About 50 people gathered Wednesday afternoon for a peaceful Black Lives Matter event on the Metamora square.
It was organized by Tori Brinkler and Grace Salvans of Germantown Hills in response to that village's decision to hang a "Blue Lives Matter" flag. The event was moved six miles down the road to Metamora to allow for more gathering space.
Salvans, a 2019 graduate of Metamora Township High School who now attends Illinois State University, said the racism she experienced as a Hispanic student in her high school drives her to work for change now.
She said she was heartened to see the turnout of people supportive of diversity in predominately white Woodford County.
"Having grown up here and experiencing racism here, it was just really eye-opening and it really made me feel grateful that there are people who care in the area," she said.
Tori Brinkler of Germantown Hills said many people in Woodford County don't believe racial disparities affect them. She hopes the Wednesday event serves as an "eye-opener."
"This isn't a moment. This is a movement. It's going to keep getting bigger. And it happens in the big cities, so it's important to bring it into these small ones, as well," Brinkler said.
The event was a dialogue between speakers and a mostly white audience asking how they can be allies to the Black Lives Matter movement, and how to tackle the racial issues in their rural communities.
Pierre Paul, a social justice advocate and master's student in political science at Bradley University, sang the first verse of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," sometimes called the Black national anthem. He also fielded several questions about racial justice in a half-hour question-and-answer session.
Metamora Village Board member John Cummings attended the gathering, urging those assembled to vote to achieve the changes they're seeking, and noting that he was elected in a race with only a couple hundred votes cast--out of the more than 3,700 people living in the community.
Willie Williams, a former Metamora Grade School coach, also spoke.
Williams, a Black man from Germantown Hills, was the father of a freshman Metamora Township High School football player who was sent a racist video featuring his name by his white teammates in 2017.
Williams became visibly emotional at one point talking about the experience his son went through after he spoke up publicly about the situation to local news media when he said the district didn't do enough to address it or punish those responsible. He also sued the high school.
"My son, my only son, who thought those kids were his friends, and to get sent that video, and to get ridiculed and talked about and harassed nonstop, and to see people just destroy me in the media. It tore our family up," he said. "Because my son, he didn't understand. He was like, 'Dad, why are you causing all these problems for me?' He didn't know that I was fighting for him, and the next female, or the next kid who was gay, or different, who came to that school, so they didn't have to get harassed."
Williams also filed a civil rights lawsuit against Metamora Grade School in 2018 after he claimed they let him go in retaliation for his public comments on his son's situation. He said it's since been settled.
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