Probably very few of us—if given a choice—would deliberately bring forth an issue that many would consider uncomfortable, controversial or even stressful to discuss. However, that doesn’t make it any less important to talk about, but difficult nonetheless. I feel that’s where the City of Pekin has been during the past several months.
Our City Council recently voted to formally establish a human rights committee. The purpose and goals of this unique group includes:
- Advising the Council and staff on public policy issues relating to diversity, equality and human rights
- Promoting and increasing public awareness on the City of Pekin’s position respecting diversity, equality and human rights
- Promoting and increasing awareness of legal and regulatory issues respecting diversity, equality and human rights
- Establishing and encouraging meaningful dialogue within the Pekin community, its leaders, organizations, educational institutions, business and civic groups, respecting diversity, equality and human rights.
What led us to do this?
Right or wrong, fair or unfair, the City of Pekin for years now has been labeled as a place that does not treat people equally or is not tolerant of certain types of people. Some have put a racist label on our community.
I suppose we could be silent and not address this reputation. We could think that the negative reputation will go away on its own—just give it time. Aren’t there other, just-as-important-if-not-more-important topics to deal with? Perhaps. But if we allow this reputation or image to go unchallenged and continue in silence, it will affect our long-term progress as a city—socially, culturally and economically.
Ironically, one of Pekin’s most famous and favorite sons is the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, who was instrumental in the passage of the1964 Civil Rights Act. During his political career, Sen. Dirksen introduced, cosponsored or amended a list of efforts related to equality that ran 14 single-spaced pages. He was genuinely committed to ending discrimination and promoting equality of opportunity regardless of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. I could only hope that the actions we are currently taking would be viewed as parallel to the type of efforts that Dirksen stood for time and time again.
Pekin is such a wonderful, well-rounded community. We value one another for what each of us brings to the table in our community, our neighborhoods, our churches and our schools. Recognizing and appreciating our unique skills, abilities, experiences and cultural backgrounds is what makes our city and our region stronger. I’m proud of the actions and progress we’ve taken so far in Pekin, but recognize that we still have work to do.
I know it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. It’s the right action to take and the right time to take this action. We’re on the right path to have Pekin recognized as a progressive, leading community in our region and central Illinois. This is not necessarily an easy and comfortable path, but it is the right path.
I look forward to the journey. iBi