Black History Month panel sheds light on diversity issues
A panel for a Black History month event, sponsored by Northbrook's Community Relations Commission Feb. 13, included: (left) Nichole Farris, Paul January, Kandice Cooley and Cameron Swanson. | Pat Krochmal~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 22, 2013 6:48AM
NORTHBROOK — Afro American residents who live in the suburbs would like their neighbors to see them through the eyes of children who don’t label individuals as black or white.
That’s what members of a panel participating Feb. 13 in a discussion about “The Black Experience in Chicago’s North Suburbs” told their audience.
The event was the observance of Black History Month at the North Suburban YMCA sponsored by the Northbrook Community Relations Commission.
Nichole Farris, an assistant principal in Waukegan School District 60, who was born and raised there, said she was pushed forward by teachers who recognized her intelligence when she was a little girl.
She went from predominately black classrooms to those where she was one of only four or five with dark skin.
“Growing up, the color line was blurred. I was around a lot of white people to whom color was not an issue,” Farris said.
“But when I went out into the world, I found out that is really not what it’s like.”
However, Farris noted that in a conversation with her daughter about one of her classmates, the girl described the child as coming from another country.
Upon pressing further and asking if she was black or white, the girl said she was neither.
Farris noted that children see others as brown or peach, not according to race.
Paul January, a teacher at Miguel Juarez Middle School in Waukegan District 60, asked why Halle Barry is described as a “beautiful black actress” and not simply as a beautiful actress?
“I’m a teacher, a coach, a college grad, a brother, as well as a lot of other things,” he added. “Black is at the bottom.”
Kandice Cooley, guest service manager and volunteer coordinator at the YMCA, also noted that a seven-year-old East Indian girl for whom she was baby sitting thought Cooley was Indian, too, because they both have brown skin.
Cooley, who grew up in Evanston until she was about 10, said she experienced a culture shock when her family moved to Skokie.
“People in Evanston would ask me if I was black or white, but in Skokie, I was zoning into many cultures – black, white, Asian, Indian,” she added.
“But it was a positive experience. A lot of things they were going through as new here I already went through.”
Cameron Swanson, a Glenbrook North student said he came to Northbrook from Evanston.
“There are a lot of white, some Asian and definitely not a lot of black students at Glenbrook North,” he said.
Cooley noted that Northbrook seems to be in a bubble.
“No one seems to leave Northbrook. They do everything here. In Skokie, everyone went places, like downtown, to get out of their comfort zone,” she said.
Rochelle Singer, a Northbrook Community Relations Commission member who chaired the event, noted the historical significance of this month.
Then she asked:“Why does Northbrook celebrate Black History Month?”
“Because this is our history – the history of all of us as U.S. citizens,” she said. “Because we value each individual who lives in our community and our neighboring communities, and because we hope that the struggle for civil rights for all of our citizens will no longer be a struggle. It will be a reality.”