Nearly 100 Community Members Pack Hallway in Defense of Evanston Library’s Only Black Librarian

Lesley Williams
Participants decry crisis of leadership at Evanston Public Library, questioning motivation behind library leadership’s harassment of Lesley Williams (Lesley Williams, Head of Adult Services at Evanston Public LIbrary (l); Rev. Dr. Michael Nabors, Senior Pastor at Second Baptist Church of Evanston and President of Evanston/North Shore NAACP (r)) – Photo by Heidi Levin

Evanston Civic Center, IL—(ENEWSPF)—April 21, 2017. On Thursday, April 20, Lesley Williams, Evanston Public Library’s only Black librarian, was greeted by a gauntlet of nearly 100 supporters from Evanston and neighboring communities as she arrived for a disciplinary hearing. Supporters lined the hallway, bearing signs reading “We Stand With Lesley,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “No More Racism At Evanston Public Library,” cheering “We need Lesley!” as she arrived.

In the private meeting, head of human resources Jennifer Lin and Library Director Karen Danczak-Lyons informed Williams and her counsel that the terms of her discipline would be announced within 5 days. Possible outcomes could include a verbal or written warning or a suspension without pay of indeterminate length.

On the advice of her attorney, Lesley Williams cannot speak to the nature of the charges against her. However, community leaders at today’s rally believe that the potential punitive action from the library’s leadership reflect a broader pattern of discriminatory decisionmaking.

“The Evanston Public Library’s most recent disciplinary action against Lesley Williams is in direct proportion to various actions leadership has taken over the years to suppress efforts that promote racial equity,” said Tiffany Rice, President of the Dajae Coleman Foundation. “It’s irresponsible of such an institution to not fully invest in programs that support social awareness and change.” In March 2016, Rice published an open letter calling for a change in leadership at the library (full text below and link here), pointing to a “pattern of behavior that makes me question [Evanston Public Library Director Karen Danczak-Lyons’s] commitment to Evanston’s African-American community and providing access to information desired by our city’s people of color.”

Reverend Dr. Michael Nabors, Senior Pastor at Evanston’s Second Baptist Church and President of the Evanston/North Shore NAACP, opened the speaking program by making clear the library should be honoring, not punishing, Lesley Williams: “The peaceful assembly earlier today at the Civic Center was a wonderful display of community activism.,” said Rev. Nabors, “Second Baptist Church Evanston and the Evanston/North Shore NAACP, along with many other groups, support Lesley Williams as a tireless advocate for social justice, human rights and civil rights. We stand with her because she is a member of the Evanston family. Justice demands that people of goodwill stand for justice.”

Other speakers included Evanston resident Lynn Pollack, who spoke to Lesley’s consistent advocacy for marginalized communities and her leadership in promoting engaging programming in the library; Stephanie Skora, a trans woman and friend of Lesley’s who spoke to Lesley’s inspiring leadership and support of Queer and trans communities; and Dilnaz Waraich, board member at Open Communities and the Muslim Community Center of Morton Grove, who spoke to Lesley’s leadership in organizing to combat Islamophobia including massive rallies in Evanston, Morton Grove and Bridgeview.

Evanston Public LIbrary Director Karen Danczak-Lyons arrived accompanied by a police escort.

MORE BACKGROUND: This is the latest in a series of punitive actions targeting Williams for her unwavering commitment to challenge the library leadership on issues of racial justice, equitable distribution of resources, representation for Black people and other People of Color in the library’s collections, provision of library services in predominantly Black neighborhoods, and free speech on controversial issues.

Lesley Williams is the only black librarian in Evanston Public Library. Evanston’s population is 20% Black. Lesley is a beloved community leader, who was recently honored with Open Communities’ “Spirit of Open Communities Award” and by the Morton Grove Muslim Community Center for her work combatting racism and Islamophobia.

Lesley has led innovative and engaging programming at the library, including the “11 Months of African American History” Series. This series led to her collaboration with the Goodman Theater on a 50 year anniversary salute to August Wilson, culminating in a staged reading by the Goodman Theater at Evanston Public Library of August Wilson’s “Piano Lessons.” Lesley Co-Founded the Mission Impossible series, which brought enduring popular classics to a community audience to encourage reading of challenging novels including Don Quixote, War and Peace, Middlemarch, Ulysses, and Moby Dick.

Lesley co-authored a chapter in “Slow Book Revolution” on how to get people back to deep reading. She has been invited to work with the National Endowment for the Humanities as a consultant and program evaluator, has presented programs at Internet Librarian and for the American Library Association, and as a consultant for the Himmel and Wilson library consulting firm. She has been invited to present and lead workshops and discussions for Walker School, Evanston Township High School, the League of Women Voters of Evanston, Beth Emet Synagogue, Open Communities, the Muslim Community Center of Morton Grove, and as part of the Evanston delegation to the Women’s March on Washington.

These actions are taking place in a context of growing concern about institutional racism in Evanston, including the release of Evanston police officers beating a Black man racially profiled for car theft while driving his own car (also here) and a recent study revealing that Evanston police officers “consistently had the highest black to white search ratio of any other department” across 132 departments.”

For more background on the pattern of racial discrimination from the Evanston Public Library’s director specifically, see the open letter below or linked here, drafted in March 2016 by Tiffany Rice, President of the Dajae Coleman Foundation.

OPEN LETTER DETAILING PATTERN OF DISCRIMINATORY LEADERSHIP AT EVANSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY: Available on Facebook here.

Source: Evanston Public Library