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Our community is engaged in an important effort to create a community of belonging. This exhibition illustrates belonging through the recorded, unrehearsed, personal stories of eleven, self-selected and local participants. They were asked to share their understandings and experiences of belonging.

Voices of Belonging - Tamara

"Not just saying you have a seat at the table, but your voice matters."

My name is Tamara Boston. I work for Northern Illinois University. NIU. Go Huskies. I work for the Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Vernese Walden. I'm also a doctoral student in the Educational Psychology program. And I also teach in Black Studies and The University Experience. NIU brought me to Dekalb. When I came to stay in Dekalb it was such an experience such a welcoming experience. The students, the people have been so welcoming, friendly, kind, smiling. And it just endears me to Dekalb.

I define belonging as not just saying you have a seat at the table, but your voice matters. That you what you have to bring matters and that we welcome your experience. We welcome all of you, and we make you feel comfortable. And being in that space, that's what belonging is to me. A place where I know that I felt like I didn't belong (and this was a while back at a time when we weren't having these conversations about belonging and welcoming), but I had an aunt that lived in Downers Grove. And being part of a biracial relationship, or marriage. And me being an African American woman in Downers Grove, I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb. And this would be in the 80s.

So, when I was called the N word it surprised me, but it didn't surprise me. And that just made me feel, for instance, that I wasn't welcome. But the people in my aunt’s community were like, you are welcome. I get a sense of belonging when I look around and I see everyone is engaged in what I'm saying or doing. When people are just genuinely welcoming. When they smile or nod, like when I walk around the nature trail, people tend to either just smile or nod. And that's a way of saying, ‘I see you; I acknowledge you; I acknowledge your humanity and you're welcome in my space.’

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