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There's A Push Happening For More Inclusivity In An Increasingly Diverse Tremont

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Megan Rahn
Megan Rahn of Tremont with her brother, Wensley.

Tremont is growing increasingly diverse. The school system's students are now about 10 percent people of color.

Much of that diversification is due to adoptions from countries like Haiti, Ethiopia, and Brazil. But some young people in the Tazewell County community say work is needed to make Tremont more inclusive of all its residents.

Megan Rahn's little brother was adopted from Haiti. She's worked over the past year to propose plans of "cultural embrace" to the Tremont school board. After some initial "hiccups," she said she's gotten them on board.

"And so at this point, while I'm working in direct affiliation with the school administration in Tremont, we're wanting to prepare the town as a whole, for the changes that are about to occur," Rahn said.

One step in that preparation comes in the form of a rally this Saturday at 4 p.m. at the shelter near the Tremont Pool.

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Courtesy Lizzy Freidinger
Lizzy Freidinger

Lizzy Freidinger plans to attend. As a Black, gay woman who went through the Tremont school system, she said it was often hard to find people who could understand her or even relate to her at all.

"So just the idea that we're trying to do this and we're going to make it happen is good. I think that's so empowering for other small communities, because it's a terrifying thing to do," she said. "And we're already getting a lot of backlash about it. And so I think the fact that we're still not backing down is super encouraging to other communities as well."

Rahn remembers an incident during her junior year in high school where Freidinger waved her out of her biology class to talk.

"It was this look...that the tears and this look was very familiar that she had on her face. It was this look of realizing that in this town, and in this context, she's not fully embraced," Rahn said. "And that was a very, very familiar face that I have witnessed on my brother several, several times. It's an isolating feeling, and a feeling that if confronted, people would try to gaslight and people would try to get around."

Freidinger said that day, she was forced to face the realities of white privilege in her school.

"We are starting to create a safe space for people of color to seek out just another student, the only one that's willing to face these problems, or the fact of how alone I felt in that classroom when I was talking to Megan. Students should not feel that way, ever," she said.

"While Lizzy is in this position of reckoning and realizing, and while I've seen the similar face on my brother, I remember looking directly into her face and thinking in my head, this has to stop, this has to stop, this has to stop," Rahn said. "And now it's going to stop. This rally and the things that have taken place for over a year. These are the culminating events. And it's going to stop."

Rahn said the rally isn't political in nature, but rather putting a magnifying glass on the pain that some in the community are feeling, and giving them a chance to be heard. She said attendees can bring signs, but it's most important to bring your empathy and listening ears.

"You don't exactly have to change. You just have to be willing to listen and not gaslight people for having feelings or become defensive so quickly," Freidinger said. "And I think the only way that change is going to happen is if people are finally willing to stop talking and just listen."

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