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Protest for Social Equity By Cheryll Boswell

Once again, Peoria, Illinois, has made national news. A recent article in the New York Times writes about how “Peoria, a City that once guided a nation now shows its cracks.” Peoria is no different from many cities across the country who have experienced protesting after the murder of George Floyd and have been on lockdown for months from Covid-19. After reading this article, my heart and emotions were torn. Unfortunately, small businesses bore the brunt of rage that has been pent up for decades due to systemic inequalities in this City.

61605 is one of the most disinvested areas in Peoria. Compared to 61615, it is also one of the most segregated areas in the City, especially in the school systems. A 2019 study revealed the school systems in Peoria are more divided by race than some major metropolitan cities across the country. Schools and communities are forever linked. Thriving communities also have thriving schools. Very little, if any, has changed to bring racial equity to Peoria, especially for 61605. Equity will include resources that are equally distributed to grow communities, that include affordable and decent housing.

Schools that once were predominately black have forever been changed in how African American communities have been funded and invested in. Peoria is no different. The Brown vs. the Board of education (separate but equal) forced desegregation for public schools. The intent was to bring a balance of black and white students in the public school system, thinking funding would follow that balance. Black students were bused to predominately White schools that had more resources. Dollars that should have been invested in the black schools and the black community were redistributed to predominately white and now integrated schools. White people uprooted and took flight out of schools where busing was taking place and moved their kids to other schools. Some even formed a new school district in the 61615 area now called Dunlap. When they left, most of the people that stayed were poor or working class. A loss of tax revenue meant a further blow to funding for the community.

The lack of economic growth has not changed much over the past 50 years for residents on Peoria’s Southside. It is these inequalities that must be addressed, and demand for reform must occur.

Wanting and seeking change that includes social injustices through protesting is clear. But looting and vandalizing a person’s business whose aim is to provide employment, improve communities, and take care of their families are counterproductive. If the goal of protesting and looting is to address systemic racism and economic inequalities in this City, now is the time to address it and hold our elected officials accountable. Small businesses are the backbone of this City. Destroying those mom and pop stores who employ 5-30 people is destructive, especially when it comes to stabilizing and improving Black communities and one’s economic well-being.