Recognizing racial tensions
On the surface, Orion seems like a picture-perfect village where everyone is welcome and everyone supports and respects everyone else.
But for a little more than an hour on Friday, June 26, speakers offered a closer look at Orion during a Racial Reconciliation Vigil. Forty-eight persons were registered for the peaceful event.
Orion High School graduates Lauren Johnson and Desiree Goddard organized the vigil.
Johnson encouraged attendees to use active listening and reflect on what the speakers said. They should bring to the discussion an open mind and show respect and empathy.
She said changing “Black Lives Matter” to “All lives matter” is “to once again dismiss the pain and suffering white people have caused in our community. Learning about white privilege is the first step toward change.”
The first speaker, Michele James, is a White woman from the suburbs of Chicago who is married to Colin James, a Black man. After his service in the U.S. Navy ended, they chose Orion as the place to raise their children.
“People here don’t understand what really happens,” Michele James said. “Children learn about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but they think it ended with Martin Luther King.”
When a police officer pulls her over, Michele James said she wonders what the ticket will be. If her husband and daughters are pulled over, they have to remember to keep their hands in sight if they want to live.
“All lives cannot matter until black lives matter, white lives matter and cops’ lives matter,” Michele James said.
The N word is used a lot in the halls of Orion High School, she said. Parents need to talk to their children about it.
“We have to go so much further, so educate, educate, educate,” she said.
The next speaker was Michele and Colin James’ daughter, Kayla, an Orion High School graduate who thought her all-white school was a safe place until she heard the N word in the hall.
“It’s important for us to all make a change,” Kayla James said. “I don’t want to tell my children how to act when they are pulled over.”
Terry McDowell, a Black man married to a White woman, is Desiree Goddard’s father. He said living in Orion was like living in a fishbowl. People stare at him longer than they stare at others. They fall silent around him. Women grab their purses. As he walks his dog, he sees people peeking out of their windows to see where he’s going.
“People don’t see a striving Christian, a man of God, a father and grandfather,” McDowell said. “They only see a big black man. I want the same thing all of you want for your family.”
Maggie Vestal, a 2018 graduate of Orion High School, chose to attend Northern Illinois University so she could experience the diverse student body that OHS lacked.
When Vestal said, “White people won’t change until everyone is willing to be uncomfortable,” a loud clap of thunder and a bright flash of lightning put the exclamation on her statement.
“This community is awesome, but it chose its color,” Vestal said. “We need to unchoose it. White privilege needs to be addressed here. No one should ever be uncomfortable here.”