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updated: 11/5/2019 10:17 PM

Speakers at Naperville city council meeting seek solutions where ‘racism still exists’

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  • Buffalo Wild Wings on 75th Street just east of Route 59 in Naperville.

    Buffalo Wild Wings on 75th Street just east of Route 59 in Naperville.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 

The case of a group of parents and kids being asked to switch seats at a Naperville restaurant because of their race has struck a chord and illuminated enduring issues that need to be addressed, speakers told city council members Tuesday.

Treatment like what happened Oct. 26 when a group of 18 people, most of them black, were asked to move because two white customers didn't want to sit near them has not gone away in society, speakers Kimberly White and Tiffany Stephens said.

"Why is it so hard to believe that racism still exists?" said White, executive director of the Career & Networking Center and wife of city council member Benjamin White. "I am here to tell you that yes, in 2019, racism still exists and it has directly and indirectly impacted my family."

Speakers made calls for unity and healing, and council member White said he'll push for the city to add language about diversity and inclusion to its mission statement.

White also said he and Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico met earlier Tuesday with Buffalo Wild Wings leaders to assure them the city will be keeping an eye on the diversity and sensitivity training the restaurant has promised it will conduct for all Chicago-area employees.

"It is disheartening to think that families can go to a public restaurant, be shunned by other patrons and furthermore be given little to no support by the management of that establishment," White said. "This is wrong. It's unacceptable."

One way to move forward would be for the city council to consider a resolution affirming Naperville as a "Welcoming City," resident Anthony Castagnoli said. Former city council member Becky Anderson brought forward such a resolution in 2017, but it didn't gain traction. Passing a written commitment to welcoming people of all races, religions, sexual orientations, genders and other identities could help the city "do something about this escalating hatred of minorities in society," Castagnoli said.

State Sen. Laura Ellman of the 21st District, a Naperville Democrat, also addressed the council, encouraging anyone who encounters discriminatory treatment to seek help from the state through the Illinois Human Rights Act.

"I want to let the residents know that there are mechanisms," Ellman said. "We can help you at the state to assist you and address these issues."

Speaker Stephens, who said she and her children have encountered unequal treatment in Naperville because they are black, said the issue needs to be addressed so further generations of children will not suffer.

"It's not about black. It's not about white. It's not about colored," Stephens said. "It's about dignity. It's about respect."