UPDATE: Champaign city officials say the Black Lives Matter honorary street signs were installed on Wednesday, Mary 13, eight days after their approval by the city council. The signs are on Chester Street, where it meets Neil Street and Walnut Street, on either side of the City Building. – Jim Meadows, March 24 2021.
CHAMPAIGN – The Champaign City Council voted 7-0 with two absences this week to put up honorary street signs in front of the City Building in recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement. But one Black member of the City Council called the signs a “slap in the face”, compared to what the city should be doing for its Black residents.
Tuesday’s vote follows up on a January study session, where council members decided on the Black Lives Matter Honorary Street name for a section of downtown Chester Street, after narrowly rejecting a more visible and expensive Black Lives Matter street mural.
The Black Lives Matter street signs will be larger than the usual honorary signs: 12 inches by 48 inches, instead of the usual nine by 36 inches. They will feature yellow lettering on a black background — colors used in many Black Lives Matter street murals.
Speaking on Thursday, Council Member Clarissa Nickerson Fourman of District 1 said it seemed to her that some on the council were trying to do just the bare minimum to placate Champaign’s African-American community.
“They were sitting there, trying to figure out, what can we give these Blacks?” said Fourman. “What can we give the Blacks if we can’t give them the street mural? What can we do? And that is what the meeting was.”
While Fourman voted for the honorary signs, she says the city council should look at doing more – such as providing job training, getting a grocery store to open on Champaign’s north end, and working on programs for children.
“I believe that can be life-changing,” said Fourman. “But it’s going to require a city council that who wants to actually do those things. And we have the power to do a lot. But you have to have the will. And the will is not there.”
Fourman says she agrees with Council Member Alicia Beck of District 2, who said she supported the honorary signs, but thought them “woefully lacking” compared to what the council could be doing to show support for Black residents.
“What I hope we could do as a council going forward is create some real change and some real policies that will address some disparities that exist for our Black community members,” said Beck, “and that we will do more to make sure that we are saying through our policy work that Black Lives Matter.”
Mayor Deborah Frank Feinen said at the meeting that she agreed with the comments.
It will be a few weeks before the Black Lives Matter honorary street sign is ready to be installed on Chester Street between Neil and Walnut. They will be the first new honorary street signs in Champaign in 2021. City Council policy allows up to four new honorary streets to be named each year.