DeKalb, NIU and social justice leaders are committed to continuing the progress that has been made since last summer to build unity in the community.
That commitment was renewed at a conference held Tuesday at the NIU Center for Black Studies following the fatal shooting Sunday of Daunte Wright in Minnesota. DeKalb and NIU leaders were joined by the leadership of the Sir Donald Foundation in pledging action to promote accountability and a sense of belonging.
“The statements that will be made today will not be enough to ensure that this will never happen again without action and strong conviction,” said Trinity Alexander, Chief Operations Officer for the Sir Donald Foundation, which provides mentoring to those with criminal justice system involvement. “It must also come hand in hand with policy to ensure that DeKalb is safe for everybody.”
While there is more to do, action has been taken since last summer’s social justice demonstrations. DeKalb Police officers are wearing body cameras and procedures have been changed, including a new agreement that has officers working with social workers from the Northwestern Medicine Ben Gordon Center. DeKalb Mayor-elect Cohen Barnes says that progress will continue when he takes office next month.
“Everyone who lives here is DeKalb,” said Barnes. “Everyone that lives here should feel safe here, feel that they belong here. I absolutely, positively believe that.”
Community leaders were joined Tuesday by DeKalb Acting Police Chief Bob Redel, NIU Deputy Chief of Police Darren Mitchell, who becomes acting chief on Saturday, and officers from each department. DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas says change has been embraced by both police agencies.
“The people in the room today join us, I am convinced, in wanting to do the right thing, wanting to engage you, wanting to serve and protect you,” said Nicklas. “I think it’s very important to know that they are here because they are allies.”
One of the groups that will lead inclusion initiatives going forward is the Belonging Council, which is made up of members of the DeKalb and NIU community. Vernese Edghill-Walden, NIU Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion/Chief Diversity Officer and Interim Chief Human Resources Officer, says the Council has brought everyone to the table.
“I think it is important to hear people, to see people, and to really have hard conversations about race and racism,” said Edghill-Walden. “We’ve been looking at the systemic barriers to education, healthcare, and access to food. All of those things are really important and monumental in our community.”
Events are also being planned. The Sir Donald Foundation and Community Hands Initiative are bringing non-profit agencies together to share information on their services during a Community Outreach Fundraiser on Blackhawk Road in DeKalb on April 24 from 12 p.m. until 6 p.m.
You can learn more about the Belonging Council at cityofdekalb.com/belonging.
Photo: DeKalb Mayor-elect Cohen Barnes (left) said Tuesday that progress on social justice will continue when he takes office next month.