How we covered our various suburban communities in 2021 and what we have in store for 2022

It has been a significant year for our rich suburban mosaic of various communities, not least of which managed year two of a relentless pandemic together.

Over the past year, I have tried to showcase ways in which people from racial, cultural, ethnic, religious and societal groups with different identities face unique challenges, mark triumphs and overcome tribulations. I have also sought to portray how much commonalities unite us all.

In 2021, through this column and other stories, I have documented the devastating and disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on colored communities, and how humans have banded together to help each other survive.

I have written about changes in how elementary school students are taught the history and contributions of minorities, the adoption of new laws that promote greater awareness and understanding of certain ethnic cultures or groups, anti-racism and anti-bias initiatives in communities and schools, how schools creates fairer programs and policies to meet students’ needs, and unique achievements by people from different walks of life with the goal of making our coverage more inclusive and representative.

Here are some highlights from this year’s suburban mosaic coverage. Visit for more of my stories.

Asian history

Illinois made history by becoming the first state to require public schools to teach Asian American history. The Teaching Equitable Asian American History Act enters into force in elementary schools and colleges across the country in the school year 2022-23. It calls for the teaching of a unit of Asian American history in Illinois and the Midwest and for the recognition of Asian Americans’ contributions in the fields of art, science, and civil rights. Asian Americans are among Illinois’ fastest growing populations – more than 700,000 people as of 2019.

Teaching in Columbus

Controversy over Columbus statues across the country sparked protests, leading to the removal of many of them, including monuments in Chicago’s Grant and Arrigo parks, and changing the way Columbus is taught in schools. Columbus Day is recognized as a federal and state holiday in Illinois, but a growing number of states, cities, towns, and counties are instead celebrating Native American Day to honor Native American history and recognize the impact of colonialism on indigenous communities.

Race healing

Suburban colleges, libraries, and community groups held a host of events throughout the year as part of Healing Illinois, a race-healing initiative from the Illinois Department of Human Services in partnership with the Chicago Community Trust.

Uniform law

Illinois became the first state to pass a new law giving students the flexibility to change their sportswear. The Inclusive Athletic Attire Act gives students athletes, male or female, the freedom to change sportswear according to their cultural, religious, physical comfort and modesty preferences without the need for a dispensation or a penalty.

Police recruitment

Recruiting various officers and building better relationships with minority communities has been a focus of many suburban police departments, and a few of them have made progress toward achieving these goals. Among them are the communities of Arlington Heights, Aurora, Elgin, Hanover Park, Lake in the Hills, Palatine, Prospect Heights and Naperville.

Yasmina Blackburn, a resident of Elk Grove Village, helped launch an official Eid outfit for the 18-inch American girl doll.  She has been pushing for Muslim representation in the puppet line since 2009.

Yasmina Blackburn, a resident of Elk Grove Village, helped launch an official Eid outfit for the 18-inch American girl doll. She has been pushing for Muslim representation in the puppet line since 2009.
– Mark Welsh | Staff photographer

American Muslim girl

Elk Grove Village’s mother Yasmina Blackburn wrote a letter to the American Girl doll company, seeking Muslim representation in their product line so girls like her daughter Aliya could see themselves reflected as part of American culture. And now American Girl, owned by Mattel Inc., has launched an Eid al-Fitr doll that Blackburn helped design as part of its new culture party collection.

Black and white

After 23 years of Lutheran service in predominantly black communities in the South, Michael Johnson was hired to lead an all-white congregation in Arlington Heights.

George Floyd’s death

More than a year after George Floyd’s death at the hands of a white former police officer in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, conversations about racial injustice and racial conditions dominated all levels of suburban society, in addition to the focus on police brutality. Many black suburban leaders expressed hope stemming from heightened awareness of racial injustices that are bringing about change and reform at the national and local levels.

Anti-lynching law

For the first time, lynching could become a federal hate crime. In December, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act, which is now moving up on the floor of the House. There have been more than 200 attempts to codify lynching as a federal crime since 1900. The U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, a Chicago Democrat representing Illinois’ 1st Congressional District, introduced the legislation.

Japanese history

For the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans in the suburbs reflected on how the infamous day changed the future of thousands of people of Japanese descent who were uprooted and imprisoned in the months following the attack. The relocation and imprisonment of about 120,000 people of Japanese descent, mostly U.S. citizens, from the west coast brought nearly 20,000 people to the Chicago area.

MLK’s dream

Suburban residents talked about the legacy of the late pastor Martin Luther King Jr. Many suburban people who believe King’s dream remains unfulfilled 53 years later are urging people to take action. Civil rights activists stressed that it takes more than dinners, speeches and recollections to promote the change King sought.

New year, new laws

As of January 1, Illinois schools may not regulate hairstyles historically associated with race and ethnicity, such as dreadlocks, braids, and twists. And Juneteenth is now a paid state vacation. It celebrates June 19, 1865, two months after the end of the Civil War, when slaves in Texas finally found themselves free. Juneteenth is also a federal holiday.

Do our part

The Daily Herald has set up a Diversity Advisory Panel to help our newsroom identify stories of under-represented groups and better reflect them in our coverage. Our first panel of 13 members consists of people from different walks of life, ages, experiences and different ethnic, racial, religious, educational, professional and public service backgrounds.

I will monitor the work of the panel. Its focus is to highlight important issues affecting these communities, as well as to help monitor our coverage for issues of sensitivity and accuracy. We have a lot of work ahead and I look forward to what we can accomplish together in 2022.

In the meantime, check out this panel for updates on panel work. I hope you enjoy reading, as much as I enjoy writing, about the different people and topics that often go unnoticed and why they matter.

Peace and congratulations for a happy new year!

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