Peacefully protesting for change

Hundreds march, gather, listen, and plan

by Melanie Jongsma


LANSING, Ill. (June 15, 2020) – “This is what Lansing should be,” said Pastor Dave Price as he marched along Burnham with hundreds of other peaceful protesters. He was referring to the diversity of ages and skin colors that had set aside a Saturday afternoon to express support for their neighbors and friends who are particularly affected by negative stereotypes.

A newly formed group called Concerned Citizens for Lansing, IL, had organized the event. Founded by Dan Stellfox, Concerned Citizens describes itself as “a small group of concerned citizens hoping to foster meaningful change in our community.” The description of the demonstration, posted as a Facebook Event, says in part, “Our demonstration has many goals, but the most important is to promote meaningful change and action. We can no longer ignore the lasting and continual impact of oppression. It is our job to learn, educate, and foster an actively anti-racist village. We will ask members of our community to do their part in fighting the racism, injustice and discrimination that exists in both our country and our town. We will present demands, resources, and speakers to do so. We hope you will join us.”

Hundreds did join them. Starting with more than 100 in the parking lot at TF South High School (18500 Burnham Avenue), and picking up a few more along the route—Burnham to Ridge to the Clock Tower—and attracting more as the march culminated with speeches in the grassy plaza under the Clock Tower, by the end of the event an estimated 300 people were listening to the message.

The group started in the TF South parking lot, but crossed the street to First United Methodist Church, where a sound system was available, in order to receive instructions before beginning the march. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
The crowd included a diversity of ages, skin colors, and languages united in support. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Observing health precautions for large gatherings, marchers headed north on Burnham Avenue. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
The march continued east along Ridge Road, and patrons at local businesses came out to watch. The Village’s CodeRED alert system had notified residents of the event and the road closures. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Crossing Grant Street, the marchers gathered in the grassy plaza under the Clock Tower. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

More than a march

While Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” played from loudspeakers that had been set up near the Clock Tower, the marchers filed onto the lawn and faced Ridge Road so they would be able to see the five presenters who would be speaking from a small hill.

“We gather today to support the Black community in Lansing. …We will spend the time we have together listening, learning, and challenging one another,” said recent TF South graduate Kimberly Luna in English and then in Spanish to welcome the marchers and prepare them for the next phase of the event—speeches and action.

Kimberly Luna describes herself as Afro-Latina. She welcomed the crowd in English and Spanish. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

The speakers had been chosen to address specific themes and audiences, and TF South graduate Sam Ogunbode served as emcee, introducing each of them with a brief bio. The roster included:

  • Pastor Nate Smith of Lighthouse Community Church (17500 Lighthouse Lane, Lansing), who represented the black community as well as the broader community
  • Lansing resident Jennifer Cottrill, who spoke as an Ally, a person who is not a minority but is willing to speak out against injustice
  • TF South graduate Tre’sean Hall, who listed the demands that had been identified by various members of the community
  • TF South graduate Jadyn Newman, who specifically addressed youth who want to make a difference
Sam Ogunbode served as emcee. He acknowledged elected officials who were present for the gathering and also introduced each speaker with a brief bio. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Pastor Nate Smith asked the crowd to hold up their fists. “As we marched many of us had our fist raised in solidarity. Each finger represents black America and its allies. We need to stop being separated and take a unified stand, so the world will know that we value black lives and the future of black people is important in this country. We are so much stronger together!” (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Jennifer Cottrill (toward left) addressed the crowd as a white ally. “White people living today did not invent racism,” she said. “It is not our fault what happened then—but it is our responsibility as white allies now to acknowledge that we have benefitted from it and to do something about it.” (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Tre’sean Hall was the next speaker, and he let the gathering know that two days before the event, the organizers paid $225 for a permit. Hall indicated that a donation jar was available for anyone who might be willing to give a few dollars to help cover that unplanned-for expense. The response was immediate, and within moments, a total of $575 was given:

Tre’sean Hall has been a Lansing resident for 15 years and is a graduate of TF South. He shared an example of a time he was assumed guilty because of the color of his skin. “Change is needed,” he said. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Hall’s speech encouraged residents to hold elected officials accountable, and he provided a list of specific demands that Concerned Citizens for Lansing had compiled. “We would like to see not only the Lansing Police Department take action on this, but also the Mayor of Lansing,” he said. The list included:

  1. Promote accountability.
    Though Lansing has a Fire and Police Commission in place, information about who they are or what they do is not easy to find. “We are pushing for a review-focused board,” said Hall, “which will be made up of volunteers who can make recommendations about operations to police and ensure they are responsive to the community.”

  2. Implement a “Duty to Intervene” policy.
    The group had researched the Lansing Police Department handbook and found “there is no clear policy that states that officers must intervene if they witness the unjust use of force by another officer.”

  3. Implement a complete ban on chokeholds.
    Hall explained that the Lansing Police Department handbook currently states, “Officers shall not use a chokehold in the performance of his or her duties, unless deadly force is justified.” Concerned Citizens for Lansing would like to “get Lansing ahead of the game” and ban the use of chokeholds altogether.

  4. Promote accessibility of resources and dialogue by the Lansing Police Department and the Village of Lansing.
    Hall expressed disappointment that Mayor Eidam and her administration have been “completely silent regarding the events that have unfolded across the nation.” He reminded the crowd of a racially divisive incident in Lansing in 2017, when an off-duty Lansing cop pinned a 14-year-old black teen to the ground and threatened to kill him. Hall acknowledged the work that was done following this incident, involving the Department of Justice, the Southside chapter of the NAACP, and a coalition of residents and church members, but he lamented that progress since then has been limited at best. “The Department of Justice forced Lansing to form the Humans Relations Commission,” he reminded the crowd, “an organization to address issues like police brutality in our community. The HRC has not released a statement at all during the past few weeks, and there is no documentation proving they’ve met virtually to provide resources to the residents of Lansing.” Hall also referred to an educational video that Lansing police collaborated on with TF South students and wondered why that resource was not available on the Village of Lansing’s YouTube channel. (Note: The video was completed in late 2019, as The Lansing Journal reported in January of this year. TF South had been planning to use the video as part of their curriculum this spring, but the pandemic-induced stay-at-home order forced those plans to change.)

“Thank you all for your time,” said Hall in closing, “and I really hope that the Mayor, the Village and elected officials, and the Lansing Police Department really take our demands seriously.”

Hall’s speech set the tone for the closing speaker, Jadyn Newman, a 2019 TF South grad who is currently studying Justice and Law at American University in Washington, DC. Newman offered specific ways for people to get involved.

“Once you recognize and understand the system,” said Jadyn Newman, the final speaker of the afternoon, “fighting to change it feels more manageable.” She encouraged people—particularly young people—to get involved. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Full transcripts of these speeches have been submitted for publication in our “Lansing Voices” feature and will appear as posts throughout the week.

Next steps

Emcee Ogunbode returned to the microphone and reminded the crowd that the afternoon rally was only a starting point. “We should continue on in this,” he said, and he pointed out that a voter registration table was available so that people could make sure their voices are heard. At another table, petitions could be signed in support of the demands that Hall had outlined. Ogunbode also reported that the money raised above the cost of the permit would be donated directly to the NAACP, who also had an information table set up at the event. (Note: In correspondence after the event, the Lan-Oak Park District reported that the Lansing Police Department had turned in the permit and fee to them. While both the park district and police department stated that it had not been their intention to require a permit fee, the police department acknowledged it collected the fee as a result of a miscommunication between the park district, the Lansing Police Department, and the protest organizers. The park district intends to refund the $225 the organizers submitted.)

Pastor Nate was invited to offer a closing prayer. “It is vital that we do not leave here and stop the message,” he told the assemblage. And to the black community he said, “You have more allies than ever before.”

“Get on fire for something that matters and truly make this world something different.”

Jadyn Newman (left) offered hand sanitizer to each person who approached her table to sign the “Petition for Accountability, Policy, and Dialogue.” More than 100 people signed the petition at the event. Others indicated a willingness to sign, but they chose to remain socially distant rather than waiting in the crowded line. Newman plans to circulate an electronic version of the petition as well. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Participants in the march and other Lansing residents hoping for change can stay informed by visiting the “Concerned Citizens of Lansing IL” Facebook page.

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1 thought on “Peacefully protesting for change”

  1. The Lansing Human Relations Commission was formed in response to the 2017 incident mentioned in this article. Ken Reynolds oversees this group. The Lansing Journal has followed them from start of incident to present date. The following is copied and pasted from the November 2019 Journal article about the Commission.

    Mission and goals

    In its first meeting, the HRC shared its mission, which is “to promote inclusion to the Village administration on community-related issues. The Commission is responsible for designing and recommending innovative programs to enhance community involvement among all Lansing entities in order to increase cultural competency and improve intergroup relations.”

    The Commission also has three goals:

    Strive to unite all community entities and build a mutual understanding and respect for diverse cultures
    Strive to be a catalyst in developing civic pride among all Lansing residents and foster personal equity
    Strive to communicate through channels and methods that advance accessibility and solicit involvement from all Lansing entities.

    What say you.

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