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Will County Leadership Series - Black History Month (2024)
Matthew Libs
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Will County Leadership Series - Black History Month (2024)

In celebration of Black History Month, Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant is excited to feature voices of community leaders as part of the Will County Leadership Series. Over the last week of February, the Executive Office will highlight community leaders and their impact to the local community.

The first leader being featured is Betty Washington:


Betty Washington - Community Leader

As a local leader, why is Black History Month important to you?

As a local leader it is important to me to celebrate and acknowledge all the contributions Black Americans made to the United States of America. In order to ensure political, educational, social and economic equality for all we must raise awareness to the disparities faced by Black Americans.

“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season, it is today that our best work can be done. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.” – W.E.B. Du Bois.

Why do you think it’s important for everyone to learn about Black History?

I believe that every American should know about the hard-fought battles, atrocities and sacrifices that generations of Black Americans had to endure to survive. The accomplishments of Black Americans have long been overlooked and not taught in the classroom. It is imperative that all children know their history.

For Black children, Black History is much more than slavery, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or Rosa Parks. They need to know why it is important to vote in every election and what Black People had to endure just to be able to vote. Also, the importance of the Civil Right Act and Affirmative Action. It’s been said, “if you don’t know your history, you are bound to repeat it.” We must continue to engage the next generation so that we move forward as a community and a nation.

About Betty Washington
Ms. Betty J. Washington is a lifelong resident of the Lockport and Joliet areas. She is a well-known community leader, serving as past president of the NAACP Joliet Branch, Secretary/Treasurer for the Silver Cross Hospital Healthy Community Commission Board of Directors, a former member of the Joliet Jr. College Trustee Board, a case manager for Fairmont Community Partnership Group, and a founding member of the African American Business Association. Betty retired as a Family Resources Supervisor at Illinois Action for Children, Chicago, IL in May, 2018. She retired from AT&T formerly Illinois Bell Telephone/Ameritech after 30 years of service.


Dwayne M. Barefield - Pastor

As a local leader, why is Black History Month important to you?

Black History Month provides an opportunity to acknowledge, honor and celebrate African Americans from past and present, who have made transformational impacts in the lives of others.

Why do you think it’s important for everyone to learn about Black History?

Black History teaches us to remember and reflect on the past while providing guidance and instructions to create and shape a better future for all people.

About Dwayne Barefield
Dwayne Barefield has served as Pastor of All Nations COGIC since November of 2017, previously serving as Youth Pastor. He was also elected president of the Harvey Brooks Motivational and Development Foundation August of 2019.  Pastor Barefield holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Lewis University and a Master’s of Divinity from the Historical Black College, Shaw University. He lives by the motto, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  


Dr. Yolanda Farmer - Executive Vice President, Joliet Junior College

As a local leader, why is Black History Month important to you?

As a local leader, Black History Month holds significant value to me for a multitude of reasons. It’s a time to acknowledge and celebrate the strides made by those before us in the Black community. This month serves as a collective moment for our country to deliberately recognize and honor Black Americans’ rich history, enduring traditions, and invaluable contributions. While the achievements and greatness of Black individuals deserve recognition at all times, February provides a special occasion to reflect on and cherish the historical legacies that continue to enrich our nation.

Why do you think it’s important for everyone to learn about Black History?

I’m convinced that it’s essential for everyone to learn about Black History, as it includes a fundamental chapter of the nation’s history, marked by resilience and excellence. Commemorating and celebrating Black History means recognizing the significant contributions of Black individuals that have frequently been erased, dismissed, or ignored in American history. Gaining a deeper understanding of Black History affords everyone a more profound appreciation and respect for diversity and inclusion. Black history is indeed our collective history and by recognizing, commemorating and celebrating it we enhance our lives with significant knowledge and more profound empathy for all.

About Dr. Yolanda Farmer
Dr. Yolanda Farmer became Joliet Junior College’s Executive Vice President in 2021. In her role, she provides leadership for the divisions of Academic Affairs, Information Technology and Student Development. She also serves as the strategic partner to the president and leads important institutional initiatives that advance the college’s mission and vision.

Dr. Farmer’s previous JJC leadership includes serving as JJC’s Vice President for Student Development and the college’s first Director of Multicultural Student Affairs. She has been working in higher education for 26 years, including as a dean at Moraine Valley Community College and an instructor with National Louis University. She holds a bachelor’s in political science from Eastern Illinois University, a master’s in school administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a doctorate in educational leadership from DePaul.


James R. Farrell - Chief Information Officer, Village of Bolingbrook

As a local leader, why is Black History Month important to you?

Black History Month is important to me because it provides a platform to celebrate achievements, educate the community, inspire future generations, promote diversity and inclusion, and foster unity and solidarity among residents.

Black History Month also provides an opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge the immense contributions African Americans have made to our society, including in fields like technology, governance, and public service. As a local leader, it's essential to recognize and honor the achievements of African Americans who have paved the way in various industries, including my own.

By showcasing the accomplishments of African Americans throughout history, Black History Month inspires future generations, especially young people of color, to pursue their dreams and strive for excellence.  I am committed to serving as a role model and mentor, encouraging aspiring African American professionals to pursue careers in technology and leadership.

As the very first Chief Information Officer for the Village of Bolingbrook and as a Black man, I am honored and humbled to hold this groundbreaking position. This historic moment represents not only a personal achievement but also a significant step forward in advancing diversity and inclusion within our community and beyond. My appointment underscores the Village's commitment to embracing diversity in leadership roles and ensuring equal opportunities for all residents, regardless of race or ethnicity. I am dedicated to leveraging this platform to not only drive technological innovation but also to serve as a role model and advocate for underrepresented communities while motivating others to pursue careers in technology and leadership.

Why do you think it’s important for everyone to learn about Black History?

I believe it is crucial for everyone to learn about Black History because it is essential for promoting understanding, addressing injustice, inspiring resilience, fostering empowerment, and building harmony across communities. It is not only a matter of historical education but also a pathway toward creating a more equitable and inclusive future for all.

About James R. Farrell
James R. Farrell Jr. is the pioneering Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the Village of Bolingbrook, spearheading technology and innovation initiatives across various departments, including Police, Fire, Public Works, and Town Center operations. In addition to his responsibilities as CIO, James serves as the President of GMIS Illinois, a prominent technology organization comprising over 120 cities and 60 corporate members in Illinois. His leadership within GMIS Illinois underscores his commitment to advancing technological solutions and best practices within local government settings.

James is an Executive Board Member of the Bolingbrook STEM Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing STEM learning experiences to the youth of Bolingbrook. Through his involvement, James actively supports initiatives aimed at empowering young minds with the skills and knowledge necessary for success in the digital age. James holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a Master of Science (MS) in Information Security, and a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Computer Information Management from Lewis University. He is also a distinguished member of the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS).


Debra Upshaw - President, National Hook-Up of Black Women, Inc., Joliet Chapter

As a local leader, why is Black History Month important to you?

As the president of the National Hook-Up of Black Women, Inc. Joliet Chapter it is important to me that our community is educated and informed. It is a time to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions made by African Americans. It is a time to strengthen allegiance with marginalized communities.

Black History Month is a time to spread awareness and learn more while continuing to support the black community’s histories, traditions, and culture. Black History Month is a time to imagine and work toward a future free of racism and discrimination. Black culture has played a part in fostering a sense of identity, resilience, and empowerment among black individuals and communities.

Why do you think it’s important for everyone to learn about Black History?

For a number of reasons:

  • It is an opportunity to understand Black histories, going beyond stories of racism and slavery to spotlight Black achievement.
  • It serves as both a celebration and a powerful reminder that Black history is American history, Black culture is American culture, and Black stories are essential to the ongoing story of America.
  • It allows everyone to share, celebrate, and understand the impact of Black heritage and culture.
    It is a time for African Americans to acknowledge key figures from our past and present, and to spotlight and celebrate the achievements that African Americans have accomplished in this country, despite the history of racism and oppression.

About Debra Upshaw
Mrs. Debra Upshaw is a member of the National Hook-Up of Black Women, Inc., Joliet Chapter (NHBW), where she has been a member since 2011 and has served as President since 2015. She also served as Secretary and Treasurer for Bounce Back Social Services from 2013-2017, a member of the Joliet Black Chamber of Commerce from 2013-2014, and a Board Member of the Silver Cross Healthy Community Commission from 2018 to present. Debra has a deep-rooted passion for being of service to others and has made it a lifelong commitment of hers to make a positive impact on the lives of those who are underprivileged and less fortunate.

Debra retired form the State of Illinois Department of Human Services’ Mental Health Division as the MetroWest Network Project Manager in 2002 after 30 years of service. She is a graduate of Robert Morris University and Roosevelt University, and a member of Sigma Beta Delta, International Honor Society in Business and also serves as steward at Brown Chapel AME Church. Debra was the recipient of numerous awards over the past two decades due to her diligent work to secure various community partnerships to benefit Joliet and the surrounding areas.

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