Teens Get Civil Rights Lesson Community Members Talk of Struggles

Article excerpt

Byline: Tara Malone Daily Herald Staff Writer

Sitting in a darkened theater with his buddies from civics class Friday, Pratik Shah gazed at images from the civil rights struggle that engulfed America during the 1960s and felt stirrings of empathy.

The 18-year-old Larkin High School senior was born 33 years after the Supreme Court declared separate was not, in fact, equal.

He comes from India, a nation where religious distinctions more than racial divides historically fueled civil strife.

Yet Shah said he understands how it is - how it was - to be different.

"In the hallway, people sometimes pass comments. ...They say 'Go back to your country' or 'How is Saddam Hussein?'" said Shah, whose family settled in Elgin when he was a toddler. "They just say it for fun. You just got to shake it off and ignore it."

Shah was one of 120 students drawn from Elgin Area School District U-46's four high schools to watch a special viewing of The History Channel and Comcast's "Voices for Civil Rights" documentary at Larkin High School.

Teens then listened as community leaders testified to their brush with the civil rights movement, as a child integrated into an all-white school or a young nurse vying for a job on an all-white hospital staff.

"I was beginning my third-grade year when schools were integrated," said Theodia Gillespie with the Quad County Urban League.

Gillespie recalls sitting in her Missouri class as the only black child in the room. No one spoke to her.

"Instead of the teacher thinking maybe we need to provide some support," Gillespie said, "I was placed in a class where kids . …