NORMAL — Chemberly Cummings and Arlene Hosea didn't set out to make history.

"It was always kind of a no-brainer for me to eventually run for office,” Cummings said Wednesday. "It was never about me being the first anything."

But, by all accounts, they will be the first black members of the Normal City Council and Normal Township's board of trustees, respectively.

"It truly hit me last night. ... I thought, 'Oh my, there is history being made here in Normal,'" said Hosea. "Young people in this community will be able to look around and see people who look like them have a seat at the table.”

Cummings, a 34-year-old State Farm business architect, will replace Cheryl Gaines on the council after finishing third for three seats in Tuesday's election. Hosea, a Normal Planning Commission member and retired Illinois State University Dining Services director, finished third for four seats on township board.

Both women thanked the community, their supporters and previous black leaders for making their wins possible.

"It speaks to the type of community so many of us want: a community that values diversity and is truly inclusive and welcoming," Hosea said. “Bloomington is my hometown and that of my late father, and the pride and the sense of, 'Wow, we have really evolved as a community,' is tremendous."

She dedicated the victory to her 90-year-old mother, who moved to Bloomington at 12 years old and still lives in town.

"She grew up part of her childhood in the Mississippi Delta... and I know the environment that she grew up in, and the messages that society told her," Hosea said. "This win is for her and all the women who came before me, and for the black struggle."

She added that residents of all colors should visit the McLean County Museum of History to learn about the history of black residents in Bloomington-Normal.

"I stand upon many shoulders in this moment: local shoulders of Mr. Henry Gay and Mr. Merlin Kennedy. I got to meet the late (U.S.) Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones. She was an inspiration,” Cummings said. “I wish my grandfather was here to celebrate this moment. ... It is bittersweet in that sense."

Both women said they cherished the opportunity to visit Tuesday night with Meta Mickens-Baker, the first black member of McLean County Unit 5's school board.

“I grabbed their hands and raised their hands with mine," Hosea said, "and I thought, 'This is Normal.'"

Normal Mayor Chris Koos, who has served as mayor or a council member since 2001, said, "It’s past time that this happened."

"I’m not saying that makes us a racist community or there weren’t good candidates in the past, (but) the council makeup reflects the community more than it has in the past," he said. "(Cummings) stepped up and did a good campaign. ... I think she’ll do a great job."

Cummings said her goal as a council member is now to "be a voice for voices who haven’t been heard and need a louder soundboard.” That includes black residents but also elderly and poor residents, she added.

“I owe it not only to those people but all constituents to do my best, serve humbly and give it my all,” she said.

“Yesterday we made great history, but it’s one chapter in the history others made before," Hosea said. "There will be other chapters to follow."

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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Staff Writer

Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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