A group of around 65 Galesburg citizens gathered at Temple Sholom on May 9 to discuss and identify various issues within the community.
The group, known as United Against Hate: A Community Commitment, outlined areas within the community they would like to address in the future, such as children being exposed to racism, harassment of international students on South Street and a lack of knowledge regarding resources for undocumented citizens.
“Our idea all along has been to try and focus primarily on actual incidents of hate and bias. There is no line, we just need to find the line of what we can work on,” David Amor, former Knox College journalism professor and administrator said. “We’ve got concerns about bullying, the culture of anger and resentment, a sense that we’ve got parts of our community that are in a very precarious position, particularly undocumented people.”
The group, spearheaded by Amor, began after the 2016 presidential election when there were a string of incidents across the country involving anti-Semitism and racism. Amor began to plan an event with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which was held in February with over 200 attendants. After several months, Amor was able to host the first meeting since the initial meeting in February.
“The consensus was that we need to hear from people first. We need to do what we said we were going to do, to give people the opportunity to voice their concerns, and as much as we can, take our lead from that,” Amor said.
After the initial introduction of the meeting, those in attendance split up into seven groups to discuss and highlight the key issues they were witnessing in the Galesburg community. After, they returned to the larger group meeting to list the problems that were the most salient, or that needed the most attention and possible solutions.
Senior Liliana Coelho attended the meeting after becoming interested in the group in February. She mentioned that the ability to meet with community members in Galesburg and discuss these types of issues with them was interesting and feels that it’s important for Knox students to be involved in community events.
“We’re here for a long time, and this community really matters. We chose Knox for the place that it’s situated in as well,” Coelho said. “I feel that students often are really focused on academics, but there’s so much learning to happen off campus. Our voices matter to the community members and to the residents of Galesburg and their voices should matter to us.”
One member, Rose Morris, 71, a Galesburg resident, noted how children were being exposed to racism or racist ideas from a younger age through television and social media. While she doesn’t believe that it’s the school’s responsibility to educate children on those topics, she does agree that parents need to step up and not only educate their children, but educate themselves on the topic of race.
“[There’s] so much on TV and social media, where kids are getting ideas of how they’re supposed to treat people. One kid made a comment [in school] that ‘Mexicans’ come over in the back of a truck, and they think it’s funny when they say that. They need to be taught that’s not right,” Morris said.
Morris mentioned that one way to educate the parents and encourage them to hold discussions regarding race would be handing out brochures in places such as the Health Department. Erika Buckley, Director of International Student Services at Monmouth College, also agreed that parents need to have conversations regarding race starting at a younger age.
“There’s a lot of things that other countries in other places where they have these conversations early on, like how to be a respectable person, how to treat people nicely, positive relationships and race,” Buckley said. “Sometimes I think people are afraid to have those conversations with their kids and they assume they happen naturally, but they don’t.”
Amor mentioned that, while Galesburg does have issues with racism and harassment, the larger consensus is that the issues are worse in larger cities.
“In those places, people are really feeling empowered. We have a couple of people driving around town with very prominent Confederate flags in the backs of their trucks and the same thing was mentioned about people harassing international students on South Street,” Amor said. “That stuff is happening, but it doesn’t seem as frequent or as prevalent, but it’s still contributing to a sense of division.”
However, Amor did mention that one member of his congregation was subjected to anti-Semitic attitudes at work repeatedly and lost his job. That member is now in the midst of filing a complaint against his employer.
“[Racism] is a long term issue, and the only way to deal with that is to slowly change the cultural base line. That’s long term, for the most part.”
As the group moves to work on these issues voiced during the meeting, Amor predicts that there will be task forces created to better address those concerns individually. The next meeting date is unknown.
At the end of the meeting, Chair of Communications Relations Committee Chris King, announced that her committee is working on an online discrimination complaint. The complaints may be filed against businesses, landlords or city officials and administrations within Galesburg city limits. Currently, citizens may file complaints by going through the Human Resources department.