History Points to Why Pride Month Is Celebrated Today But More Needs To Be Done For The LGBTQIA+ Community

By Dawn DeSart, ACE Steering Committee Member

June is Pride Month across the country. The month serves as a specific time to affirm and embrace our LGBTQIA+ friends and neighbors with the dignity and equality each of us deserve and to celebrate our uniqueness.

Why June? June was designated Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall Uprising, which took place in late June and early July of 1969. In 1969, being gay was a crime in every state except Illinois, punishable by life in prison. Some gay men were castrated, others were lobotomized, and some were tortured with repeated shock treatments. If you were LGBTQIA+, life was dangerous and uncertain. Equal rights—human rights —were denied.

In the early hours of June 28,1969, the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York, was a bustling hotspot for members of the LGBTQIA+ community to gather. For most patrons, the Stonewall Inn was considered a “safe space.” But on that early morning in June of 1969, New York City police raided the nightclub and cruelly beat, arrested, harassed, and stole cash from employees and patrons alike. After the brutal raid, hundreds came out to demonstrate against the police violence. The angry, loud protest lasted six days.

That day marked the beginning of the LGBTQIA+ equal rights movement and was supported by thousands of vocal allies of the LGBTQIA+ community.

One year later, on June 28,1970, for the first time in history, gay pride marches were held across the country to promote equal rights for those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Gatherings were held in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and in other major cities across the country. LGBTQIA+ publications popped up. Groups were formed. Alliances were made. And the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies made it clear that they were done sitting on the sidelines to be victimized by a conservative government. They were standing up proudly and, for the first time, were demanding to be heard and to be treated as equals in society.

LGBTQIA+ Health Care Issues

Although the U.S. legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, there remain great challenges for the LGBTQIA+ community. One of those challenges is medical discrimination.

Eva-Genevieve (She, Her, Her’s) is a transgender woman who has faced medical discrimination. “My medical provider in Naperville denied me endocrinology services in 2016 specifically because I am transgender,” recalls Eva-Genevieve. “I was on Medicare at the time, and trans care was still mandated under Medicare, so they violated federal rules when denying me. They did not refer me to the endocrinologists for the help I needed. They said ‘no,’ and proceeded to cancel my diabetes education classes that were run by the endocrinology department.”

Merek (He, Him, His) identifies as a transgender man and gay. As a trans man, Merek understands what it’s like to be discriminated against, but also recognizes that he has been extremely fortunate to have so much support during his own transition.

Merek realized he was transgender during his sophomore year in high school. Before that, he didn’t truly feel like he identified as a woman and felt confused during his adolescence. With the love and support of his father, stepmother, sibling, friends, and his high school, he was able to utilize gender neutral bathrooms and locker rooms. He began his medical transition during his last year of high school, when he took testosterone for more than a year, but ended the process when he realized he loved his femininity, as well.

“I began my medical transition during my final year of high school, when I took testosterone for at least a year,” says Merek. “In 2015, I got my breasts removed by (a doctor) in Ohio. My stepmom drove me to the procedure. My biological mother was not nearly as accepting, and she would refuse to use my pronouns and my chosen name. I haven’t seen her in a long time, and I think it’s for the best for my own mental health.”

Merek earned a master’s degree in social work and now works with LGBTQIA+ clients, helping them realize and accept their true identities and helping transgender individuals through their own, unique and personal journeys.

“As a white, cis female, even though I am a lesbian, my greatest calling is still to be an ally and an advocate,” says Naper Pride co-founder and Director of Health and Wellness, Anne Dempsey (She, Her, Her’s). “Of all the disparities in the LGBTQ community when it comes to health care, my brothers and sisters in black and brown communities are more severely impacted than I am. My trans and non-binary family are far more likely to get turned away from obtaining healthcare. But all LGBTQ members face a lack of culturally competent care.”

LGBTQIA+ and Health Care Disparities

According to Cigna Healthcare, the LGBTQIA+ population experiences health care disparities at far greater levels than the rest of the population due to several factors including the minority status of LGBTQIA+ people; not enough education and training of health care providers; a lack of clinical research of the population; restrictive health care benefits; few role models; and fear due to stigma, discrimination, and institutional bias in the health care system.

“We face stress caused by living in a society where LGBTQ people are subjected to violence and stigmatized simply for being who we are,” adds Dempsey, who is a licensed nurse. “Because of the intersectionality of the community, we may face several risk factors at once, such as being a black trans woman, who is also lesbian.”

Compounding the challenge of health care disparities, according to Cigna Healthcare, “LGBTQIA people are at higher risk of certain conditions, have less access to health care, and have worse health outcomes. These disparities are seen in the areas of behavioral health, physical health, and access to health care.”

“Lesbian women are far less likely to get Pap tests and mammograms,” reports Dempsey. “Young gay and bisexual men, especially those of color, disproportionately bear the burden of new HIV diagnoses. LGBTQ youth are two to three times more likely to commit suicide. Transgender people of all ages experience higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, mental health issues, and suicide. We face higher rates of alcohol abuse, smoking, and other drug use.”

LGBTQIA+ people do, in fact, have a higher risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts, anxiety and other mood disorders, eating disorders, and alcohol, tobacco and drug use. LGBTQIA+ people are at greater risk for physical ailments, as well. Lesbian and bisexual women have higher rates of breast and cervical cancer, and transgender men and women are at greater risk of human papillomavirus infection. The LGBTQIA+ population is more likely to be obese, and gay and bisexual men are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

“Even when LGBTQ patients have access to health care, doctors can lack cultural competency or training to meet LGBTQ specific needs,” says Dempsey. “They oftentimes lack the will to try and are not mandated to receive specific training.”

Naper Pride

Naper Pride is a local 501c(3) organization that grew out of the need for support systems for the LGBTQIA+ community and for people like Eva and Merek. The group strives to create a safe place for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and embraces the greater community of friends, neighbors, and allies, to promote the idea of One Naperville—One Community, a family-friendly community that is diverse, inclusive, and shares common values, visions, and goals. Under co-founders Anne Dempsey and her wife, Margie Wolf (She, Her, Her’s), Naper Pride has become a dynamic force in Naperville and its surrounding suburbs. Pre-pandemic, events included a Movie Night, a Gayme Night, an Interfaith Worship Service, and a Trans Day of Remembrance.

Prior to the pandemic, Naper Pride also hosted a health and wellness fair at First Congregational Church-UCC on Benton Avenue in Naperville in the Spring of 2019. The inaugural event hosted 40 vendors and more than 100 attendees. Though over 125 organizations requested participation in the event, there simply was no more room at the venue. Participating vendors included Howard Brown Health Center, HIV testing, legal services, adoption services, information on how to change your name or sex on your driver’s license, mental healthcare services, real estate groups, and dental services.

This year, Naper Pride plans to host its Health and Wellness Fair in early November in a larger venue to accommodate more vendors, attendees, and speakers.

Naper Pride will also host their inaugural Naper Pride Fest—Together Under the Big Top, a circus-themed music festival at Naper Settlement on September 11 and 12.

June is the month we celebrate LGBTQIA+ Pride, but every day of every month is a celebration of LGBTQIA+ diversity and inclusion. As Naper Pride co-founder Margie Wolf says, “June is just a month on the calendar. I’m gay 24/7, 365 days a year.”

Dawn DeSart is a member of the DuPage County Board representing District 5. She has spent her career as a journalist working in every field: newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. While at NBC5 in Chicago, Dawn earned five Emmy Awards for excellence in journalism. A graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, she has a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. She also serves on Naper Pride’s Board of Directors.

What Does Justice Look Like?

By Anna Gifford, ACE Steering Committee Member

An event takes place. A reaction occurs. Both become newsworthy. The cycle repeats over and over again across the country, each incident as horrifying as the last.

Back in the day, injustices and unfairness might have prompted churchgoers and those who believed in the “golden rule” to speak out. Today, it seems there are more voices, and those who are speaking out are louder and are moving into positions that provide them the opportunities to make changes.

The SAFE-T Act is a result of that momentum. Originally known as Illinois House Bill 3653, the SAFE-T Act is an acronym for safety, accountability, fairness, and equity today and was signed into law by Governor J.B. Pritzker on February 22. There are several items in this omnibus legislation of particular interest to me, primarily that it establishes basic standards and policies so law enforcement members know the guidelines and policies for which they are responsible. This law makes them more clear and removes ambiguity.

The Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability at the Civic Foundation has a nonpartisan summary on the SAFE-T Act on its website, which contains more information than what I can feature here. The text of the full bill can be found here.

As a feminist, I have fought for many causes for women. Did you know the most impacted group of individuals this law benefits is women of color? Women, in particular, bear the brunt of unfair practices, writes Savanna Jones in “Ending Cash Bail is a Women’s Rights Issue.” They are generally less able to pay to be released and more susceptible to abuse, including inadequate health care (particularly for pregnant detainees), sexual abuse, and COVID-19 infections. As the likely caretakers of their children, when mothers are detained, it has devastating consequences on the entire family. When these mothers are also the breadwinners, their children can find themselves displaced, causing trauma that can last for years. Even when it is their partner who is detained, the effects on women and children are severe and include increased poverty and fear of the legal system.

This bill provides anyone the right to communicate with an attorney and family members, and they will have the right to retrieve contact information from their phones before the phones are placed into inventory. It abolishes the requirement of posting cash bail and replaces it with alternatives for release. This bill also requires training on the medical and mental health care issues of pregnant prisoners. Newborns will be allowed to remain with their mothers for at least 72 hours and both will be provided access to any nutritional or hygiene-related products necessary to care for the infants.

I believe we need this bill because we must stop viewing people as criminals based on the color of their skin. It is unjust and unfair to jail someone not yet convicted of a crime. We need to stop seeing people as more dangerous based on their race. When used as a model for law enforcement reform, this law can make a difference for women, not just here in Illinois, but across the country.

Anna Gifford is president of the McHenry County Chapter of NOW, secretary and treasurer of the League of Women Voters-McHenry County, and a member of the ACE Steering Committee. She also volunteers for Senior Services Associates and is a member of the Latino Leadership Network of McHenry County, as well as a partner in Healing Racism—Continuing the Conversation.

For more information on this issue…

ACE hosted a panel discussion with a state representative, members of law enforcement, and community activists to talk about this bill on 3/21/21 on Zoom. Rep. Anne Stava-Murray (IL-81), Regina Brent and Paul Scott from Unity Partnership, DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick, and Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall were panelists. Watch “IL H.B. 3653: Criminal Justice and Police Reform Bill.”

Celebrating Earth Day

By Claudia Hackney, ACE Steering Committee Member

On April 22, 1970, Earth Day was born, an idea conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who had a goal to move environmental protection “permanently onto the national political agenda.”

Reflecting on 50 years of Earth Day last year in the March/April 2020 Sierra Club magazine, this quote caught my eye. “Since then, the influence of Earth Day has waxed and waned; at times it had seemed little more than an occasion for corporate greenwashing. But the fieriness of the first Earth Day remains like an ember within the original idea.”

Like many ambitious ideas, what is intended at its beginning is not always how future efforts, or celebrations for that matter, end up. Anything that lasts for fifty-one years as Earth Day has is going to morph over time and not always in ways true to the original concept. But it has persisted.

I was an idealistic suburban high school kid on that first Earth Day. Details have faded, but I do remember driving with friends to Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. It was an impulsive decision, not much like me. The day was just beautiful, with one of those gorgeous spring-time blue skies. There were a lot of people, all kinds of people, and the energy was exciting. There were many speakers, not all of whom could be heard clearly, but they sure held everyone’s attention. People were sitting and standing on the grass (and smoking it, as well!). It was the first time I ever smelled pot.

Like the influence of Earth Day, my focus on it has also waxed and waned over the years, although some threads kept running through—a persistent, and some of my friends and family might say, irritating insistence on the importance of recycling.

Environmental justice and climate change are where my interest and energy are expended these days, and I am grateful for the new ideas, energy and refocus of generations coming up. After all, they are the ones who will be living in the world that results from our efforts to save this beautiful and one-of-a-kind planet. There is so much to learn from climate activists all over the globe, including pointing out where efforts have strayed from something that was intended to be multiracial and incorporating more than a little of the idealism of the civil rights and anti-war movements.

What can we do? We can focus our attention and intentions in the direction of things like: good energy jobs, the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) being a current example; working to reduce carbon emissions in an effective and equitable way by supporting efforts like the Citizens’ Climate Lobby; and by educating young and old about the importance of conservation in all its many guises, including encouraging and not squelching the enthusiasm and ideals of our youth.

I am hopeful, but not naïve, that what we do now can truly make a difference. If Earth Day does nothing else (and I hope it does much more), once a year we can turn our sights and focus our actions into taking care of Mother Earth. I think she would like to be healthy and able to take care of us, her children, well into the foreseeable future.

Claudia Hackney is a retired IT desktop support professional. A member of the ACE Environmental Committee, she helped organize our September 2019 panel, which included members of the DuPage Clean Energy Coalition and the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Claudia also spearheaded the Meatless Mondays Initiative and is a member of Citizen’s Climate Lobby, as well as the League of Women Voters-Naperville. She also volunteers at the First Congregational Church-UCC in Naperville.



By Dawn DeSart, ACE Steering Committee Member


Tuesday Morning
“Dearest Dawn, How did the cookies and pie taste? How long did the cookies last? I love you!”

As a kid, my family moved around the country a lot. My dad worked for the same company from the time he graduated from college until his retirement, and every time Dad got promoted within his company, we had to move to a different city, a new home, a new school: Mansfield, Ohio; Poughkeepsie, New York; Orchard Park, New York; Naperville, Illinois (my senior year of high school), and other cities I was too young to remember. One constant in my life was my loving grandparents, Orville and Hazel Olson, salt-of-the-earth corn and soybean farmers whose homestead was an 80-acre farm in Hartland, Minnesota. Mom was their only child, so wherever we moved, they traveled to visit as often as they could. And when we were old enough to travel alone, my two brothers and I would fly to Minneapolis, where Grandpa and Grandma Olson would pick us up at the airport and drive us the hour and a half trip home to Hartland, where we would stay for the magical summers.

February 19, 1982
“We heard you on the radio last Saturday, but we missed you yesterday. Will try again tomorrow. You sounded real good. Keep up the great work.”

Despite the distance, Grandma was a constant in my life. We were pen pals from the time I could read until her passing. Not a week or two went by without an exchange of mail —real mail, pen-to-paper, handwritten notes, letters, and cards. Her words, advice, and wisdom were my touchstone, grounding me in my life. I credit Grandma Hazel with my future career as a journalist. From my earliest memories, all I wanted to do was to write and tell stories.

September 29, 1981
“Dearest Dawn, Thinking about you a lot. Wondering how you like school? Have you made many new friends? (Boyfriends?) Did you go to the football game?”

When I volunteered to write this month’s ACE “Speak Out” for Women’s History Month, I thought about incredible, famous women from our country’s brief history. Harriet Tubman came to mind first. I saw the inspirational movie, “Harriet,” last summer, which told of Tubman’s extraordinary bravery, freeing hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad network. Her story will stay with me forever. I thought about Ellen Martin, a lawyer and a courageous suffragette who had the remarkable audacity to be the first woman to vote in Illinois at a Lombard polling place on April 6, 1891. Then I thought of this utterly incredible woman: Hazel Violet Olson. She didn’t make history. She didn’t free slaves or earn women the right to vote. But Hazel was a cigarette-smoking, rough-handed, hard-working farm wife who lit up my world with wisdom, laughter, and unconditional love.

May 1981
“Happy Graduation, Dawny! I can’t wait til you’re in school at Mankato. We’ll get to see you all the time.”

Hazel was not an educated woman. She didn’t attend school past junior high. She didn’t even get her driver’s license until she was in her thirties or forties. But she was wise beyond wisdom, and she knew how to do lots of other essential things like how to sew a beautiful dress for Sunday morning church services; how to make pies and cookies from scratch; and how to chop off the head of a chicken with an ax, pluck off all the feathers and down, and make it into the most juicy and flavorful bird for dinner.

February 19, 1978
“Happy Birthday, Dawn, How is my cute fifteen year old granddaughter? I’ll bet you are getting cuter all the time. Grandpa and I are very proud of you.”

Summers with Grandma Hazel were spent sweating buckets in her garden, helping her weed and pick fresh snap beans for our dinner that night, which would be fried to delicious perfection with ground black pepper and bacon grease. We’d spend summer afternoons baking thousands of sugar cookies, with only a ceiling fan to whisper air into her farmhouse kitchen. We spent cooler summer evenings outside, her sitting in the freshly mown grass watching me on the wooden-seated rope swing, reaching for acorns on the giant oak tree to which the swing was tethered.

April 28, 1982
“Are you still going to work at the radio station this summer? Have they changed call numbers? After you came on at 5 after 5, we can’t get you anymore. We used to get you.”

I learned to drive when I was eight. Grandpa had an old, beat-up, rusty blue pickup truck that started and stopped with the push of a button. Around the farmyard was a worn dirt path. When Grandpa was out working in the fields, Grandma Hazel would sneak the pick-up out of the garage and let my brothers and me take turns driving around the farmyard. We couldn’t reach the accelerator, so the truck only had one speed—slow. I’d line up my dolls on the cracked leather bench seat next to me, and off I’d drive around the yard. If I veered off the path, I’d turn off the truck and race into the kitchen where Grandma Hazel was baking a fresh cherry pie. She never complained. She just followed me back to the truck, reversed it, got me back on track, and walked back to the kitchen to finish her pie. (As an adult, it isn’t lost on me that this is a perfect metaphor for the relationship I enjoyed with my grandma.) Meantime, with the truck back on the right path, I’d ramble around the farmyard, on the dirt path for hours at a time, with my dolls enjoying the ride just as much as I was.

November 17, 1982
“Our dearest Dawny, Got your new letter. Thank you. I understand that you were going to spend Thanksgiving with a friend in Owatonna. If you aren’t, you’re welcome to come here. Well sweetheart, take care of yourself. You’re very welcome to come here. We love you. You’ll have to let us know.”

The farm was home to cows, pigs, and a flock of chickens. We were schooled from the youngest age to never go into the barn without Grandpa or Grandma with us. But boys will be boys, and on one hot, dry summer day, when Grandma Hazel and I were down at the well hand-pumping water into buckets to water the garden, my older brother ran out of the big red barn screaming. I’ve never seen a woman run so fast. In no time, Grandma Hazel was in the dusty barn looking at my younger brother inside the pig pen. A fat, dirty pink pig was menacing him. He was trapped in the far corner of the pen. That day, I learned that pigs can be mean. I am convinced that Grandma Hazel saved my little brother’s life that day. In a flash, she scaled the pen fence, raced to the corner, snapped up my 10-year old brother, and bolted out of the pen with him in her arms. Grandma wasn’t angry that the boys broke the barn rule. I’ve never seen her truly angry. But she was scared and then relieved when she knew my brother was safe.

January 10, 1983
“Dearest Dawn, We’ve tried so hard to pick up your radio station, but Northfield is stronger, so it comes in on your number. Sweetheart, take care of yourself. I love you. Write.”

Summers are especially busy for farmers, so while Grandpa stayed home to work the farm, Grandma Hazel took my brothers and me to the county fair every single day of the two-week event. The Freeborn County Fair was a family affair. My mother was the Freeborn County Fair Dairy Princess as a teenager. My godfather, Howard Recknor, served on the Freeborn County Fair Board for 25 years, many of those years as fair manager. He also served on the Minnesota State Fair Board for 25 years, the last two as fair president. With Howard giving us carte blanche to every corner of the fair, my brothers and I would go on the rides from open to close. We were the luckiest kids in Freeborn County: tilt-a-whirl, roller coaster, bumper cars, vertical drop, repeat. If we needed anything, we knew to find Howard in the fair office, or better yet, Grandma Hazel in the Bingo tent, playing Bingo all day, every day with her church lady friends. And whatever our request, Grandma Hazel would only always say, “Yes.” Corn dogs? Yes! Cotton candy? Yes! Ice cream? Yes! When we got home at night, tired and full of fair fare, it was bath time, then we brushed our teeth and went off to bed so we could get up and do it all again the next day. For my brothers and me, it was paradise. What kid could ask for more?

July 7, 1982
“I was asked to be on jury duty, but I said I didn’t trust myself. I’d stand and howl.”

Eventually, I went to college at Minnesota State University, Mankato, just a 45-minute drive away from Hartland. One weekend every month, I would drive out to the farm and spend the weekend with my grandparents, doing my laundry and eating like a queen. Saturday nights were spent dancing in the living room with Grandpa when the “Lawrence Welk Show” was on the television, then laughing to Buck Owens, Roy Clark, and Grandpa Jones on “Hee Haw,” while Grandma Hazel sat watching and laughing, mending a pair of trousers or darning holey socks. There’s truly no down time when you’re a farmer’s wife. Nearly every moment of Hazel Olson’s life had to be productive, including on Saturday nights.

“My dearest Dawn, I love you so very much.”

Grandma Hazel would call me on Thursday evenings prior to my Hartland weekends to inform me of what she needed me to bring from town always ending with, “and don’t forget to pick up my ‘medicine’,” which was code for running to the liquor store to buy Gram a fifth of whiskey. She enjoyed a nip now and then, and she didn’t want Grandpa to know. Other than allowing himself one can of beer on an occasional Saturday night, Grandpa Orville did not drink. I never once saw him drink anything stronger than an ice cold Schell.

April 28, 1982
“Dear Dawn, How are things going with you? Studying hard? Grandpa heard that you asked for a picture of him when he was little. He’s been looking.”

A farmer’s work is never done. It’s exhausting labor, and so farmers go to bed early. Even though farmers’ wives work just as hard, Grandma Hazel relished the night time quiet and stayed up late. I loved those Saturday nights after the “Lawrence Welk Show” and “Hee Haw” ended, and Grandpa went off to bed. Grandma Hazel and I would sit at her kitchen table. She, in front of a portable mirror putting Dippity-do and hard plastic, multi-colored curlers in her hair, smoking her menthol Kools, and nipping whiskey from a brown-stained coffee cup. With Grandpa asleep, from time to time, Grandma Hazel would slip me a cigarette, but never the whiskey. We talked for hours, played Crazy Eights and other card games, and I confided in her about every college detail, like classes, boys, stresses, and successes. There was nothing I would not tell Grandma Hazel. Nothing. She was my verbal diary. She knew every last detail about me. To say this woman loved me is like saying water is wet. Hazel Olson adored me and I adored her. I literally could do no wrong. Any challenge I shared, Grandma Hazel was uplifting, always on my side of every situation, even if I was in the wrong. Every success I shared, she would act like I had won an Oscar, a Grammy, and an Emmy all at once. I wish everyone could feel that kind of unconditional love in their lifetime. While Grandpa Orville was a quiet, wise, introspective man, Grandma Hazel was loud, fun, funny, vivacious, and larger than life.

Wednesday Morning
“I hope things are good for you. I do hope to see you soon.”

My daughter, Kathryn, is the brilliant reincarnation of my Grandma Hazel. While trying to crack eggs neatly or screw legs onto a table or put together a shoe rack, I shout, “Grrrr! I’m not good at this!” Kathryn quietly, patiently, lovingly replies, “But you’re so good at so many other things.” Unconditional love and acceptance. Beautiful and full circle. A true blessing.

Friday Night
“Can’t wait to see you next weekend. Grandpa and I so look forward to your visits. We love you.”

I think sometimes when we consider honoring people during special months—like Women’s History Month—we seem to think beyond ourselves on the national or international stage, and not of the people who so deeply impacted our own lives in significant ways. This month, I’m choosing to honor a lesser-known hero: a loud, brash, outgoing, ordinary woman who touched my life and everyone around her with service, laughter, acceptance, and most of all, unconditional love. It’s been heart-wrenching to live without the sunshine that was my grandmother. The day the letters stopped arriving in my mailbox was the day it hit me the hardest; that she was really gone. My grandparents died two-and-a-half months after my son, Alexander Olson DeSart, was born. Oh, how they adored him for the short time they had with him. Hazel died on February 3rd—most likely, the menthol Kools killed her—26 years ago; and her beloved husband, quiet, introspective Orville, died just four days later. He couldn’t live without her, either.

Dawn DeSart is a member of the DuPage County Board representing District 5. She has spent her career as a journalist working in every field: newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. While at NBC5 in Chicago, Dawn earned five Emmy Awards for excellence in journalism. A graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, she has a bachelor’s degree in mass communications.

Finding Redemption and Healing for Our Unfinished Nation

By Beverly George, ACE Founder

When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what ‘just’ is isn’t always justice.”
— Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb” written for and recited at the inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on January 20, 2021.

That’s what Amanda Gorman said. However, this is what I heard.

“. . . and the norms and notions of what ‘just is’ isn’t always justice.”

Just a small change in punctuation and meaning, yet that tiny difference triggered a memory for me from about 70 years ago.

I was born in 1946 and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, before it was the big cosmopolitan city it was becoming when we moved away in 1977. The first house I remember was a small red-brick home in an area called Morningside, which was mostly comprised of houses built by and for veterans just after World War II under the GI Bill. It was—and still is—a pretty residential area of the city. I had an older brother, Mike, and my parents owned one car, a 1948 Nash. We had a good life, and we lived securely in early suburban white privilege in a very southern city.

I recall going downtown on the city bus with my mother when I was very young, maybe five years old. I watched black riders get on the bus, pay their fares, and walk directly to the back of the bus to take their seats, even when empty places were available near the front. I asked my mother why they did that, and her answer was something like, “That’s just the way things are.” The Jim Crow laws had been the bedrock of southern life for decades by the time she was born, so her answer was tragically accurate.

What I heard in Amanda Gorman’s poem, “ . . . what just is,” brought back that memory so clearly. “Just” in this thought is an adverb, and it means “exactly.” What exactly is.

Looking back at Jim Crow laws in the early 1950s, “what just is” was horribly unjust.

Look again at what Amanda Gorman wrote and said:

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what ‘just’ is isn’t always justice.

Gorman is speaking in the present about our 400-year history of justice applied so consistently and yet so unequally and inequitably—in every era—to our Black and Brown brothers and sisters, and today it still ends tragically in the death of another George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or Trayvon Martin. Furthermore, and too often, no one is held accountable in our criminal justice system for these deaths.

Isabel Wilkerson came to the College of DuPage (COD) several years ago to talk about her first book, The Warmth of Other Suns. It is her story of the Great Migration of Black Americans from the Jim Crow South beginning just after World War I and ending in the early 1970s. In her presentation at COD, she said something that I found jarringly clear and true. I’m paraphrasing her here, so bear with me. I remember her saying something to the effect of when “one group works so hard to hold another group ‘down in a ditch’ socially, economically, and legally, the first group has to climb down into the ditch to hold the subordinate group there.”

I’ve just finished reading Wilkerson’s second book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. In it, she lays out a convincing argument that America, India, and Nazi Germany all have had distinct caste systems during their national histories, and the only country “in recovery” is Germany. The United States and India are still mired in the suffocating, toxic, lasting effects of their caste systems.

Cast: in a play, portraying characters to deliver the same story over and over.
Cast: of plaster of Paris, to heal a broken bone.
Caste: legally defined social strata we’ve seen—and still see—in societies.

Cast. Cast. Caste. They all have an unchanging quality, a stifling rigidity.

Our history from 1619 to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Movement to George Floyd and Black Lives Matter—it’s exhausting, dark, and dirty living in that damned ditch, and it’s time for all of us to climb out.

Illinois HB 3653, the criminal justice reform bill, is a start, written to lift us and our criminal justice system out of this American ditch. The story of what we do today will become the history we read about and reflect on tomorrow. Let’s turn the page.

ACE Founder Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.

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