Review of June 29th Latino community forum

We had a great turnout for our first attempt at holding a gathering of parents in Shadow Wood; “great” as measured in opportunities and experience. We were prepared for 50+ people, but didn’t get quite close to that. 🙂 Ileana’s husband played a key role as grill master for which we were extremely thankful on a sweltering hot evening. The AC in the Community Room was taking a while to condition the room, so we ended up just pulling out the chairs and sitting in a lopsided circle in the shade. Which turned out pretty well – still hot and sticky, but not unbearably so.

I thanked folks for coming out and joining us in a conversation about the community. Ileana translated and then proceeded to introduce the non-residents. Other than herself and me, we had with us (going clockwise) City Council Member Will Kyles, Chuck Jackson, U4 Board Member Jamar Brown, NG reporter Meg Dickinson, Reverend Dr. Eugene Barnes of the local Metanoia Center and Lynn Stuckey. The first topic to come up dealt with buses (Unit 4) and we stayed on that topic for a little while. As I was mostly listening and taking notes, it was awesome (from my point of view) to see how residents were able to voice their concerns and issues and then have folks like Jamar Brown who knew some of the more recent developments in the Transportation Department. Additionally, Rev. Barnes raised the question of a complaint process and the issue of having one person to go to with questions/concerns was dealt with very smoothly when Ileana offered to be the contact person for Shadow Wood in her role as a Board Member. And the residents had some very valid things on their minds. For instance, the bus drivers seem to be in a very big hurry much of the time. This means that they (the drivers) sometimes start leave too quickly as the child is just barely out the door when dropping off or can’t wait for stragglers during pickup. As a majority of the children go to Garden Hills and Shadow Wood is one of the last stops, the parents have observed that many times the bus appears over capacity, with 3 or 4 children in one seat. Some parents live on the far side of the community (roughly 1600ft from where the bus stops) and the children sometimes slip on the snow or ice. Lastly, both the children and parents feel that some times the drivers are rude and/or speak inappropriately. One parent mentioned this was true of the bus driver for the Pre-K pickup as well. Overall, it seemed the level of “customer service” was quite low, at least from the perspective of these families. The language barrier only makes it seem more so. Jamar attempted to provide some hope in that there will be new leadership at the Transportation Department and changes are already being implemented next Fall that aim to loosen up the rigid schedule and make things operate more smoothly. Several non-resident attendees suggested that parents should voice their concerns as soon as possible and not wait. I get the sense that the parents don’t want to become a squeaky wheel in such a way that has negative ramifications. Using Ileana as a Point-of-contact seems like a great way to bolster that communication path and I hope it works out well for all involved.

Meg Dickinson also covered this in her Saturday morning NG article, which is not yet online.

A segue was made into other issues, and the residents have a fair bit of concern in their role of renters, specifically in Shadow Wood. For example, some parents did not quite understand how they both own their trailer but are still paying rent. A few stories were told about how quickly and inconsistent management is to fine the residents for relatively minor infractions; number of chairs on the patio, children playing near a fence and suddenly several parents get fined to repair the fence, number of trash bags or getting rid of large items. They also talked about how the landlord/owner does not speak Spanish presenting a formidable language barrier, and how the managers do not live on site. As residents expressed their concerns, and especially their fear of lashback from the powers that be, Rev. Barnes mentioned the importance organizing and Will started to perk up his ears and explore how the City can get involved to help. Rev. Barnes mentioned that he desires to bring in an acquaintance from Bloomington that speaks Spanish and has experience with organizing Latinos in other communities. Will was getting a bit concerned about Civil Rights, and also asked about neighborhood cleanup days to help alleviate issues with trash. Both gentlemen expressed a desire to be involved in ways to aggregate the concerns of the residents and bring them before the landlord/owner in an attempt to give a voice to residents in a way that retaliation is severely minimized or eradicated altogether – the picture that came to mind was that of working together, not blaming one party or another, but to acknowledge issues and join forces in addressing them. For me personally, I was hit both by hold brave these parents are in speaking up in the face of past treatment, but also how real and raw their situation is. It just doesn’t seem fair to me. Here they are trying to scratch out a living and they face even more difficulties and challenges in the very place they call home. Most of us can find emotional and physical shelter in our homes, so I think we who tend to have more social capital have a really hard time relating to the lives these folks are living. I was also impressed by the way Rev. Barnes and Will Kyles responded; Barnes sees the power relationships and wishes to bear upon it in an appropriate manner, and Kyles is very conscientious of the families, going so far to ask how best they communicate (a most excellent question!) and further to set up recurring meetings to very clearly convey that this forum is not a one-night stand. In light of the discussion surrounding school issues, it is powerful to see people come together and commit to working things out. If nothing else, this was extremely inspiring to me. And now I get to help hold folks accountable, in a good way – I intend to continue being involved as appropriate.

It is hard to gauge how the residents reacted to the forum. It was starting to get dark and we said our good-byes and adioses and quickly packed up. I am sincerely hoping they talk among themselves and are willing to communicate those “morning after” reflections to Ileana, myself and/or other non-residents who attended. I very much want to paint the picture that something is happening to prove that their concerns did not fall on deaf ears. Which I guess is one reason why I wrote this blog entry – to “put it out there” what I heard and saw. But also to convey that I was very much honored to be a part of this pivotal exchange.

Afterwards, I was reflecting how passionate these parents are. It is exciting to see that despite not being able to understand 99.99% of the spoken words from the residents, it was obvious to me that body language is quite universal. So as Ileana translated, you could almost hear the original speaker’s voice. These are real people, with real feelings (and fears) and real situations and challenges. This is life.

Action Steps

  • Ileana will provide her contact information to several key parents in Shadow Wood (some parents already have her information)
  • Shadow Wood parents will make a list of all their concerns within the next week and somehow get it to Will Kyles (through Ileana?) – I gave them a couple notepads for this cause
  • Rev. Barnes will set up another informational meeting(s) about several initiatives he is organizing (Community Garden, Spanish newspaper, work with UC2B, organizing and meeting with landlord/owner, etc)
  • Will Kyles will check into what the City can do about the issues and attempt to schedule another meeting with residents within a month

I was so busy taking notes and playing host that I am not sure I have any other official Action Steps other than to blog and put to text what we talked about. 🙂 As always, I very sincerely ask that you inform me of any gaps or errors in this report. I do make mistakes. And I also very much invite others to join an online conversation about this topic (email has already been sent to each of the non-resident participants).

4 Responses to “Review of June 29th Latino community forum”

  1. G. David Frye Says:

    The U4 bus drivers are maniacs in all parts of the city, not just Shadowood, and I’m grateful my youngest child finished elementary school and no longer had to ride the yellow bus. I’m sure the routes they are asked to drive are a factor – too few drivers, too much ground to cover, too little time to do it. There seems to be a perennial problem with the number of drivers the district has on staff – it has not been uncommon for a scheduled band trip to be delayed because multiple buses were needed and not enough were available.

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    Just curious, if this is true how come it is not well-known? Or perhaps it is indeed well-known to those who ride the buses (and the parents of those). Have complaints been filed? Has the media picked up on it?

    Like I said, just curious. I do hope that Jamar is right about the changes coming down the pike, but I am a little bit worried that said changes are not correlated to existing problems. Granted, I say that mostly out of ignorance, not having much exposure at either end of the process other than last Friday. Hence I would like to learn more about the facts.

  3. pattsi Says:

    I was taken aback when I learned of these conditions for our students. Adding to Charles questions, G. David did you bring this to the school board’s attention at public meetings, did you organize other parents to bring forward recommendations for change, did you and others engage Meg to write an investigative article about the safety of children on Unit 4 buses, etc.?

  4. Building bridges with Shadow Wood « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] the minutes online, but Will mentioned that they have taken to heart the things Will heard from the first Shadow Wood community forum and started to make plans around those initial points. I loved how Will emphasized the two-prong […]

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