March 22, 2008
By Edith Brady-Lunny
NORMAL Black Americans have come a long way in their struggle for
equality but challenges remain, according to the leader of Illinois
State University's black student awareness group.
Black Students through Awareness Resurrecting a Revolution hosted the
first Black Awareness Conference Saturday at the university. About 30
students were on hand for the opening of the conference, titled
"Paint a New Perspective."
Race issues are a concern for many students at ISU, said Johari
Huggins, president of the student group. Raising awareness about the
issues that separate people was the main goal of the day-long event, she said.
"Of all the -isms, the most concerning to me is class-ism. Our
society revolves around money. When people don't have it, they become
underprivileged," said Huggins, and poverty sets people apart and
limits their opportunities.
Telling of black history
Among speakers at the conference was former Black Panther Party
member Ericka Huggins, who is not related to the student group leader.
"My message to the students is about history and how history empowers
us for the future," said the Panthers' longest-serving female leader.
Many people are reluctant to talk about the bleak chapters of black
history, said Ericka Huggins.
"People don't want to talk about the history of slavery because of
fear, guilt and shame. I think they do a disservice to people of all
kinds by not being accurate about the history of the United States,"
Huggins told The Pantagraph.
Praise for Obama's speech
The recent speech by presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama was an
encouraging move toward a national dialogue on race, said the former
"I thought it was so wonderful and compassionate of him," said Huggins.
Where the dialogue goes next is not, however, up to the candidate.
"It depends upon all of us to determine where it goes," she said.
Progress by blacks
In opening remarks for the conference, ISU President Al Bowman told
students that blacks have made remarkable progress over the past
century. In 1920, about 10,000 black citizens completed college in
the U.S., said Bowman. Currently, more than 3.7 million blacks hold a
minimum of a four-year college degree, he said.
ISU freshman O'Cephus Starks signed up for the conference to learn
more about the issues facing other blacks.
"If you don't know much, you can't really say much," said Starks.
The conference included a photo exhibit of the history of the Black
Panthers, a group Johari Huggins noted was responsible for feeding
children and other community programs. Participants also played an
interactive board game designed to teach them the complexities of
living in a multicultural society.