Rockford leaders challenge community to think about racism

Published: May. 4, 2023 at 5:53 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Rockford leaders challenged the community to think about racial disparities Thursday, as more than 400 people attended the city’s first Summit on Racism at the UW Health Sports Factory.

“Talking about racism can be incredibly difficult and tough for friends,” said Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara. “It can be really difficult for communities.”

But it doesn’t have to be. Summit organizers say change starts with understanding that racial disparities do exist, even right here in Rockford.

“Especially in education, especially in economics, especially in the way the city was developed,” said Ron Simmons, vice president of Eliminate Racism 815, the nonprofit that organized the event.

Auburn High School junior Terry Horton says he sees those disparities every day. He says creating a more diverse teaching staff will help close those gaps.

“Most of our Black teachers are our gym teachers, but we don’t have nobody to relate to in our classrooms,” Horton said.

Horton also says he’s fed up with hurtful racial stereotypes.

“[Teachers] think we are going to do bad in life, and think we are going to end up in jail just because of our skin color,” said.

Summit organizers are tired of it, too.

“What we really want people to do is come together--a diversity of people,” said Eliminate Racism 815 President Dick Rundall.

Rundall says when that starts happening, Rockford will see true change.

“When we are around people who are different than us, who look different, think different, believe different things, we grow,” he said.

Auburn sophomore Alivia Brown says growth is what Rockford’s next generation of leaders needs.

“We just need to all come together and start having relationships, have conversations and learn about different people and their culture,” Brown said.

Thursday’s summit included keynote speeches, discussion panels and workshops.