On Saturday, October 3rd I attended the WIU Homecoming parade. It was a beautiful day for a parade: sunny, the air crisp, the trees around us on the verge of exploding in autumnal color. I watched high school marching bands, politicians and hair stylists, dance troupes and college floats pass by.
Then the Grand Marshal, Reverend Dr. C.T. Vivian passed and I yelled, “Thank you, Dr. C.T. Vivian. We love you!” He waved to me and I clutched my heart because my respect and admiration for him runs so deep. He is among my heroes. And folks, I had a moment of pride for our community. A moment of deep love for this city, home once to a great man, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, who returned to be honored both at the high school library dedication and by the city of Macomb. I attended, just the day before the parade, the unveiling of Dr. C.T. Vivian Way, connecting the heart of WIU’s campus with the heart of Macomb.
A wise man once told me that real love is hard work. Love of people and place, once the initial infatuation is over, is so often a choice. I am not saying Macomb is perfect, or that we don’t have considerable work to do, but I am saying I am committed to Macomb, and deeply rooted here through my family and my work. We returned seven years ago to this city where I was raised from the age of 5, went to school, and graduated from MHS and WIU. It’s where I got my first receptionist job at 14, and then donned a hairnet as a hospital dietary aide at 15. It’s where I was a truly poor, working college student, and then a social worker, newly married and traversing adulthood. It was my professors at WIU that supported me in returning to graduate school, an experience that opened up teaching as a vocation. This is a city I know intimately, but I am still learning about its past and present. I am still so hopeful for its future.
I often hear about what Macomb doesn’t have, and a Target nearly always tops this list. Yet, there is so much that Macomb does have like great libraries, a community college, and a state university. In Macomb, I can call my pediatrician at any hour and she will listen with concern and care. In Macomb, when I am sick, friends will bring soup and bread, and whisk my children away so I can nap. When my grandmother died, I returned home from her funeral to find dinner on my doorstep. When my washing machine broke, people offered to do my laundry.
I have admired and respected every single teacher my children have had in the public school system. From kindergarten through third grade, my children, and everyone else’s, are greeted every single morning, by name, by Steve Horrell—welcoming them into school with a high five. They are seen and welcomed personally. Every. Single. Day. I love this city, this state, and the people who live here.
However, as a community member, and as a faculty member at WIU, my concern and unease grows the longer our state goes without a budget. With no end in sight, this stalemate is gravely impacting our state’s most vulnerable-- mental health facilities, domestic violence, and childcare resources.
While funding has been allocated for our public schools, it has required real cuts. On September 22nd, WGEM ran a story regarding how our own school district had to reduce its budget by $750,000. Macomb Senior High School educator, Molly Selders, someone I have worked with and greatly admire, addressed the fact that these cuts often mean more students in each classroom. She stated, "I'm committed to making sure that I meet the needs of my students, but it means that I'm definitely stretched more thin, and, sometimes it feels like there's not enough of me to go around."
I too serve the students of our state—one I love for its geography and its people. I teach at WIU, and I understand that many Illinois communities depend on state universities. Collectively, we serve over 200,000 students. This state budget impasse is also gravely impacting our state universities. Our state universities have seen no released funds since July.
The ramifications of the state not living up to its partnership with state universities have been characterized as “bleak” by Tom Hardy, the spokesman for the University of Illinois.
I have students who are struggling to pay for school because Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants have not been allocated due to the state budget impasse. This impacts 130,000 students (at both public and private institutions) and their guardians, who rely on this grant to afford higher education both at four-year and two-year institutions.
This impacts employees and their families, especially those that face layoffs or amended contracts such as the ones announced at Eastern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University earlier this academic year. This state budget impasse doesn’t just impact campus communities—it impacts communities, period.
At the unveiling of Dr. C.T. Vivian Way, I reflected deeply on Vivian’s example of service, his embodiment of justice, his willingness to act as an agent of change. I was humbled to think he attended the same school my son now attends, graduated from high school here, and attended WIU. And from Macomb he went on as a minister, an organizer, and a civil rights activist. He became a dear friend to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He helped change our world for the better through his commitment to equality, justice, and nonviolent action. Service means we humble ourselves to the greater need, the greater good with an eye toward the future. Service, true service, like love, is hard, hard work. It’s a choice.
As Vivian rose to great applause, I thought about what it means to live in community, and what a struggle that often is, especially in times of great uncertainty. As our state’s complex, knotted up, deeply entrenched budget impasse begins to impact us in very tangible, troubling ways I hope this community comes together to stretch in service of one another’s needs, mindful of our deep connection to one another and this geographical place. I hope we remember our shared ability to enact change and truly serve our community—together.
Barbara Harroun is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.