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DeKalb County Board, Sycamore City Council members talk Black History Month

February 14, 2019

Virginia Sherrod, longtime Sycamore resident and current 4th Ward alderman for the city, said she dealt with her fair share of racism growing up in the area in the 1950s and ’60s.

Sherrod, 64, recalled being chased by white children near the house she and her siblings grew up in on North Cross Street in Sycamore, while her antogonists called her a “chunky candy bar.”. She recalled a separate instance during which children told her God left her in the oven too long.

She said she also remembers when neighborhood children threw snowballs with rocks in them at her, and her father being livid.

“Those were the things that have stuck in my mind,” Sherrod said.

Sherrod, who is the first black woman to serve on the Sycamore City Council, shared those stories in recognition of Black History Month, which is acknowledged throughout the month of February each year.

Before she was born, Sherrod said, her family moved to Sycamore after her father got a job at Anaconda Wire and Cable in the 1940s. She said she remembers always being the only black girl in school when she was growing up in Sycamore all the way through her high school graduation in 1972.

Sherrod said she remembers when Tim Lebon became the first black alderman on the council in the 1980s. She said she recently came across old city council meeting minutes from the 1970s, during which she was actually on record speaking about whether a neighborhood liquor and barbecue joint owned by the first black woman to own a business in Sycamore should be rebuilt after it burnt down.

“It was an icon in the black community, and people didn’t want it,” Sherrod said.

Sherrod said she ran for the DeKalb County Board but lost in 2016 and remembers being disappointed after putting her heart and soul into the campaign. She was inspired to run for Sycamore City Council – and ultimately to become the first black woman to take a seat – after talking to her banker and former Alderman Becky Springer shortly after the county board election.

Sherrod said she remembers joking with Springer about wanting to win the lottery as one of her heart’s desires after losing the county board election. After Springer asked what her plan B would be, Springer urged her to consider running for city office.

Sherrod said she remembers being a little unsure of herself and asking Springer whether she’d actually have a chance at winning the council seat.

“And she said, ‘Oh, girl please – yes, you would,’ ” Sherrod said with a laugh.

Sherrod, who has been in the seat for about a year and a half, said she’s grateful to serve on a board with so many capable elected officials that have the best interest of the community at heart. She said she’s honored to serve in her capacity and to give a voice for people who need it.

“I think I make a difference every time I take that seat,” Sherrod said.

Rukisha Crawford, DeKalb resident and the first black woman to be elected to the DeKalb County Board, said she was inspired to run for the seat after board Chairman Mark Pietrowski Jr. urged her to consider it, and timing worked out after she finished her master’s degrees in education and literacy at Northern Illinois University.

Crawford said she has lived in the area for nearly 20 years and thinks it’s an awesome community to be a part of, but a lack of diversity in the area has concerned her – which is why she thinks observing Black History Month is important for this area in particular, she said. Ultimately, she said, she wanted to run for local office so she can give a voice for the African-American community in the county.

“I’m not sure what can do, but I’m trying to get feet wet to see what can I do,” Crawford, 40, said.

While Sherrod can only count on one hand the number of times she has encountered racism in adulthood, she said, most of those instances include some older white women clutching their purses whenever she walked by but also included a former employer telling her she’ll have no problem finding a job with affirmative action on her side.

Sherrod said Sycamore is a beautiful community to live in and that she is so blessed to have roots in the area. While she still believes observing Black History Month is important everywhere, including in DeKalb County, and that the community still needs to be extra aware of what they might be teaching their children, she believes the community has definitely come a long way when it comes to racism, she said.

“But do we have a long ways to go? Absolutely,” Sherrod said.

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