As the United States continues to grapple with the issues of race, immigration status and gender identity, I wanted to do a quick survey of conditions in Bloomington-Normal. I talked to both mayors and heard the views of both city managers. I also asked for input from the NAACP, a 100-year-old organization advocating for the rights of African-American members of the community. I also noted articles in The Pantagraph and news from Illinois State University relating to inclusion.
My sense from doing this research is that Bloomington-Normal has made many efforts to be inclusive. The mayors both emphasized the importance of having a diverse population included in the affairs of the city. Mayor Tari Renner mentioned his efforts to include diverse members on the various committees and boards that he appoints. Tim Gleason, the city manager for Bloomington, spoke of the importance of ensuring that the city staff is representative of the makeup of the city. Mayor Chris Koos pointed to Normal’s new comprehensive plan that includes mention of multiculturalism as a core value and the goal to foster a community-wide culture of openness empathy and equitable treatment of all residents.
Articles in The Pantagraph noted a new inclusive playground in Harmony Park, a downtown Bloomington Pride Fest, new director of diversity and inclusion at Illinois Wesleyan, YWCA Race Against Hate, Cultural Festival in Miller Park. Illinois State University news included a year in review of diversity and inclusion mentioning many activities such as encouraging courageous conversations on controversial topics.
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We have a large Indian community that has brought the diversity of culture, including several restaurants and stores. The local theaters provide movies to serve this population. Several parks feature cricket fields.
What is left to be done? It is important that we set goals to continue to improve. In the area of hiring, Pam Reece, city manager for Normal, said the town will be changing the testing schedule for police and fire jobs. There is hope that a new aquatic center will be developed on the west side as funding comes from the state of Illinois. A new Community Policing Culture Board will be set up to address the culture of policing in Normal to move from more reactive to a more holistic policing approach. A new multisport complex is being considered. We should be sure to consider cricket as one of the sports to be included.
Let’s be proud of what we’ve done and challenge ourselves to do better. As we move to a less monolithic society, there are bound to be frictions as some groups feel they may be losing out. We need to be mindful to apply justice to our relationships, but we also need to see ourselves as one human family. Linda Foster, president of the NAACP, mentioned that we need to go beyond tolerance. We need to celebrate our differences and see that they provide a much richer experience for us all.