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Urbana Alderman Aaron Ammons calls for justice and self-empowerment

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Urbana Alderman Aaron Ammons calls for justice and self-empowerment

By Fatima Farha

Aaron Ammons isn’t someone defined by his past.

Despite his former struggle with street life and drug use, Ammons’ future looks to bring justice and empowerment to the African-American community in Urbana. 

Ammons, who replaced his wife Carol Ammons as the Urbana City Council Alderman for Ward 3 in January, said he’s been down a bumpy road of bad decisions to get where he is today.

“I don’t know what people think they can accomplish in that lifestyle,” Ammons said. “I don’t even remember what my goals were, I was searching for something I never found in that lifestyle.”

During this dark time in his life, Ammons found comfort in reading, poetry and prayer. After seven to eight years of drug addiction, he began regrouping his life.

He then returned to Parkland College and worked in a small gas station on Lincoln Road and Kirby Avenue.

Ammons’ inspiration to work for social justice came from workshops he attended during that time about the science of nonviolence, atonement and the civil rights movement.

He then became involved in community activism on issues such as the purchase of Tasers in the county.

Around this time, Ammons worked with several others, including his wife, to start Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice.

Ammons also started the Citizens with Conviction program, which helps people with felony convictions and confront the dehumanization of these people.

“I think it’s my responsibility to humanity,” Ammons said. “I know that what I learned through that spiritual walk for me, it was so profound, it led to all of these things we’re discussing now, and it led to a quality of life that I want for everybody. I want for my brother what I want for myself.”

Ammons said becoming the new representative for Ward 3, a predominantly African-American community, is a “completion of a task” he had begun with Citizens with Conviction. For him, it was important to show that people with felony convictions can get back on track and accomplish their goals.

Ammons describes himself as the “poster child” of a citizen who was convicted, got himself pardoned and was able to move on to fulfill his goals for his community. The best way for him to represent the African-American community, he said, was to work for the city council.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she helped Ammons receive his pardon from Gov. Pat Quinn after hearing that with a conviction, he would not be allowed to serve on city council.

Prussing said she knew Ammons would be the right choice as alderman for Ward 3 after speaking to residents and seeing overwhelming approval for him.

“He’s been very active in the community, and I think he has shown natural leadership,” Prussing said. “I wanted someone who could represent the people who lived there.”

As alderman, Ammons said he hopes to alleviate the tension between the African-American community and the police department, while addressing the problems of marginalization and racial profiling that target the community.

After years of working together on community issues, Imani Bazzell, director of SisterNet, sees Ammons as her younger brother. 

“The reason we have a sort of community activist relationship is because he understands that what we’re trying to accomplish is a long distance run,” Bazzell said. “Of course we seek victory along the way, but he has a mature understanding that what we’re after is really about making a real promise toward democracy, which is a much broader effort.”

Ammons also currently works at the University as a Building Services Worker. He is the president of the Service Employees International Union Local 73 Chapter 119, which he became involved with after receiving assistance from the union while working at the University. He was impressed by the union’s commitment to providing protection for working class citizens like himself. 

As a city council member, Ammons he wants to work with public works services, community and economic departments, and environmental projects for the community. As an organic gardener, Ammons is involved with agricultural efforts and issues as well.

Apart from his work in the government and society, Ammons spends time writing poetry. Belden Fields, member of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, said Ammons hosts SPEAK Café events at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, for young people to express themselves through poetry.

Fields, a professor emeritus in Political Science, has worked with Ammons for more than 10 years.

“He really engaged in the struggle for what he believes is right and just, and he doesn’t deviate from that,” Fields said. “I just really, really am so impressed with his character, his determination and his commitment to the cause of social justice. It has been very enriching for me to work with him.”

For Ammons, his goals for justice and self-empowerment are not just for the residents in Urbana and Ward 3, but for the rest of the world.

“The initial premise that I started talking about through atonement and the principles of nonviolence — these were life saving teachings for me,” Ammons said. “That permeates and penetrates all boundaries and state lines, because we’re talking about reaching people and getting people to understand that power and how they can impact their own lives.”

Fatima can be reached at [email protected]

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