The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Dec. 17, 2017

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Dec. 17, 2017

This being best-of-2017 season, we asked 10 people in the education business to tell us who'd rank No. 1 on their Person of the Year list.

JESSICA LABON
Dean of Students, Jefferson Middle School

She picks: Texas TV personality Demetria Obilor

"She is a news anchor that was shamed on social media for the size of her body, her clothing choices and her natural curly hair. She's person of the year to me because her response to the situation was beautiful.

"I work with middle school students and self-image can definitely be an issue for kids in their early teens. I love that this amazing, strong and talented woman sent a positive message about loving yourself. The world that my students are growing up in gives them very mixed messages at times about body image. The message that she shared is a beautiful example of strength and acceptance of self that we need to be setting for children every day."

SUJA THOMAS
UI Law Professor

She picks: Out-of-work quarterback Colin Kaepernick

"Very few people are willing to give up their dreams or careers to protest injustice and help others. Muhammad Ali was one. Colin Kaepernick is another.

"Without regard to the consequences to himself, Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem at football games to protest police brutality toward blacks. Because of the position he took to help others, he has lost his career and endorsements, and many, including the President of the United States, publicly deride him.

"Kaepernick's actions have inspired other athletes to protest during games and have brought more consciousness to the issue of police brutality toward blacks. I admire him more than anyone this year."

NAFISSA THOMPSON-SPIRES
UI Visiting Professor, African-American Studies/Creative Writing

She picks: #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke

"She started the original #MeToo movement years ago to provide a space for black women to speak about sexual assault.

"While she is getting some of the national attention she has long deserved, she has still been eclipsed by conventional celebrities. I wish Time magazine had given her the cover of their most recent story."

STEVE WITT
Director, UI Center for Global Studies

He picks: London Mayor Sadiq Khan

"In early April of 2016, I happened to be in London to give a paper at a small academic meeting. I was of course interested in the looming Bexit vote and hoped to get a sense of what Londoners thought of the impossible notion that the UK would vote to leave the European Union.

"What I found rather was a keen interest in a close mayoral race, which featured Sadiq Khan, who would become the first ethnic minority mayor of London and first Muslim elected to govern a major European capital.

"During his first year in office, Khan's leadership exemplified the important role cities and local governments can play in international affairs. Facing policies from traditional British allies that threaten the immigration status of Muslims, outside criticism of his leadership after terrorist attacks and the White House's unprecedented support for British hate groups, Khan's ability to counter racially and religiously motivated attacks from a municipal stage plays an important role in global discourse around themes of diversity, tolerance and human rights."

CHERYL BLACK
Elementary Principal, Judah Christian

She picks: Grandpa Gentles

"As elementary principal, I have the pleasure of sharing both the joys and sorrows of the families I serve and praying for their needs. Recently, I was inspired by the grandfather of one of our students.

"Approximately two years ago, Grandpa Gentles was diagnosed with cancer. His granddaughter, Madilyn Jo, shared her grandfather's need for healing, so her teachers and classmates began to pray for his recovery. As I reconnected with Grandpa Gentles at our Christmas program last week, he updated me on his battle with cancer, expressed his appreciation for the prayer and inspired me with his strength, determination and trust in the Lord. Through the difficulties, he stands today as an inspiration to others to remain strong through tribulation and serves as a reminder that anything is possible with God."

EMILY WEIDNER
Principal, White Heath Elementary

She picks: Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo

"I'd have to go with Anthony Rizzo because of the charity work he does for children with cancer and their families. He raises money to help these families and for cancer research by hosting special events throughout the year. He also visits children in the hospital regularly, and he invites the kids and their families to games.

"It is nice to see a great player who is also a great person."

KAMI HETMAN
Social studies teacher, Heritage High

She picks: Nonprofit founder Erin Treloar

"In today's society, there are so many pressures on young women, especially teenage girls. With the rise in social media influence on our lives, it creates a competitive environment often based on superficial ideals.

"Through Raw Beauty Talks, donations are collected to provide mentorship for programs that increase self-esteem in our nation's youth. As a high school teacher, I often see the negative impacts that social media can have on my teenagers, especially the girls.

"I always encourage kiddos to 'be as you are,' which is a message displayed proudly in giant letters on my classroom wall.

"I want my students to be valued for their brains and their hearts, rather than their outward appearance, which is why Erin Treloar's mission is so inspiring. She works with young people to help them redefine their self-image and see that being beautiful is about so much more than skin color, hairstyle, weight or body type."

SISTER M. BRIDGET MARTIN
House System Director, St. Thomas More

She picks: Pope St. John Paul II

"I feel like today's society needs more than ever his message of living in a culture of life rather than a culture of death. The violence, hatred and crimes against humanity have reached a point that we really are killing ourselves off.

"Pope St. John Paul II, though, always spoke of having hope and of bringing the light that will change cultures from darkness and death to light and life."

MARK KESLER
Business instructor, Parkland College

He picks: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo

"He played at Eastern Illinois, the same university my son Adam played at. He follows a great line of quarterbacks from EIU — Mike Shanahan, Sean Payton and Tony Romo — who've all gone on to do pretty well. And Jimmy was a tenant of ours in a rental house we owned in Charleston.

"As soon as Jimmy was traded to the 49ers, I bought his jersey and as I'm writing this message, he is 2-0 as their starter. He's my Number 1 pick in our family's fantasy football league next season."

JANICE MARIE COLLINS
Assistant Professor, UI College of Media

She picks: "The young people and students who had the courage to speak up and out about what they liked and didn't like about their vision of what America should or shouldn't be."

"The students who were in the streets, on social media and on campuses who felt that they had the constitutional right to voice their opinions and took courageous steps to do just that. The ones who fought for love and not hate. The ones who are with us today, and the ones who gave their lives to defend the rights of every American, especially those who have no voice and suffer in silence, and the ones who gave and took their own lives just to show us the pain and injustices that they were trying to endure.

"They all have my admiration. They were fearless. They were determined. They were brave. And they are the ones who will make America great."

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