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New ICC Equity Program Seeks To Remove Barriers For Black Students

Tim Shelley
Peoria Public Radio
At-Large Peoria City Councilwoman Dr. Rita Ali is also ICC's vice president of Workforce and Diversity.

Illinois Central College is launching a new equity initiative aimed at helping low-income, underrepresented, and first-generation students earn a higher education credential. A $412,000 grant from the Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund will help around 100 students att ICC this year by offering tuition assistance, relief from old tuition debt, technology support, mentorship, safe spaces to study, and job placement programs.

ICC President Sheila Quirk-Bailey said the program is focused on achieving equity for Black students by removing financial or logistical barriers that may otherwise keep those prospective students away. 

"We take this focus and recognition of the African American underparticipation in obtaining higher education credentials, and under-engagement in high-skill, high-wage employment opportunities," she said.

Rita Ali is an at-large Peoria City councilwoman and ICC's vice president of workforce and diversity. She said the grant came about as a product of recent discussions between state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, and Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis' Coalition on Racial Justice and Equity.

"Within the word community, at the end, there's a little, small word built in, and it's unity," Ali said. "In unity, we can address issues of inequity. In unity, we can address the digital divide. In unity, we can help vulnerable populations to thrive."

Ali said the GEER program is about not leaving anyone behind.

"It's larger than equality. It's about equity, and that means perhaps providing more for one than you do for another, because that one may need more," she said.

The cost is expected to average about $2,500 per student, Ali said.

ICC is partnering with the Tri-County Urban League, Peoria Public Schools, the local religious community, and other organizations to get the program launched in the next three weeks. That's not much time, but leaders of the groups say they're moving quickly.

Laraine Bryson is president of the Tri-County Urban League.

"Education is the key to success. When you want to uplift yourself, when you want to progress higher, the higher level of education you can gain, the higher the chances of your success," said Bryson, adding the program is a perfect example of the "hand up, not hand out" approach the Urban League takes to helping the community.

Pastor Martin Johnson of New Beginnings Ministries is securing three safe study spaces for ICC students on the South Side, North Side, and East Bluff.

"One of the components that the church community is committed to providing, it's not just this particular program, but we care about them as young people. And we want to be able to walk with them through this journey and life," Johnson said.

The state grant will fund the equity program through the 2020-2021 school year.

Those interested in learning more or applying for the program are asked to contact ICC Diversity Consultant Janice Parker at janice.parker@icc.edu or call (309) 694-8940. You also can visit icc.edu/geer.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.