CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — On the last night of Black History Month, WCIA’s Matthew White hosted a special edition of Celebrating Central Illinois honoring Black History. The news special shared a variety of stories about people making a difference in their community.

Ed Butler, President of Danville NAACP

Ed Butler spent 40 years coaching and mentoring kids, 30 years at the Danville School District in maintenance, and 15 years at Community Action Agency. He’s still helping to bring back vaccinations, education, and peace to Danville.

Butler currently serves as the President of Danville’s NAACP Chapter and is co-founder of a group called the Three Kings of Peace to reduce violence in the community and advocate for the youth.

The group’s main goal at this time is to establish a mentoring center inside the old steel grip facility at Garfield Park. They are currently using a recreation room at Mount Olive Baptist church.

Since 2020, Butler has also been tackling COVID-19 by bringing vaccines, wellness fairs, and essential items to the Danville community. Butler was recently named an honorary Past Grand Master for serving the Masonic Order for over 20 years. Now, he’s hoping for more funding for their mentor center. You can donate to the Danville NAACP Chapter here.

African American Parent Involvement Day in Urbana

More than one hundred parents showed up for National African American Parent Involvement Day in Urbana on Feb. 13. Several Urbana schools participated in the event with the goal to help parents play a bigger role in their child’s education.

Parent L’Oreal Davis said events like this are a way to invest in their student’s life.

Parents, faculty, and community members talked about ways they can be more accountable for their child’s education. Many agreed the best way to help students in the classroom is to strengthen the relationship kids have with both their parents and teachers.

The crowd also talked about the difficulties of working a full-time job while also parenting. Ashley Cooper, a single mother working two jobs to provide for her son, said making sure her son is doing well in school is her number one priority. Parent Antonie Howard said the key to managing both is knowing you’re not alone.

Parents said the schools should host more similar events like this in the future.

Nia Jelani Wilson-Thomas, Centennial High School senior

Nia Jelani Wilson-Thomas, a senior at Centennial High School in Champaign, serves as an executive member of the Student Council and captains her school volleyball team. However, she feels there’s always time to make a change.

One of those “changes” is her concern as a woman of color. For example, she says sometimes the board would meet and her ideas, voice, and contributions would go unheard, or even unaddressed. Now, drawing inspiration from her mother, Nia said she aims to be assertive but respectful. She also recognizes you have to be the change you want to see first.

Nia has recently helped put together a display for Black History Month in the front entryway of Centennial High. Outside of school, she volunteers time at the Freedom School and the International Prep Academy. She’s also preparing a blood drive this year through her church, New Generation, among other outreach programs they host.

She accomplishes all of this while also being a three-sport athlete, including volleyball, track, and cheer, taking AP classes, and participating in a cotillion.

Brianna Dixon, Rantoul High School senior

Brianna Dixon serves as Rantoul High School’s track captain and volunteers much of her time with two of her dad’s community initiatives. Not only does she strive to build on examples set by leaders in her life, but also demonstrates that no matter your challenges, you can rise above.

Since the fourth grade, Brianna discovered her talent and passion for track and has pursued it full force. In 2021, she earned Rantoul High School its first gold medal and title in Class 2-A for track and field. She went on to place second in the high jump in a Sacramento meet. She suffered an injury during the past summer ahead of nationals, but credits her AAU Coach Marques Lowe for instilling a “mental toughness.”

After continuous acts of service to her community, she was nominated for her first scholarship by Dr. Evelyn Underwood called the “MLK Living the Dream Scholar” Award. Brianna has made time for nursing home residents through her church where she offers them song and scripture while also giving back to the Bob Fulling Hope Center in Rantoul and Not on My Watch. Her dad, Herbert Burnett, has led the way in both organizations.

U of I students discuss Black History Month

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X and Rosa Parks are just a few well-known names in Black History. Some U of I students said there are many other important names to learn too, and they want people to remember that after Black History Month ends.

“In my opinion, we don’t do enough. Even during the month of February, it feels mostly performative,” said Taiwo Ajasa, marketing, and social media intern at the U of I’s Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center.

She said Black History Month is about studying every contribution the Black community has made, especially by people you may be less familiar with. That means honoring names like Bell Hooks and Audre Lorde alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

Champaign County African-American Heritage Trail

The Champaign County African-American Heritage Trail is a celebration of the lives and contributions of African Americans in the Champaign County area. Part of the trail includes the  Skelton Park Transformation with groundbreaking anticipated for summer of 2023.

The completed Skelton Park project is expected to include interactive musical instruments, new pathways, a designated play area, a plaza with ample room for small gatherings, and a seating wall and gentle slope for watching performances.

It’s not too late for the Central Illinois community to get involved with their support. You can be part of the project by ordering and inscribing a brick that will be installed in the new Skelton Park pathways. Proceeds from the brick program will be used to support the Heritage Trail’s many research, artistic, educational, and placemaking efforts. You can purchase a brick, either 8×8 for $250 or an 8×4 for $100, all of which will be installed throughout Skelton Park.