MCDONOUGH CO., Ill. (NEWS3) — As local leaders work to improve race relations in the area, the local NAACP branch is making efforts to be a main part of moving the community forward.
The president of the McDonough County NAACP branch sat down with NEWS3 in an exclusive interview to explain how he’s working to build the divide.
“We have some issues,” McDonough County NAACP President Byron Oden-Shabazz said. “I don’t expect it to change overnight, but what I do expect, is how to bring about that change.”
Oden-Shabazz said he is focused on changing how people experience being in the community.
“We have no black police officers, no black firemen,” he said. “We have maybe one of two teachers in the school district. We don’t have any representation. Taxation without representation.”
He said he’s working with local leaders to help turn around issues people care about. Oden-Shabazz said officials need to start by diversifying their force, so a number of people are at the table to sort out issues.
“We have to start getting officers in there of color,” he said. “We have to get some ranking officers, so when these things happen, they can look at whoever the chief is and say, yes, but did you consider this.”
He said the current climate, where groups are speaking out over allegations of misconduct and mistreatment by police with people of color, is a big concern to him.
“As a black person and a proud black man, clearly, when I hear it… I’m like, okay, we need to know what’s happening here,” he said.
Oden-Shabazz said the issues the community is facing right now needed to be addressed long ago.
“Macomb hadn’t been very good about addressing or showing themselves differently,” he said.
He said he’s focused on bringing solutions by building relationships first. Such as having regular talks with Macomb Mayor Mike Inman, Macomb Police Chief Curt Barker and McDonough County Sheriff Nick Petitgout to keep their attention on being a part of the solution to help make people feel welcome and treated fairly.
“There has not really been a place where the black community here has gotten together and said, here are the things we want to see changed..now what steps do we need to go about doing that,” he said. “And that’s what I’m looking at establishing with the NAACP.”
Oden-Shabazz said heading up the McDonough Co. NAACP branch is a starting point he’s hoping to build upon to bring people together. He said he’s planning events to help bring different groups together for discussion about race relations.
“Out of love and responsibility, I would much rather resolve these issues,” he said. “These are fixable things.”
Oden-Shabazz said he encourages anyone to reach out and sit down with him to talk about issues in the community.
The branch’s latest monthly meeting was held Saturday to discuss their current standing, fill positions and announce upcoming events. The Illinois NAACP chapter President Teresa Haley, who also runs the Springfield branch, also attended the meeting in hopes of moving the branch forward with starting work in the community.
“The past is the past, let’s leave it there and move on,” Haley said.
Haley and Oden-Shabazz announced to members that the NAACP annual state convention will be held in Macomb on Sept. 11-13. Oden-Shabazz also said he’s working to bring the Illinois Police Chief’s Association World Cafe to town. The police chief’s event would focus on bringing police chiefs and sheriffs from around the country to talk about the ten shared principles for police and the community that involve trust and community policing. Oden-Shabazz said he also plans on hosting a women’s leadership conference this spring at WIU.
Also during the meeting, members Laila McCloud, Maureen Bezold and Erin Marth filled open committee positions. McCloud will chair the education committee, Bezold will chair the health committee and Marth will chair the religious committee.
Haley mentioned that the branch is out of money at the time, but they’re talking with national NAACP officials regarding funding. Oden-Shabazz said the number of current members in the branch is unknown until he meets with other NAACP officials. He said it’s time for members to renew their $30 memberships and the branch must have at least 50 members by membership drive time.