KANKAKEE — A sheepish smile crosses the face of Victor Nevarez. He nods in agreement. He recognizes he is about to enter into a phase of his life he has never experienced.
The world of Nevarez is about to change and, most likely, in a very radical way.
In Kankakee’s long history, Nevarez has become the first Hispanic or Latino elected to the 14-member Kankakee City Council or any other elected position in the city for that matter. He might even be the first Hispanic elected within Kankakee County.
Even though he was unopposed as he sought the 5th Ward Kankakee City Council seat left open as veteran Alderman Tyler Tall Sr. did not seek re-election, Nevarez made history on April 6 when he won the council seat by collecting 220 votes.
While the number of votes may not have been overly impressive, it was far more than needed.
“I’m not a politician. I’m not looking for attention,” he said. “This may be something in which God put me in this direction.”
The clinical director of the Duane Dean Behavioral Health Center in Kankakee since September 2017 and a native of Durango, Mexico, the 57-year-old is not entirely unknown.
A city resident, as well as a 5th Ward resident since 2017, Nevarez has been a member of the Kankakee Planning Board nearly since he arrived here to take his role with Duane Dean.
He is a board member of the Hippocrates Medical Clinic board and the Kankakee County Renewed Opportunity and is president of the Illinois Association for Medication Assisted Addiction Treatment. He has worked as a social services counselor for 14 years.
GROWING HISPANIC POPULATION
“My goal from the start was to get involved with this community. That is when you see problems. Being involved opened my eyes,” he said.
However, it wasn’t until Alderman Tall approached him with a suggestion. Tall informed Nevarez he would not be seeking another term. He thought Nevarez would be a perfect candidate.
For a city with a large and growing Hispanic and Latino population — 4,779 residents or 18.5 percent of the city’s total population as of the 2019 U.S. Census data — there has always been a lack of Hispanic and Latino representation.
Nevarez will be that person, that first person of Hispanic or Latino descent to earn an elected office, in Kankakee.
“I never thought I would be ‘the one,’” he said. “Whoever thought it would be me?”
He said when Tall approached him more than a year ago, he was “simply flabbergasted.”
The more he contemplated the idea, the more he began to think maybe it made sense.
“I began to think that my background is I help people,” he said.
He noted Hispanics are normally very quiet. If they have a problem, they keep that issue inside the four walls of their home.
“But often those problems don’t get fixed,” he said. “Just like everyone else, sometimes we need that extra help.”
While he will officially be representing the 5th Ward along with Democratic seatmate Carmon Lewis, Nevarez is well aware he will most likely be the point person for Hispanics across the six other council wards as well as those throughout Kankakee County.
He insists, however, he will represent all people, not just Hispanics and Latinos.
“I look at problems, not the color of someone’s skin,” he said. “And when I see a problem, I try to fix it.”
‘HAVE TO START SOMEWHERE’
Nevarez has already had a conversation with incoming Republican Kankakee Mayor Chris Curtis. They both acknowledged they are eager to work with one another to advance issues of the Hispanic and Latino community.
“I know we can’t change the world in four years, but we have to start somewhere,” Nevarez said. “... I’m so grateful for this opportunity. The fact I had no opponent, maybe that was a gift from God.”
Curtis termed Nevarez’s election “monumental” in the history of Kankakee.
“For Hispanics and Latinos to have a voice at the table is so overdue,” Curtis said. “Kankakee is their home, and I believe having Nevarez here will help them feel more welcomed and more engaged in civic government. For Victor to be an alderman sends a message.”
HEART ‘IN KANKAKEE’
Curtis said he hopes Nevarez’ election sends a message to the Hispanic and Latino community that there is room for them at the table. Based on population figures, Curtis said the city should have two or three Hispanic city council members.
Tall said there is no doubt in his mind that Nevarez will do well.
“He could help galvanize the city,” Tall said. “It’s long past time to have a Hispanic in this position. It’s nice for people to see a role model.”
Even though Nevarez is still a few weeks away from being sworn into office, Tall noted he’s already being sought out.
“He will hear from everyone,” he said. “He’s going to be a real asset. They will trust Victor. They might not trust all of the city, but they will trust Victor.”
Steven Hunter, the former longtime city council member and the vice president of the Kankakee County Hispanic Partnership, noted Hispanics have established themselves in the business community, in neighborhoods, in religious institutions, so government is only the next arena.
“He will be that voice. He will bring a new perspective to government,” Hunter said. “... There has to be more Hispanics involved and he will be likely just the first. He will wear the leadership role well.”
Nevarez is eager to accept the challenges which lie ahead. Despite his elevated position within the community, he simply wants to continue being just Victor.
“I’m not a title person,” he said. “When people call me alderman, I say ‘No. I’m Victor.’”
He added, “All my strength and abilities will be put into this. My heart is here in Kankakee. That I know.”
KANKAKEE — The Kankakee School Board heard a proposal for how the district is planning to use some of the $20 million incoming for the third round of federal COVID-19 relief during its Monday meeting.
In total, the second and third rounds of relief amount to $29 million for Kankakee School District 111, the largest amount of any school district within Illinois Senate District 40. The state of Illinois received over $7 billion to help schools recover from the pandemic.
School districts have until Sept. 24, 2024, to spend the money, and at least 20 percent of the latest incoming funding must go directly toward addressing learning loss. For Kankakee, that’s a minimum of $4 million.
Superintendent Genevra Walters said the district would not be using the funds toward creating ongoing positions that can’t be funded beyond the next few years.
The goal, she explained, is to “build capacity” to support students within families and the community, which would involve giving stipends to parents or community members to become parent trainers.
“The money is not going to be there forever, so it doesn’t make sense for us to spend money on things that we can’t sustain over time,” she said. “But we can sustain training the community, the parents and the teachers and the administrators on how to support students.”
A University of Chicago partnership is proposed to assist with the training.
“I think what’s exciting about it is, normally, they only work with Chicago schools,” Walters noted. “Once we showed them the proposal and the plan, then they were excited to work with us as well.”
Parent trainers would attend and provide ongoing training to other parents on relevant topics for their children’s education, such as technology use, equity practices and culturally relevant teaching methods. Parent teams would form at each school specializing in grade levels pre-K to third, fourth to sixth, seventh to eighth, and ninth to 12th.
“Instead of spending the money on supports that will go away once the money is spent, we are building capacity within the system to maintain the supports we’re putting in place for the first couple of years,” Walters said.
She said many people don’t understand the day-to-day operations of the district, so part of the training will be to explain things the district is doing and how they connect to long-term goals established in 2014.
For instance, preparing students for whatever path they want to take after high school, whether it’s college, military or entering the workforce, has long been a priority for the district, Walters said.
Training on technology use will be important as well, as the pandemic has brought on new ways of delivering content that many parents and even some teachers were not familiar with until they were forced to use it, she added.
Walters said she was “excited and surprised” at the amount Kankakee School District 111 will receive in COVID-19 relief. She stressed the importance of figuring out sustainable ways to get the most out of the money long term.
“This isn’t going to happen again in my lifetime,” she said. “We have to see the impact of this money 10 years from now and 15 years from now, and not just the two or three years that it’s available.”
The Illinois National Guard will be returning next week to administer shots of the Moderna vaccine at three mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Kankakee and one site in Watseka.
Vaccination is open to all residents ages 18 and older.
The Iroquois County Public Health Department and the Illinois National Guard will be conducting a vaccination clinic from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, April 19, at the Iroquois County Fairgrounds 4H Building, 1390 E. 2000 North Road, Watseka.
Appointments can be scheduled at bit.ly/IroquoisApril19 or by calling 815-432-2483.
Moderna is a two-shot vaccine and the second dose will be administered on May 17 at the same location.
The Kankakee County Health Department’s mass vaccination events with the National Guard will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 20, to Thursday, April 22, at Kankakee First Church of the Nazarene, 1000 N. Entrance Ave., Kankakee.
Registration must be completed online at bit.ly/KankakeeMay18-20.
The second dose dates for the Kankakee clinics are May 18, 19 and 20 at the same location. People signing up must be available for both first and second dose dates. Changes in dates cannot be accommodated.
The Illinois Department of Public Health, AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital, Kankakee County Sheriff’s Office, the NAACP and the Illinois Migrant Council are also providing support of the mass vaccination clinics in Kankakee.
For both events, the vaccine is available by appointment only.
Individuals are required to bring a valid form of photo ID and are asked to reschedule if not feeling well or quarantining on the appointment day.
Patients will need to wear a face covering and clothing that allows easy access to the upper arm, practice social distancing and plan to allow at least 15 minutes for observation after the vaccination.
The Illinois National Guard previously vaccinated over 2,000 Kankakee County residents during three mass vaccination events on April 5-7 at Pembroke Community Church and Kankakee Community College.
A recent study reported that Illinois generated $175 million in marijuana sales taxes in 2020, the fifth most in the nation.
Currently, 16 states and Washington, D.C., have now fully legalized marijuana, and 11 have retail sales taxes, according to the study released by U.S. Drug Test Centers. Also, adult and youth usage of marijuana also increased in 2020.
Illinois originally awarded 75 licenses for marijuana dispensaries in 2020, and there is a proposed bill that would more than double the number of licenses and give the poor and minorities a chance to enter the industry after being excluded in the first round, according to published reports.
State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, joined a group of minority cannabis applicants in March and announced plans for legislation that would create up to 115 new marijuana shop permits, according to a story in the Chicago Sun-Times.
In the story, advocates of the proposed legislation said there is “not a single licensed marijuana business that counts a person of color as a majority owner.”
The U.S. Drug Test Centers study <https://www.usdrugtestcenters.com/research-articles/20/the-economics-of-marijuana.html also found that marijuana usage increased by double digits in every state since 2015 led by Nevada at 119 percent. Adults who view marijuana as dangerous is down to 25 percent.
There was no direct correlation between legalization and youth usage of pot, according to the study. In the 15 legal states and D.C., eight saw an increase and eight saw a decrease in youth usage.
The study also found: In Illinois, adults who used marijuana “in the last month” increased by 39 percent since 2015 and youth ages 12-17 increased by 4 percent. The $175 million in taxes accounts for .4 percent in total state 2020 revenue.
In December 2019, the Kankakee City Council approved an ordinance to allow regulating adult-use cannabis business organizations. The city will have only one licensed retailer.
The council approved the ordinance by a 10-4 vote, but one of those voting against was alderman Chris Curtis, who will become the city’s new mayor in May.
In Bradley, the village board in November 2019 amended a zoning ordinance to permit and regulate adult-use cannabis businesses.
The ordinance amendment permits the siting and operation of six distinct categories of cannabis-use establishments — dispensary, cultivation center, craft grower, processor, infuser and transporter. Each of the categories are clearly defined, and the village has authority to permit or prohibit any one of the categories.
Also, in 2019 the Kankakee County Board voted against allowing marijuana sales in unincorporated areas of the county. However, the board’s executive committee will revisit the issue at its next meeting this month.
In March 2020, Grant Park voters approved a non-binding referendum that allows cannabis’ dispensary businesses to sell adult-use recreational cannabis at retail within the village.