How NAACP ACT-SO is uplifting the next generation in Central IL

URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — This month, one organization held a special meeting in Urbana where they invited the community to not just celebrate Black history, but to experience it.

We all know the saying, in order to know where you’re going, you must know where you come from. That’s the sentiment the NAACP Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics program embodies throughout the year. But this month, they did something different.

“In our public schools, I feel like there’s a void as for as their informational knowledge, relative to what their own people have done to move this nation and the world forward,” said Barbara Gillespie, NAACP ACT-SO chairperson.

And for Black History Month, Gillespie is highlighting the role young Black children have now, and being a part of it.

“I think it’s a stimulus for them to look within their own souls and realize the gifts and talents that they have, and they too, can excel,” Gillespie added.

Ruby Mendenhall is an African American studies professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But at one point, she too was an ACT-SO student.

Parkland College Celebrates Black History all monthlong

“Imagine when they are 18, when they are 20, when they are 25 what their minds can create because they’ve already had that intense exposure,” Mendenhall said.

Now she’s a community example for others to follow her lead.

“And that brings me like so much joy, ” Mendenhall said. “Speaking of joy, right? That I just love it to be able to bring the resources to help students thrive.”

Dr. Gillespie says when she was an educator, she made sure to sprinkle Black history into all of her lesson plans. Now, as the NAACP ACT-SO chairperson, she’s doing exactly that throughout the community.

“What a better opportunity than this — to help our young people to really realize what their future can be,” Gillespie said.

Dr. Gillespie is encouraging more families in the community to get involved. There are no fees, only fundraising. And this year, the ACT-SO children are competing to go to Las Vegas for ACT-SO nationals.

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