Recorded on July 24, 2020. Length: 27 Minutes.
JH: Hello. Today is July 24, 2020 and welcome to Northbrook Voices, and oral history project sponsored by the Northbrook Historical Society and the Northbrook Public Library. My name is Judy Hughes and I am pleased to welcome Ainsley Charlesworth who’s lived in Northbrook her entire life. Welcome, Ainsley. Would you tell us a little bit about yourself and what it was like growing up in Northbrook?
AC: Sure, so I went to school for my whole life in Northbrook, so I went to Northbrook junior high and I went to Glenbrook north. Once I got to high school is when I started doing some of my social work, social justice work and stuff like that. So I’ve been involved, very involved in high school, and I’ve been involved in two specific social justice clubs including the Gender Sexuality Alliance and the Black Student Union at GBN.
JH: Can you tell us about the gender sexuality alliance and the black student union?
AC: Yeah for sure. So the Gender Sexuality Alliance is a club that exists at GBN to help foster community within the LGBTQ community at GBN. So we do a lot of meetings, sometimes we’re just hanging out, sometimes we’re educating about topics related to LGBTQ issues, talking about recent news history current events stuff like that. The Black Student Union focuses mostly on education I would say, their meetings consist of gathering students. They gather to learn about racism and to learn about injustice specifically ones that pertain to young people and the suburban atmosphere of race and how they exist in that space.
JH: Okay. And recently you have taken your activism another step. Can you explain what you helped organize?
AC: Right. So I helped organize a Black Lives Matter protest and march that occurred in Northbrook. That was back in May. It feels so long ago.
AC: June! It feels so long ago to me, it feels forever ago.
AC: Yeah so I helped organize that protest with Lauren McGinnis and Sofia Thompson, who are the two presidents of the Black Student Union. They recruited me. I got a text from Lauren and she was like “We want your help organizing this.” And I was like “of course I will help.” So yeah, I had a lot of participation in helping in making a lot of the logistics happening and making sure things would run smoothly. Stuff like that, I have a lot of experience in event planning that kind of thing. So I think, I’m hoping that’s why they recruited me. I have done like a lot of event planning throughout my high school career. I helped a lot out with the supply drive that happened before the march. We raised so many donations from the Northbrook community. like an entire U-Haul truck full of donations that we drove down to Chicago and got to donate. We donated some to the, there was a soup kitchen in Rodgers park. It’s called A Just Harvest. They have a connection to I think the Village Presbyterian Church. The Village Presbyterian Church has worked with them before, and so my dad who is a member of that church had a connection to that soup kitchen. So we ended up donating a lot of the supplies there. And we also dropped off at a couple smaller supply drop boxes that were specifically giving supplies to people of color, minorities, black people in Chicago that were protesting or that just needed help at that moment. That kind of thing. So that was my main role in the protest I would say.
JH: Did your supply drive meet your expectations? Or exceed your expectations?
AC: Definitely exceeded. We were not expecting to have that much stuff. It completely filled my garage and took hours of sorting and putting it all together to try and figure it out. The protest in general was way bigger than we had first expected it to be because, I think there were several different events that were planned at the time. And then other people that were planning decided to just push all the efforts towards the one protest to make it one big event. So the turnout was definitely bigger than expected.
JH: How did that make you feel?
AC: It made me feel a little proud of our community I would say. I think a lot of people showed up for the right reasons. I think Northbrook is a community that…you know the black community in Northbrook absolutely a minority. But they still face a lot of microaggressions and racism in their own sort of way. And I think the Northbrook community sometimes struggles to address how minorities are influenced in those different way then just overt racism which happens in different places. I meant there’s overt racism at times here, but usually it looks a lot different when you are in the North or in a suburb like this. So it was cool to see that many people showing up and saying, you know this is enough it needs to change.
JH: Were you surprised at the span of ages in the march?
AC: I would say yes. There were definitely a lot of young people, but there were several adults that wanted to be there too. Like my mom, both my parents wanted to go and it sort of was definitely spread out. Like I saw a lot of older people there too. I had first expected mostly young people but then the turn out of a lot of older definitely surprised me a little bit.
JH: And people with their parents, with their children as well.
AC: Yeah that was definitely, there were a lot of families and like parents that brought their little kids. We had some really little kids there.
JH: Right. You used a word I’m not sure a lot of people, unless they’ve been involved in the study of racism know, and that’s microaggression. Can you explain that for just a minute?
AC: Sure. So microaggression, I would say that’s a term that’s very applicable outside of racism outside of racism as well. In general it’s a way of being discriminatory towards someone in a micro way. So it’s usually little phrases that someone says that are rooted in discriminatory acts and injustice but they are not overtly offensive necessarily at first.
JH: Do you have any examples of microaggressions outside of the Black Lives Matter?
AC: Sure. I would say a microaggression within LGBTQ community, an example be would maybe be like somebody using the word ‘gay’ as an insult can be considered a microaggression. Or saying things like, “Oh you bisexual? You’re just confused.” Something like that where it’s like alright that’s a little offensive and seems to be a little based in ignorance a little bit but its not overtly like a hate crime.
JH: What is it that brought you to the activism to join the two groups at school? And tell me a little bit how you felt they were a safe place.
AC: Sure. So activism has always been really big in my life because I am a member of the LGBTQ community. I feel like I have to be involved in a lot of these social issues because they directly impact my life and my community. There’s a really big community of black LGBT people and so also I feel it is my responsibility to stand up for those people. Intersectionality is very important. Intersectionality being the place were different identities intersect. So knowing that there are people within my community that are face more discrimination because of their race or other factors, it feels like my responsibility to stand up for all people.
JH: And how are you planning, your going away to college next year. How are you planning to continue your activism beyond Northbrook.
AC: So I think I very deliberately chose the school that I went to because, I’m going to a small liberal arts college where I know it is a safe space. Where I know that there is going to be a lot of other activists there, a lot of other people who care about people and have a lot of empathy for those kinds of issues. I was definitely watching colleges responses when the whole Black Lives Matters issues were sort of trending and in the news, seeing like their responses, what different colleges were doing, and I liked my college’s response a lot. So that definitely influenced me deciding to go there. And so being able to be in a space that greatly values black people, students of color, minority groups and stuff like that is definitely going to be a big help in my activism in the future. It’ll give me space to continue fostering education, continue to foster teaching other people, telling my story, helping other people tell their stories. I also definitely want to stay connected to the Northbrook community in terms of activism. At least stay in the know. I mean I’m still connected to the sponsors of the Gender Sexuality Alliance and I’m always like, “You can always e-mail me and I’ll help you out if you need something.” I also have connections to Youth Services and their pride program. I’m very good friends with the coordinators of that organization. And they always have my help if they ever need it. And so I think I’ve definitely created some connection that will help me continue my activism over time.
JH: How would your life have been different had you not had the safe places to go to?
AC: I think my life, I would be such a different person. My life would be incredibly different without these safe spaces. A lot of these spaces help me discover who I am and discover some of the core values to who I am as a person. And without the spaces, I just think I would definitely not be the person who I am today because social justice and those values are just integral to who I am as a person. So without those spaces I would be missing that part of myself, absolutely.
JH: You mentioned earlier that there are examples of overt racism. Have you witnessed some of those examples yourself?
AC: Well I have witnessed not first hand, but I have heard of and I seen videos of overt racism that has occurred in Northbrook. There are like Instagram pages that exist that will post people stories of how they experience racism and discrimination in their school communities. I’ve seen…
JH: Is that general to whole area or specific to Northbrook? Those pages you’re talking about.
AC: It sort of depends. I have seen ones that are specific to Northbrook area. I’ve seen one that was for Glenbrook South. There was an incident at Glenbrook South where it was recorded on video of someone saying the N-word. And there were, I think there were consequences for that, I’m not one hundred percent sure on that, it’s not my school. But that was definitely that blew up on the internet.
JH: And have there been those kinds of actions at Glenbrook North?
AC: I would say yes.
JH: Alright. Then you talked about consequences you hoped or thought there might have been at Glenbrook South. If you could change the curriculum, change the attitude, change the consequences of your school, what would you suggest that needs to be done?
AC: Well…That’s a question.
AC: I would say I wish there was a little more empathy sometimes from school administrations. I think sometimes school administrations are very scared how people are going to react to their actions. But I wish they would consider more how students are greatly affected and greatly harmed by a lot of these instances. That they don’t always respond the best to and how by not responding in the proper way that they are creating more harm and a less inclusive space for these people to exist. Where it’s already hard to be in a school where you’re probably going to be the only black person in the classroom and having to deal with that everyday for four years you’re at high school. You’re just making it harder on your minority students by not reacting in an empathetic and harm reduction way.
JH: And what about for the white students? What are they learning from that action? Or that lack of action?
AC: Right, lack of action. I would say that students are learning… Depends on the student but some students are probably learning that they can get away with that kind of behavior and other students are realizing that some of these spaces in school are not safe for them. You know it’s like, if a school is not going to be responsive to one group of minorities they are probably not going to be responsive to other groups of minorities. I’ve seen other instances of homophobia, transphobia, and those sorts of things happen at school and high schools tend to react the same way. Where there usually isn’t a lot of consequence.
JH: What kind of… What would you like your community to know about, or to learn, how to act better, in the future?
AC: Well, I would say that something that has helped me in learning throughout this process because I’m a young person and I’m constantly in this learning journey. Especially for older people know that the education is a forever process. You’re always going to be learning new things about this, you’re always going to be bettering yourself. A lot of people say, “Oh I’m an ally of the black community.” But just saying ‘oh I’m an ally’ as a noun it kind of makes it seem like I’ve gotten there, I’ve reached the endpoint, I’m done. But it’s actually a journey, it’s a process, it’s something that’s always happening. It’s more of a verb. It’s something you’re always doing. So having that sort of mindset you can be constant education yourself that you’re going to be wrong a lot of the time and that’s ok and that you’ll just keep becoming a better person. As long as you have that empathy and care for other people, you’ll start to learn that it’s a lot less scary once you start jumping into it. And that you’ll feel better because you’re helping create that societal change that needs to happen.
JH: That was a very good explanation that it’s not a noun it’s a verb. That truly is. What was it like, I know you mentioned to me before we started you were the only white person who was part of the organizers of the event.
AC: Right. So being the only white person on the organizing team I knew that the responsibility to create a space where the black people that would be attending and Lauren and Sofia could have their voices be heard. I didn’t ask to speak at the protest, I wouldn’t have been right if I had. I kind of was really happy staying in the background making things happen. I wanted to create a space where they felt empowered, that was what I really wanted at the end of the day. Because I can’t even imagine what they have gone through and what they experienced in our community and what’s happening. Like seeing the state of our country around these issues around is terrifying. I just thought that I definitely had a duty if I wanted to call myself an activist and call myself that stands up for these issues I need to help other people be able to speak who are often silenced if I can in any way.
JH: I mentioned to you earlier that I thought the youth voices were very important to this movement. How do you feel about the young people’s voices being heard?
AC: I think that it’s super important to help young people feel like they can have a voice and feel like they can make things happen because a lot of kids have grown up and are growing up thinking that they don’t have a lot of influence. That they can’t make a lot happen. They sort of just have to live in the world that they’re given. But I think my generation is definitely waking up the fact that individuals when grouped up together can make a lot of things happen. And that through certain circumstances, like having social media and stuff like that, you can have a really big voice and have a lot of influence over people. I think it’s great that a lot of people helping younger people have those voices because we are going be the future this world and stuff like that. So having a generation of people that aren’t afraid to speak up is hopefully going amazing for this county and for the world.
JH: And as you, your eighteen, and eligible to vote.
JH: And so how would you convince someone your age who hasn’t registered to vote, why they should?
AC: I would say especially for the Northbrook community, where we don’t really have to face voter suppression or different barriers and stuff like that. That you do have responsibility as a citizen of this county to make your voice heard. I hear a lot of young people, people in my grade, that say stuff like, “Oh I’m not involved in politics, that stuff doesn’t affect me.” But I think they don’t realize that they have a lot of privilege to say that. That those issues don’t affect them. That they are not impacted by politics. That they doesn’t rule their day to day lives. And so I would probably say something like that. If you care about people, and if you care about the wellbeing of this country that you should care about politics to an extent. And try to make your voice heard in any way you can whether that is voting or through other means.
JH: And you’ve mentioned social media a couple of times. What is the good part of it and what is the not so good part of it?
AC: I would say the good part is the reach that you can have with social media. Social media is a very helpful tool. In the right hands it can make things happen, it can makes someone’s voice heard, it can create a lot of change and rally people together, educate people, do all those good things. I would say the bad part would be the anonymity of it and the sort of falsehoods that can happen on social media. How there’s sot of a culture of not doing your own research on certain issues. Like, oh I can throw posts on social media, like I read an Instagram thing about it and now I know all about it. But you don’t check your sources, check your facts and stuff like that. And especially if your getting involved in politics, getting involved in social justice and things like that. Doing your own research, reading credible sources is so important.
JH: Do you have any people, any heroes, that you have learned about though your research and through your life that have helped you become the person you are today?
AC: I would say there is a woman who works at Youth Services within this community and Glenview. Her name is Lizzy Appleby. She was the program coordinator for the leadership program, it’s called Pride Lead, at Youth Services. She’s definitely one of my heroes. She’s one of the coolest people ever. She’s the nicest person ever. She just has so much love in her heart and helped me really become who I am today. And I learned so much about, just like how to be a good person, how to bring people together, how to do all the sorts of things. She’s definitely one of my heroes I would say.
JH: Okay. And as a member of LGBTQ community, how difficult was it for you to come out to begin speaking your truth.
AC: I would say it’s always an ongoing process when you’re living in a society that still continually discriminates. Even in the Northbrook bubble, it’s definitely a lot easier to be a queer person then it other spaces. It’s still, there’s just a lot of unknown. You never know how people are going to react to you. You never know people are going to take your story. What they are going to say to you and stuff like that. So it’s definitely really difficult to try and tell your story. Even if to come forward to that truth with yourself. Have those realizations, and be like, “Yes, this is who I am. I’m not going to apologize for it.” That sort of thing. It’s really difficult, it’s scary, it’s frustrating. But when you get there, it’s definitely worth it and you feel like yourself. So it’s definitely worth it in the end.
JH: Well Ainsley, I think we’re getting fairly close to the end of our interview. Is there anything you would like to say to the people of Northbrook that we haven’t covered?
AC: I’ll leave a word of advice to keep reading. There is such a plethora of resources out there. There are so many books, so many people that you can connect with that want to help you and want to make change. So just, there’s never a bad time or bad place to start. Just start learning and start educating yourself, start that journey.
JH: I want to thank you so very much for participating in Northbrook Voices. Your memories and your stories about your life here in Northbrook are going to add a very unique, and a personal perspective about the history of our village. Thank you for speaking your truth. And telling us about why this is so important.
AC: Thank you.JH: You’re very welcome.