Activists bring up issues in Unity March

31-year-old Urbana resident Elizabeth Simpson takes part in the Unity March on Saturday. She said she marched to gain unity with northside. Laura Prusik

31-year-old Urbana resident Elizabeth Simpson takes part in the Unity March on Saturday. She said she marched to gain unity with northside. Laura Prusik

By Patrick Wade

Students and Champaign-Urbana residents equipped with signs and megaphones took to the streets Saturday afternoon in an effort to raise awareness about community issues as a part of the fourth annual Unity March.

Increasing police accountability, protecting Section 8 voucher holders and restoring the township’s general assistance fund were among the key issues, said Brian Dolinar, who helped organize the event.

“We do this annual march to keep issues on the front burner, to commit ourselves another year to activism and change in the community,” Dolinar said.

Marchers held signs displaying phrases like “Education not incarceration,” “Don’t discriminate against Section 8” and “50,000 volts is torture.” Some carried wooden doves.

Chants of “This is what community looks like” were clearly audible to residents who came out of their homes to investigate the commotion.

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Each year’s march, organized by C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice, has a different theme and takes on varying issues. This year, marchers were organized with a “Community Matters” theme.

Different community groups participated in the march, which had three different starting points: the county courthouse in Urbana, Westside Park in Champaign and the Alma Mater on campus.

The marchers met at the intersection of University Avenue and Wright Street, and walked as a group to Douglass Park at Fifth and Grove streets to the beat of a West African drum ensemble.

“We are here to bring people together, to unify the community around these issues,” Dolinar said. “And every year, it keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

Kerry Pimblott, graduate student in African-American history, and Akua Agyeman, senior in LAS, joined the march. Agyeman said “building solidarity between campus and community” is important.

Only eight students were present at the student kickoff point on campus.

“Campus has got a long way to go, even people who are activist-minded, of having solidarity with local communities,” Pimblott said.

Agyeman said a lot of the students present were doing research for projects in their various classes, learning about community issues and what steps are being taken to resolve these issues.

“It’s about actually living what you write about,” Pimblott said.

Champaign resident Lori Serb said the local issues affect everyone in Champaign County, and the march is a great way to bring people together around a cause.

“The community needs to come together and be webbed together in some way,” Serb said. “What this does is it allows people, through walking as a group together, to see parts of the neighborhood that they may not have seen before, that they don’t feel they have any reason to go to.”

Ricky Baldwin, an Urbana resident, gave two children a ride on the back of his bicycle during the march.

“It involves them too,” Baldwin said. “I’m trying to help them learn from an early age that you’ve got to be involved to make things the way they’re supposed to be.”