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DeKalb's Mayoral Candidates Discuss Personal Lives During Recent Conversations

Election Day for DeKalb is coming up on April 6. Recently the two mayoral candidates took time to share their personal journeys with the community.   

The “Getting to Know You” conversations took place at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church and were streamed on Facebook Live for both Alderman Carolyn Morris and local businessman Cohen Barnes.  

Barnes was the first to unfold his life with the founder and director of DeKalb County Community Gardens, Dan Kenney. Their conversation took place on March 22. Morris took the spotlightMarch 30.  

Both Kenney and Barnes sat across a long rectangular table that allowed plenty of room for social distancing.  

Credit https://www.facebook.com/newhopembc/?ref=page_internal
Dan Kenney and Cohen Barnes.

Barnes highlighted his childhood by sharing memories of his parents and the many people who occasionally stayed at their home. He said a Buddhist monk was the most memorable visitor. 

“A wonderful guy, 'Ed I love you to death,’” he said, “who would stay with us for months on end after traveling the world and come essentially --  And Ed talks about this openly -- to come to dry out and he would hang out with our family.” 

Barnes, who is an only child, moved from Charleston, Illinois to DeKalb at age 10 but before that he lived in Sheridan, Illinois. He recalls how an awkward car conversation that may have included some type of racial slur, pushed them to DeKalb. Barnes said his parents wanted him to be in an area with more diversity and because of his exposure to this, he decided he wanted the same for his children.    

“When I look at DeKalb High School between the athletic programs, the AP classes, [and] the diversity that it has,” he explained.  “I wouldn't want to send my kids anywhere else in the county, or in the state. DeKalb was perfect for what I wanted to do to raise a family.” 

Morris was also born in Illinois but she didn’t stay long. She relocated to Massachusetts as an infant and at the age of 14 she moved in South Dakota and lived in a few other places.  

Credit https://www.facebook.com/newhopembc/?ref=page_internal
Dan Kenney and Carolyn Morris.

“And we transitioned to [the] Philadelphia area in Pennsylvania. And I graduated high school in Pennsylvania. And then shortly thereafter, I joined the Marine Corps.” 

She moved back to DeKalb six years ago. 

The two candidates both served in the military. Barnes said this experience was a great foundation for him.  

“Imagine being 17, graduating high school, academics not being your priority, problems with authority, things like that,” he said. “And then I go and become an U.S. Infantryman in the army and served three years on active duty.” 

Barnes said the military experience gave him discipline and important leadership skills. 

Both Morris and Barnes expressed that they are ready to lead the community. Morris explains her plan. 

“So, I think that where that starts, is with a big community feedback survey that has significant response from the community,” Morris stated, “so that we can know what direction and what the expectations of the community are for the city of DeKalb.” 

Morris said she has three main focuses if elected. 

“Which are improving equity, public safety, and investing in educating our youth,” she noted. “If I were to be elected, I think that would be an indication from the community in the first place, that those are priorities for the community.” 

She mentioned that she wants to significantly change the police force and she is excited about the new police chief David Byrd, who is the city’s first Black police chief.  

Barnes said from what he's seen, outside of the police department there isn't a lot of diversity in city offices.  He said it will take some time to fix this, but he pointed out that he’s done some things that will help him start. 

“I think, being a part of Belonging, the community leaders I've been reaching out to that represent various aspects of our community, the people at Northern [Illinois University] that I've been reaching out to in order to understand diversity and this topic,” he said.

He is urging people to take a listen to theBelonging conversation that took place in October. He explains what Belonging means to him.   

“When I think about that, I think about segments of DeKalb coming together with other segments of DeKalb. And everyone's sitting at the table.” 

Another focus was the city’s finances.    

Morris said there are already two organizations in the city who are working on bringing more businesses to town. 

“We have that account-- County Economic Development Corporation. And for the City Council, we have an Economic Commission, where people give economic feedback for the city,” Morris said.

Other things discussed included fair housing, 24-hour childcare services, and the relationship between the city and NIU. 

The discussions ended on a lighter note. Kenney asked questions inspired by James Lipton’s Inside the Actor’s Studio. 

The first event was co-hosted by the founder of DeKalb’s Beloved Community, Beth Campen, and NIU’s Director of Community Promotions Jennifer Groce. 

Kenney and Campen also co-hosted the March 30th conversation, along with DeKalb County Board member Rukisha Crawford.  

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.

Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.