U-46 middle schools and three of the high schools," Culpepper said. "It's been a bit of a struggle to get back into the schools. We are hoping to relaunch our middle school programs, in particular, before the end of this school year."

Book reading

Streamwood High School will host a "One Book, One Community" virtual event at 7 p.m. Thursday to discuss "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You" by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.

Reynolds will join the discussion to speak about race, equity, and how young people can get involved to change the world. The event is open to community members. Join the discussion on Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81551263773.

Some Streamwood High teachers have assigned the book to their classes and others are using snippets of the book for discussion. Streamwood High School Principal Jennifer VanDeusen is providing free copies of the book to Elgin Area School District U-46 employees while supplies last. Those interested can fill out a request form.


Diverse books

The Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year program is on hiatus from suggesting a new list of diverse books for the 2021-22 school year due to the pandemic's impact.

Each year, participants from member schools and libraries choose age-appropriate books for the coming year from preschool through adult titles. Since 2004, the group has selected 85 books for readers. They covered topics including racial and ethnic discrimination, immigration and challenges of belonging, gender identity, economic disparity, issues facing seniors, anti-Islamic bias, homelessness, sexual assault, interracial marriage, human trafficking, children in war-torn countries and refugees, death and loss, disabilities, environment and self-worth.

"We, too, are casualties of COVID-19," said John Brennan, who started the program 17 years ago to spur community conversations about race, and racial and social injustice.

Participation in the program by school districts and libraries has waned, possibly due to other regional programs addressing racial and social justice issues, he added.

"As a nation we have come to see, if not yet embrace, that racism and other forms of social injustice are embedded in every aspect of American life," Brennan said. "They exist in our churches, schools and universities, our companies, our labor unions, our banks and lending institutions, our school boards and local governments, our police and fire departments, our taxing structures and method for selecting representatives to Congress, our local and national sports, and our television and film industries. But today we have begun to shine a light on all these institutions. And that is reason for hope."

Equity survey

Elgin Area School District U-46 is polling fourth- through 12th-graders about equity and inclusion measuring students' sense of belonging and representation.

The survey asks questions about diversity, cultural awareness and action, how comfortable students feel talking about race and culture in class, and the frequency of educators leading those discussions.

The 2020 survey results showed only 13% of students said they engage in important conversations about race at school. It led to a student-led forum and parent discussions on race and equity last fall. A section of this year's survey includes questions developed by U-46 high school students who attended a Student Summit in February.

Since March 8, roughly 22% of students in targeted grades have taken the survey, which will remain open until March 26. Its results will support school improvement plans and will be shared with the school board in April.

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

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