Hundreds of Bloomington-Normal residents gathered outside the old courthouse to remember and renew 20 years of grass-roots action to address racism and bigotry. On June 28th, the street festival featured local student performances, a march, screenprinting, speakers, and a participatory dance experience, all to celebrate diversity. Check back for NIOT video story on the event.
Patrice O'Neill, NIOT Executive Producer, Reflects on the Anniversary
"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is playing in the background at the Bloomington-Normal airport where I'm waiting for the next flight. Much like the land described in this song, last night's celebration - marking 20 years of Not In Our Town activism - felt like a visit to another place. What sets Bloomington-Normal apart is their demonstrated commitment to keeping hate and bigotry from infecting their civic life. I witnessed hundreds of people gather, speak, dance, rally and march in a proud and joyous display of diversity.
It was a beautiful summer night near the steps of the old courthouse. Hindu, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith leaders, along with the Mayor, League of Women Voters, labor organizations, Bloomington and Normal Police Departments, PRIDE, the NAACP, and hundreds of community members joined current leaders and founding members of NIOT to reaffirm their commitment to building an inclusive community. Hate hasn't been defeated in this town, but the stand this community has taken is a remarkable example of how to address hate at the local level.
Bloomington-Normal founded their NIOT movement during a time of crisis when Black churches were being torched across the South, and they wanted to prevent acts of hate from surfacing in their town. Throughout the years, prevention as a guiding principle led to the manifestation of many anti-hate rallies, teach-ins, events, and pledges at local schools to put an end to racism. In the wake of the recent hate crime killings of 49 LGBTQ people in Orlando and a year after nine Black lives were taken at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the people of Bloomington-Normal at this street festival are sending a clear message about responding to hate: "Not In Our Town."
20 Years of Activism
|The twin cities of Bloomington - Normal, Illinois, were early adopters of Not In Our Town before a hate crime occurred. Then when a wave of arsons struck African American churches across the country, the campaign drew even more support from twin city residents.
In the past 20 years, NIOT-BN has held marches, vigils, public forums, student-led school programs and inter-faith activities. The effort was inspired by NIOT in Billings, Montana in 1993, when that community came together to stand against hate crimes. This led to the 1995 PBS film, Not In Our Town. The film launched a national movement, with Bloomington-Normal one of the first communities to adopt the theme.
Patrice O’Neill, Not In Our Town Founder and Executive Producer said this of the central Illinois efforts:
“If it wasn’t for the actions of the people of Bloomington-Normal, there would be no Not In Our Town movement. The story of Billings, Montana’s stand against hate created a model for action, but the people of Bloomington-Normal launched the movement that spread across the country and around the world. What is most inspiring about this community is their innovation, leadership and commitment they are showing 20 years later.”
On the 20th anniversary of Not In Our Town in Bloomington-Normal, this is a great opportunity to review the challenges that have been overcome. This NIOT Bloomington-Normal scrapbook, a compilation of newspaper clippings, documents many years of activism stretching back to 1995. This collection is a celebration of activism, and an expose of the issues that remain to be worked through.
Recent work by NIOT Bloomington-Normal
Gathered at a vigil to remember the victims of Orlando.
Erected billboards against discrimination throughout the city.
In response to Ferguson, Missouri, NIOT members and the police chief went live on the radio to discuss relationships between the African American community and law enforcement; NIOT-BN also sponsored a community forum with local law enforcement, which drew over 300 attendees.
After the San Bernadino terror attacks in 2015, 300 Bloomington-Normal residents and interfaith leaders gathered on the courthouse steps to support their Muslim neighbors.
Relaunched a “Not In Our Schools” effort, where area students plan their own school-based activities to celebrate diversity.