I saw a poster that said, “Little girls with dreams become women with vision.” – author unknown.
My sister, Rita Ali has always been one of those little girls with big dreams. Even at a very early age, she was always pretending to teach school in the basement of our parents’ home with chairs lined up as desks and posters as blackboards. Anyone walking by was beckoned to take a seat and learn.
When little girls dream big, they remember the first time they had a teacher who looked like them. Diane Newsome was Rita’s seventh-grade teacher at Roosevelt. She validated the dream that little black and brown girls could become teachers. This is when Rita made a conscious decision to become an educator. Rita Ali has served in the education field for over 30 years, including the past 15 years as Vice President of Diversity and Community Impact at Illinois Central College.
When little girls dream big, they are not afraid to be the first youth to serve, at age 14, on the board of directors of the Community Action Agency. Rita received five dollars for attending every meeting. Although the money was a big deal to her, it was not her only motivation for volunteering. As an adult, Rita returned to serve as a board member for CAA/PCCEO for over 20 years. The same is true of her work with the Tri-County Urban League. Rita participated in the summer youth employment program as a teenager. As an adult, she served on the Urban League’s TSTM advisory board, and later, the board of directors.
When a young black man, Ronnie Nelson, was killed by police in the 1970s, at the 505 Liquor store on MacArthur Highway, the black community was incensed because they felt the shooting was unjust. They packed City Hall demanding answers and change. One output was the city’s establishment of a Police-Community Relations Commission. Rita was the only teenager placed on that commission. Today, as chairwoman of the commission, she encourages young people to participate.
When little girls dream big, they parlay the eight years it took to earn a bachelor’s degree into 11.5 months to earn a master degree. She went on to earn her doctoral degree. They also start businesses, Edifier Inc., secure business loans and pay them off before their term is up. They lead efforts to rename streets: Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Romeo B. Garrett Avenue. They publish books, Role Models: Profiles of Successful African American Professionals in Peoria, Illinois.
When little girls dream big, they plan their first run for political office. Rita ran for class president her freshman year at Manual High School. Her opponent was classmate Kim Armstrong, who would later become her campaign manager in her 2017 bid for City Council Fifth District seat. Kim delivered a fine speech. Rita came without a speech, but she knew her audience and began her campaign speech with “We got to get UP in order to Get down!” The audience erupted in applause. Rita was elected class president. Rita’s recent bid for Peoria at-large City Council has caused people all over Peoria to “Get Up and Get down” to give Rita Ali a commanding lead, with 10,461 votes in the February 26th primary.
When little girls dream big their dreams become a shared vision of African American women who become state representatives, lieutenant governors and the “first” to be elected to an At-large City Council Seat (Peoria) on April 2, 2019. These are the visions of our mothers, daughters, sisters, and nieces. These are little girl dreams that CAN come true.