Being Black in America: Peggi LaFrance

In her own words, an African American community resident shares a first-person story about what it looks, feels and sounds like to be black in America.

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Continuing a conversation we were privileged to host Sunday, and will keep up in the weeks ahead, The News-Gazette asked African American community members to share their stories and solutions in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

Featured today: the PEGGI LaFRANCE, chair of the NAACP of Champaign County’s Education Committee.

If you’d like to share your story, email jdalessio@news-gazette.com. To view the entire series, click here.

My Turn: Peggi LaFrance

Peggi LaFrance, a 2013 UI graduate, is CEO of Peggi LaFrance Communications and chair of the NAACP of Champaign County’s Education Committee.

‘The education system here does not work to prepare students of color to compete with students at the University of Illinois’

By PEGGI LaFRANCE

Being black in America means surprising white racists with your ability to achieve on a superior level. It means understanding those who only see black people on television have no idea of what blacks are capable of producing.

Years ago, I worked as a stylist and a waitress while attending undergrad. I remember customers and clients making small talk and asking me: ”Where are you from?” and ”What brought you to the area?”

When I replied “I came here to attend school,” they automatically assumed I was a Parkland student when, in fact, I was a U of I student. I never thought much of it.

As a native of Chicago and a product of diverse public schools, I recall experiencing very little racism because of the diversity and accountability of the staff and faculty. As a member of the community in Champaign County, I see a completely different world than the one in which I was raised. The racism here is overt and expectations of black students achieving a level of excellence are minuscule.

The effect of systemic discrimination in education here has negatively impacted students’ self-esteem, academic achievement, high school drop-out rates, opportunities for college academic scholarships and preparedness for higher-paying jobs.

In the fall, the NAACP addressed testing scores in this county and exposed that black students of affluent families were achieving at lower levels than white students at low-income levels.

As the chair of the Education Committee for the Champaign County branch of the NAACP, I listen to parents and students in the county and assist with troubleshooting barriers put in place for black and brown students by educators and administration.

I now understand why everyone assumed I was a Parkland student. The education system here does not work to prepare students of color to compete with students at the University of Illinois.

If you’d like to share your story, email Editor Jeff D’Alessio at jdalessio@news-gazette.com.

Peggi LaFrance, a 2013 UI graduate, is CEO of Peggi LaFrance Communications and chair of the NAACP of Champaign County’s Education Committee.