In February, the Decatur Reentry Service Center in Illinois celebrated Black History Month in a memorable way. The RSC team wanted more than just short synopses of black leaders on the walls. Center staff sought to grab participants’ attention, get them excited to celebrate Black History Month, and for it to be a learning experience.
Mr. Reginald Dobbs, a case manager at the non-residential reentry center, suggested The Illinois Freedom Project as a focus during the month.This web-based, youth-focused multimedia project provides resources to teach the interconnected story of slavery to freedom in Illinois. Formed in 2011, Lincoln Home National Historic Site with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, and many community partners undertook a project to investigate the places that best represent the inspiring stories of the move from slavery to freedom in Illinois.
Mr. Dobbs learned of the Illinois Freedom Project through his contact with Trade Wade of St. Peter AME Church and Springfield School Board member Erica Austin. They introduced Mr. Dobbs to Timothy Townsend, Chief of Interpretation, and historian with the National Park Service. Mr. Townsend had a fantastic wealth of knowledge to share and was thrilled to be a part of this project. He set up displays and left booklets and brochures for participants. The banners made for great conversation starters between staff, parole agents, and participants. Best of all, the stories shared were from Illinois. As a result, when cities such as Peoria and Chicago were discussed in the project, program participants could relate to the stories, enhancing their interest and engagement.
Thank you to Decatur RSC Program Manager Christina Gillaspie for contributing this article.