Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 20, 2010

First Black Scholar in National Academy of Sciences was U of I Graduate

The first black scholar admitted to the National Academy of Sciences is being remembered as a mathematician who had a unique way of getting to the heart of the problem.

David Blackwell died of natural causes July 8th at the age of 91. The Centralia native attended the University of Illinois at age 16, earning his doctorate in mathematics in 1941. Blackwell's time at the U of I was followed by an appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, alongside Albert Einstein, as well as time teaching at Howard University, and the University of California at Berkley, where he taught math for over 30 years. UCLA statistics professor Thomas Ferguson says he first met Blackwell as a student at Berkley in the early 50's. "He had this way of finding the right questions to ask that were the right problems to look at," said Ferguson. "Then he would go after those problems, and actually come out with something really interesting to say about them. In each of these areas that I'm thinking, he writes some sort of fundamental paper that everybody else jumps on, and then keeps going."

David Blackwell was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1965. His career had its share of obstacles. In 1942, he was blocked from becoming an honorary Princeton faculty member because of his race. Blackwell's initial efforts to teach at U-C Berkeley were also blocked for the same reason. But he also wrote two books, published more than 80 papers and eventually held 12 honorary degrees from schools like Harvard and Yale.

Funeral services are tentatively set for July 31st.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 25, 2010

Financial Troubles Extend to the First Line of Assistance for Immigrants

A center that helps immigrants and refugees in Champaign County is facing funding shortfalls and may be forced to close. Shelley Smithson's report is part of the "CU Citizen Access" project.

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 15, 2010

Family Reunification Focus of Immigration Legislation

Family reunification accounts for nearly two-thirds of lawful permanent migration to the United States: it's the largest avenue by which people receive admission to the country. Yet, family separation remains a part of daily living for countless immigrants. A legislative effort in Congress focuses on family unity as a key component of immigration policy. Illinois Public Radio's Sean Powers examines the issues facing lawmakers and families.

(Photo courtesy of Sergio Cuellar)

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 15, 2010

Champaign School Board Approves All But Two Construction Bids for BTW Rebuild.

The Champaign School Board received a promise of a classroom boycott if the new Booker T. Washington School project on the north side goes ahead without significant changes.

Terry Townsend and Robert Brownlee say the new Washington School's parking requirements and bus traffic will cause congestion. Townsend says he fears the school will lead to forced buyouts of homes to make room for parking, and higher property taxes that will lead to gentrification.

"They're going to force poor people out of their homes", says Townsend. "They're going to make it so it's very difficult for people that live there to continue to live there. And it's changing the character of that neighborhood.

Townsend wants a smaller Washington School to be built, and guarantees that neighborhood children be guaranteed seats in the new school. He says if the district doesn't change its plans, he'll organize a classroom boycott for the first week of school in August. But Champaign school board members are defending the new Washington School plans. Vice-President Susan Grey says the building will be an asset that local residents can use themselves.

"It can be a place for gatherings and community meetings", says Grey. "And I would certainly hate to think that the community in the Douglass Park area would think that we wouldn't want to open our school for community use. Because I think we will."

Meanwhile, the Champaign School Board approved bids Monday night for eight of the ten construction contracts for the new Washington School. The other two contracts came in over budget, and the district is downsizing some of its building plans in hopes of attracting lower bids.

Architects for the new north side school presented proposals last (Monday) night for using cheaper building materials in some parts of the new building, in the hopes of shaving 1-point-7 million dollars off the building's cost. Board member Greg Novak endorsed the changes --- but he warned against going too far.

"I mean the fact that we never did the grading we were going to do at Barkstall", says Novak. "It's come back to haunt us. There's been some things at Stratton that have come back to haunt us. So in some ways, I understand we need to make some cuts, and we need to do some trimming. And in some ways, I don't want to go too far in that direction."

Unit Four school board members voted unanimously to accept eight construction bids, while rejecting two. Changes will be made to the two outstanding projects, to make sure those two projects are less expensive, before resubmitting them for bids.

Categories: Education, Race/Ethnicity

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 04, 2010

Court-Mandated Unit 4 Committee Member Says Panel Lacks Direction

A member of the Champaign school district committee aimed at reviewing equity areas is frustrated by the group's lack of progress after one semester.

The Education Equity Excellence Committee was mandated by a court through Unit 4's consent decree settlement. Melodye Rosales says some members fail to understand that they're supposed to help guide district administrators, and have things the other way around based on vague language on how the committee operates. The triple-E committee is assigned with looking at academic progress among minority students in areas like special education, Advanced Placement courses, and discipline areas. The panel is also reviewing the results of a racial climate study done at Unit 4 by a University of Illinois psychology professor. It's one Rosales contends was a waste of district resources.

"We could do it for free," said Rosales, implying there were other departments at the U of I, like its Informatics Institute, where such a study wouldn't require thousands of dollars. "I gave them a road map on how to do it for free every year. We could get a general idea of what happens, we could work with the university, they could process the information. We don't need to spend $58,000 or $74,000 on something that's not even worth the paper it's written on at this point and time." Rosales also contends Unit 4 has done a poor job of promoting the Triple-E committee, and needs to be meeting more often.

But Champaign School Board President and committee member Dave Tomlinson says the committee is taking the right approach to focusing on broad issues, and is glad the panel plans to expand its meeting schedule in the fall. "I think the committe has got a large task and we need to make sure we keep the district moving in the right direction, and also to make sure the community feels involved," said Tomlinson. "I think we're on that path, and we've got a varied group of people here that has the information that they need to make the decisions." A task force will lay out that meeting schedule before the triple-E committee meets this fall.

Categories: Education, Race/Ethnicity

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 19, 2010

Renovations to Building in Champaign Means the End for African-American History Mural

The renovation of an old warehouse on Champaign's north end will mean the end of a mural celebrating local African-American history.

The Champaign City Council approved a special use permit Tuesday night that will allow Sullivan Plumbing to convert and expand a one-story warehouse at 5th and Park into a two-story building with both office and apartment space.

But the conversion will cover up the African-American history mural painted on the building's north wall in 1978. Dave Monk was among those involved in the mural project, which he says helped bring white and black together.

"It has connotations of not only local interest, but a demonstration at the national level of how we could interact on the fringe of black-white communities", Monk told council members.

Monk said a way might be found to preserve the mural, if Champaign council members would delay their vote. But the council approved the special use permit unanimously.

Councilman Tom Bruno noted that the mural's creator, Angela Rivers, had told the News-Gazette that it would be too expensive to restore the badly faded work.

"It would be nice if this mural could be preserved", said Bruno. "But it would be even nicer if this building could improve that neighborhood. And perhaps we can't have both."

However, other council members said they hoped the mural would be well-documented for history's sake.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2010

New Champaign Police Policies Proposed by Peace and Justice Group

A set of proposed changes to police policy in Champaign received a guarded welcome from City Council members Tuesday night.

The Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice presented the proposal, with the backing of a few local civic and religious groups.

Peace and Justice member Aaron Ammons says one of the proposals stems directly from last October's fatal shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington during a confrontation with police. The proposals calls for mandatory drug and alcohol testing whenever an officer's weapons is fired, resulting in death or serious injury.

Ammons says such a policy would help the police in their relations with the African-American community.

"Because I know in talking to so many different people", says Ammons, "if they feel like if the same things they are being arrested for and scrutinized for, if our department is asked to go through those same things --- it sort of build a rapport that says, at least they have to go through some of the similar things that we have to go through. And it actually gives the department a leg to stand on."

Another proposal would bring back residency requirements for police officers. Champaign police have not been required to live in Champaign since the 1970s. And a third proposal would make files on police complaints more accessible to the public.

Several council members said the proposals looked promising. But they cautioned that they would be subject to closed-door contract negotiations with the police officer's union. Champaign has begun negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police on a new contract to succeed the one that runs out this summer.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2010

African Americans Criticize Champaign Mayor for Obama Remarks

Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart's YouTube comment about President Obama hurt race relations in the city. So say five African-Americans who commented at Tuesday night's city council meeting. But Schweighart says his comments weren't about race, but the U-S Constitution. I

Jerome Chambers of the local N-double-C-P and former Champaign County Board Chair Patricia Avery were among local African-Americans who told Schweighart that his statement doubting that Barack Obama was born in the U-S, showed disrespect towards the nation's first black president. Jamar Brown, who serves on Champaign's Human Relations Commission told the mayor his comments hurt attempts to mend relations between the city and African-Americans in the wake of last October's fatal police shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington.

"When I hear negative comments towards you", said Brown, "one of the biggest things that I've always said to people is that, whether you like him or not, he is still our mayor and deserves that respect. And I will end it by asking, doesn't the president of the United States of American deserve that same respect?"

But Schweighart stood by the comments he made to an interviewer during a Tea Party rally last week.

"My concern was not with the color of the president setting in the United States", said Schweighart. "It was concern with the constitutional questions that I have great concern about. Somehow, it's got turned around to be a racial thing."

And Schweighart says that's a misconception, citing years of working with the local African-American community as a council member and former police officer.

Schweighart had at least one apparent supporter at the Tuesday night meeting. Champaign resident Keith Whited came to the meeting, carrying a sign calling for President Obama's impeachment.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 06, 2010

Feedback from Community Forum on Champaign Police-Community Relations Now Online

Feedback gathered in a community forum on police-community relations in Champaign is now online at the city's website.

More than 300 people attended the March 15th forum, which city officials organized in the wake of criticism following the shooting death of Africa-American teenager Kiwane Carrington during a scuffle with police.

Comments from each of the forum's discussion table are now in a 43-page report. They include responses to the forum's main questions about police-community relations and how they can be improved.

City Community Relations Specialist Garth Minor says the Community Forum Working Group --- made up of city officials and community members --- will meet Thursday morning to start going over the report, looking for common themes.

"Once we find those themes, then the next step will be to prioritize and develop those themes into action items", says Minor. "This information then will be shared with forum participants for their review and comment. All of that information then will be compiled into a final report that will be presented to the city manager for implementation."

Some of the recurring ideas from the Community Forum included the need for mutual respect between police and young people, and increased contact between police and young people in non-crisis situations.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 01, 2010

Champaign City Probe into Carrington Shooting Winding Down

An internal City of Champaign investigation into a fatal police shooting last fall is winding down.

City attorney Fred Stavins says the two outside experts the city asked to conduct the study have completed much of their work looking into last October's shooting death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington. Police say they confronted Carrington and another teenager as the two were trying to get into an acquaintance's home on Vine Street - an officer's firearm went off and hit Carrington during a scuffle.

Stavins says retired Urbana police chief Eddie Adair and retired McLean County Judge John Freese continue to meet, but their fact-finding portion of the review is generally complete - and he says that's only one segment of the overall investigation.

"There's been an internal investigation that involves police personnel", says Stavins. "And subsequent to that, there'll be another review by another group in the police department --- the Firearm Discharge Board."

Stavins says any ultimate changes to police policy or other outcomes of the report will be up to City Manager Steve Carter. He says the goal is to determine whether the Carrington incident should lead to changes in policy. But Stavins says it will not second-guess a state police investigation that cleared Chief RT Finney and Officer Daniel Norbits of criminal wrongdoing. Carrington's aunt has filed a wrongful -death lawsuit against the officers and the city.


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