Derogatory Message Sparks A Bigger Message

Oct 2, 2020

A couple of weeks ago, a derogatory word toward Black people was spray-painted on Northern Illinois University’s Center for Black Studies building. This week, the community came together to paint a different message.

In bright red, the words “Black Lives Matter” run along Castle Drive near the university. They were put there Thursday Oct. 1 during the “Art and Soul” social justice event.

Participants with masks on took turns painting the street while listening to live music performed throughout the affair. 

Vernese Edghill-Walden, NIU’s vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and chief diversity officer, said this painting was a way for the community to heal.

“You know, in a world that said that historically, black people have not been human,” she expressed. “To say you are human and to say I see you is really important, and does not discount how we feel or how we embrace other communities.”

Edghill-Walden said the idea to paint the street came from Paul Kassel, the dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

A town hall was held the day after the vandalization at the Center for Black Studies building. Additional racial slurs were spewed during that meeting.

She said the morning following the meeting, Kassel reached out to talk about the art event. He told her not to worry about coordinating things and he worked with the Center for Black Studies.

Anne Edwards is the director of the center. She said this is a community effort.

“It really speaks to reconciliation within our community when something happens, and we don't know how to react -- that we can come together and support each other and be here. And this looks amazing.”

The crowd included NIU students, faculty and other supporters.

DeKalb Police Commander Jason Leverton said he was disappointed when he learned about the hate crime.

“I think it’s really sad,” he said. “You know anytime that there is actions like that -- that are meant to again divide people and separate people and infuriate people -- it’s doing nothing to help.”

The event was scheduled to last three hours but was done in less than two.

  • Yvonne Boose is a 2020 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