The Pekin YWCA’s Coalition for Equality is joining in a national effort opposing racism by hosting Stand Against Racism on Friday.
The event will be held at noon on the Tazewell County Courthouse lawn and is free and open to the public. It will be less than an hour. This national initiative is being held in order to use community voices to educate, advocate and promote racial justice.
Pekin has been participating in Stand Against Racism for over a decade, said Maureen Naughtin, Pekin YWCA’s Community Outreach director. As people arrive, Naughtin said she will pass out bookmarks that have the Stand Against Racism Pledge on one side. The pledge reads, “As an individual committed to social justice, I stand with the YWCA against racism and discrimination of any kind. I will commit to a lifetime of promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all people in my community and in the world.”
Mayor John McCabe will begin by welcoming everyone. Following that, everyone will read the pledge aloud.
Part of the national pledge that people may sign online at standagainstracism.org is as follows: “I take this pledge, fully aware that the struggle to eliminate racism will not end with a mere pledge but calls for an ongoing transformation within myself and the institutions and structures of our society.”
Naughtin said the bookmark also offers tips and practical actions that could be done.
“It gives examples of things people can say when a joke is made that is inappropriate. Jokes can be hurtful,” she said. “I think we’re making progress to improve (Pekin’s) past reputation, but we still need to make efforts to be diligent. Learning from our past helps improve our future.”
There will be a choral group from Peoria High School to perform under the direction of Simon Webb. The group was part of Stand Against Racism two years ago and are back this year. Naughtin said the group was wonderful.
Pekin second-grade teacher Marj Oesch will bring her students from L.E. Starke Primary School to the event. She has brought classes for years, and she said it is a great way for her students to hear a message of acceptance. She hopes the event will lead to more discussions about discrimination and stereotypes.
“I have taught in our Pekin community for about 30 years and am empowered to teach others to accept all others because we are all unique and special,” Oesch said. “I also feel responsible for exposing students and their families to learning our local history. We do a special unit in cooperation with the (Pekin Area) Chamber of Commerce on Sen. Everett Dirksen, who was born in Pekin and grew up to be integral in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Oesch works on conflict-resolution in her classroom, and they talk about what to do if people do not agree on something. Oesch teaches them that using words is an important way to solve disagreements, not violence.
Her student Gibby Gruden, 8, said by going to the event she hopes “people know not to do discrimination. We have to be kind.”
Alex Berger, 8, said he hopes people attend the event, “So we’ll make sure racism is never a thing again.”
Naughtin said the message Friday afternoon will be positive and welcomes everyone to attend. The rain venue is the Pekin Public Library’s Community Room at 301 S. Fourth St.