Approximately 100 people gathered on the morning of Feb. 4 at the Lyons Township High School South Campus in Western Springs for the third annual Building Inclusive Community Conference.

After introductions, a land acknowledgment acknowledging that the conference was taking place on land once lived on by Native Americans, and a brief performance by the LTHS Steppers Club, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the former Illinois director of public health, gave the keynote address.

“Just the fact this conference exists is so uplifting, so positive,” said Ezike, who last year became the CEO and president of the Sinai Chicago Hospital System.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike at LTHS on Saturday Feb. 4, 2023. | Ian McLeod

Ezike, who is the mother of a recent LTHS graduate and a LTHS sophomore, spoke in a warm and engaging manner, sharing some personal anecdotes and experiences in her 22-minute speech. She praised the wide-ranging nature of the conference.

“A lot of different things mean diversity,” Ezike said. “It’s not just about race.”

Ezike said that people should first acknowledge their differences.

“Let’s stop saying I don’t see differences, I don’t see race,” Ezike said.

After Ezike’s speech, participants had a couple of hours to attend workshops. The 11 different workshops ran the gamut from “Beyond the Binary: Understanding Gender Diversity” to “Dancing for Our Tribe: Potawatomi Tradition in the New Millennium.” 

Other workshops dealt with the cultural expression of Islam in America, dealing with the gender gap in pay and tips on how woman can negotiate a higher salary, and a workshop on American Sign Language, to name a few.

“I just really enjoyed learning about different cultures and different perspectives,” said LTHS junior Maggie Woywod, who was one of 15 students from the LTHS Students for Equity and Belonging Committee who attended the conference. “There’s a lot that we don’t know about and isn’t spoken or is not being taught. It’s just not being shared.”

Woywod attended the workshop about Potawatomi dance and the workshop on the gender gap in pay and how to negotiate a better salary.

“It was just really cool to get advice from other women,” Woywod said of the workshop on negotiating a higher salary.

Nancy Bramson, a resident of Brookfield, attended the Beyond the Binary workshop because she has a younger relative who is transitioning and a workshop on fighting book banning.

LTHS Steppers head for the stage to perform at LTHS on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. | Ian McLeod

“I learned so much just about how to be in the world and just to be more welcoming, and when people come into my space, I can be more welcoming,” Bramson said. “There is so much to learn about how to be in the world and how to be just kinder, and I think it is just going to create more intelligent humans.” 

The conference was sponsored by a variety of groups. The 14-person planning team included Jen Rowe, the director of equity and belonging at LTHS, representatives from school districts 102 and 105, Marian Honel-Wilson of the CommUNITY Diversity Group of the LaGrange Area and representatives of five local Protestant churches to name a few.

LTHS provided the space for the conference free of charge because it was one of the institutions sponsoring the conference.

Seventh grader Anthony Tirrito, 13, from Indian Head Park attended the conference with his mother. Tirrito said he took away one major lesson from the conference.

“Don’t judge people by their looks or by what they believe in, judge them by their personalities,” Tirrito said.

LTHS junior Matthew Dahr found the conference educational and worthwhile.

“It was actually really amazing,” said Dahr, who lives in Burr Ridge. “It was a great opportunity for people to educate themselves on things.”

Susan Hunley drove in from Sugar Grove for the conference.

“It’s fun to learn from people who are different than you,” Hunley said.

Woywod also relished the opportunity to learn from others. 

“The environment today was just really lively, really inspiring,” Woywod said. “Everyone shared what they thought, we all learned from each other; it was a great way to start my weekend. It was really inspiring today. Everyone was so kind. It’s a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart and I really enjoyed it.”