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CLC students help to record Black history

GRAYSLAKE – When one speaks of Black history, the conversation often turns toward the South, slavery, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement.

Those eras do not encompass all Black history. In an effort to capture some of Lake County’s Black history, the Lake County Forest Preserve’s Dunn Museum partnered with staff and students at College of Lake County to create a living history display.

College of Lake County Multicultural Coordinator Beverly Phelps was first approached by the Dunn Museum last summer and given full autonomy to design the project. She enlisted the help of several students including Jermaine Hilton, who is in his second year at CLC studying computer science and serves as president of the Black Male Xcellence club.

“I’ve been in Lake County my whole life,” Hilton said in a news release. “Growing up here, I’ve seen how hard our civil leaders worked for rights and equality. I was very excited for them to get their opportunity to shine at this time in history and have all the work they’ve put in throughout their lifetime recognized.”

The team decided to make the project twofold: gather a collection of original pieces created by students that includes poems, pictures and short stories, and interview prominent Black leaders in the community. The Dunn Museum hired a professional videographer to document the interviews and help turn them into polished products to go on display both virtually and in person at the museum.

“The students conducted all of the interviews and were able to hear these stories and ask questions,” Phelps said. “Questions like what does it feel like to be the first Black mayor in a major city, what are your thoughts about Black Lives Matter, what’s going on in the world and compare the civil rights movement to what’s happening now.”

Prominent leaders and community members were interviewed including three mayors: Sam Cunningham of Waukegan, Leon Rockingham, Jr. of North Chicago and Billy McKinney of Zion.

“It was interesting to hear the stories of everyone we interviewed. I could have just sat there forever and listened,” Phelps said. “One question and its answer would prompt another question and so on and so on. It gave the students an opportunity to get to know their community leaders. They were able to really feel good about their work, especially talking to the three African American mayors. They were able to see themselves in a mayor because they look like them.”

The Dunn Museum currently is not open because of COVID-19 precautions. Portions of the project will be displayed at the 38th annual Profiles in Excellence free virtual event Feb. 6, which will feature presentations and performances in honor of Black History Month. The event’s theme is “Our Voice is Black History.” Students and faculty from CLC will share their experiences through collected stories.

Hilton will be honored at the event. He said being part of the project was an honor in itself.

“I learned how many different ways leaders before my time have been inspiring, working and teaching the Black youth, as well as everyone in our community,” Hilton said. “They taught our history through different ways, such as art, church, law and civil service. It was an eye-opener for me.”

The free virtual Profiles in Excellence event takes place from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 6.

When the Dunn Museum reopens to the public Feb. 13, the full project will be on display.

The Dunn Museum will later archive the videos and artwork, making them a permanent part of Lake County’s recorded history.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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