The message of NIOT is Reaching the Classrooms and Schools of Bloomington-Normal, IL
By Marc Miller, NIOT Bloomington-Normal Member
It’s parent night at at the neighborhood elementary school. Children, their parents in tow, rush from room to room, excited to show off their drawings and projects. Parents, anxious to know more about their children’s progress, take in the posters and decorations as they move from class to class.
But for some, a simple table in the corridor attracts their attention. The banner draped over it says: Take a Stand Against Racism! Sign The Pledge.
“What’s this?” says a student, and a table volunteer cheerfully describes the Not In Our Town program. There are No Racism stickers for notebooks and lockers; larger stickers for bumpers and windows; even temporary tatoos. For parents, there are refrigerator cards with talking points defining common terms: predjudice, stereotype, discrimination; and a simpler set of talking points aimed at the primary grades.
Bloomington-Normal, in the very center of Illinois, began its Not In Our Town program more than ten years ago. It started with the “Rally Against Racism” in 1996, and continued with annual events for several years. But it became clear, over time, that bringing larger numbers of people together in one place and at one time is a difficult proposition; it was also clear that the rallies were attracting people who already shared our anti-racism views.
About six years ago, Not In Our Town was invited to attend an elementary school parent night, and the fit was obvious from the start. Not In Our Town had adopted a basic strategy of inoculation: promoting a community comfort level of speaking up against racism wherever it appears. Individuals are encouraged (and even empowered) to challenge racist words when they hear them, and condemn racist acts when they see them.
One volunteer told this story. “I was at a meeting of businessmen, all of us white adults. One made a disparaging remark about Asians; the sort of thing a lot of people usually ignore. In fact, I usually ignore remarks like that because I don’t want to cause trouble. But this time, I spoke up. ‘Wait a minute. Think about what you’re saying. Those are racist words and they have no place in our discussion.’ I was pleasantly surprised when he apologized for his remarks.”
The Not In Our Town In Schools program promotes the strategy of inoculation to the perfect audience: the next generation. It empowers them with simple words and strategies to address racism whenever they encounter it.
The program is structured for ease of implementation. School principals are canvassed by email, and they respond with the dates of their events for parent teacher nights, fun fairs, and concerts. Not In Our Town volunteers arrive early and set up a table and materials, and then answer questions through the evening. The event is a turn-key operation, with no further responsibilities for teachers or administrators; the Not In Our Town volunteers can set up materials in about ten minutes and can take the display down in about the same time. An experienced volunteer can even orient or train a new volunteer in about an evening.
Every school year, Not In Our Town visits between 20 and 30 schools (some more than once) in the community. One Junior High invites the presentation for new student orientation… a perfect opportunity to set the right tone for the coming year.