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Meet Chama

Early Life

“I had realized Peoria was the tale of two cities.”

We moved to Peoria when I was 10 years old. My mother was looking for a better, safer life for us. It wasn’t until my adolescent years that I began to notice the racial and economic differences. By this time I had realized that Peoria was the tale of two cities, economic inequity; the haves and the have-nots, and racial disparity.

I grew up in a union household on the South End of Peoria, my mom was a stay at home mom and my step-dad worked construction. I moved a lot. I have lived in 17 different places in Peoria. Instability is a direct result of poverty.

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When I was 14 I was sent to the boarding academy. What we thought would be a better, safer school option opened my eyes to a completely different type of overt racism. Being only one of 10 black students out of the school’s 250 population. I had to work two jobs too. Most of the poorer children, like me, worked in the factories and cafeteria or other labor-intensive jobs.

The opportunities and available resources to children in boarding academy didn’t exist for children in low-income communities back home.

Experience

“Working for Equity and Racial Equity was the passion that motivated my drive.”

When I was 19, I took an Internship at the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce. Working alongside the president and CEO and traveling the state offered me yet another layer to racism and disparity. I spent 12 years advocating on behalf of black businesses. Serving as chairwoman and president of the Peoria Black Chamber of Commerce.

I knew my passion was helping marginalized groups amplify their voices…but it wasn’t until the death of Mike Brown, that lit a fire under me to do more for social justice in the community. I led a Mike Brown solidarity march and began speaking out against injustices, working to inform communities about policy and legislation that would impact their daily lives.

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I began to align myself with others who shared the same values, joined recently form progressive groups and founded my organization, the Black Justice Project.

I began work as a full-time community organizer at the Grassroots Collaborative here is where I honed my skills as a strategist to win our communities back. I was waist-deep in my work. Working for Equity and Racial Equity was the passion that motivated my drive. I begin to formulate this vision of what our city could look like. I felt we needed to establish new norms. Essentially, 25 years later, the vision my mother had for us when she moved us here had never manifested and here I was, picking up where she left off.

The Movement

“A New Normal.”

To see the vision for Peoria I so desperately wanted to become a reality, I would have to be willing to get uncomfortable with being comfortable. When my mother packed us up to move to Peoria 24 years ago, she had a vision for her children to thrive. I too have that same vision for my own children. It is our job to make things substantially better for the generations after us.

 

And this is how I ended up here. Doing what is abnormal. A 34-year-old black woman announcing her run for a position that has always been occupied by white men. Taking a risk but a necessary one to move the city forward towards a New Normal. Where economic status didn’t determine opportunity. Where decisions are not made without real community input. Where bad policy and poor stewardship of residents money was not the expectation. A community where one could leave their house on any part of town and have everything they need to live a good, quality life within walking distance. Where it was normal for elected leadership roll-up their sleeves and get involved when the crime occurred.