Those Who Make A Difference Winners April 21

Those Who Make a Difference Awards for April 7, 2021


Latinx Mural at North

An artistic vision that became an impressive reality at Niles North was the focus of the Those Who Make a Difference Award at the April 7 D219 Board of Education meeting.

Members of the Latinx Club who created the mural were honored for their accomplishments, along with staff members who supported the effort.

The club members wanted to come up with a concept that expressed important parts of their Latinx histories and experiences. They worked with Victor Montañez, a celebrated Chicago artist, who helped them design and create a mural that will be on display for years at Niles North. It took the club about five months to envision, design and create the piece.  

The mural, which is still a work in progress, incorporates themes from different aspects of Latinx cultures, including Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), La Catrina, and the legendary La Llorona (“The Weeping Woman,” a ghost). More than 20 students came up with their own concepts and ideas for which aspects and details to feature in the final work, and they worked under the guidance of Mr. Montañez to incorporate their insights and experiences into an artistic representation. 

Celeste Ramirez, a sophomore, volunteered to go into the (closed) school to redraw the new design on the canvases. Celeste said, “It was a lot of fun to do a community project for the first time and I enjoyed interacting with the other two artists during the redraw process. Because of COVID, It was definitely not the path we imagined, but we are proud of our journey to finish the mural and what it represents for us.

“The mural is heavily influenced by the messages of Dia de los Muertos,” according to Celeste. “This holiday tackles issues of life and death, which is a fate that we will experience at the end, no matter your skin color, age, culture, nationality, race or ethnicity, or social status. While we are going through a pandemic and hardships, we can also find the light during these difficult times. Even though the pandemic has taken lives, the mural represents that death can also be a sign of renewal and impetus for change to move forward from the pandemic.”

Miriamm Martinez, a senior, commented, “As a member of the Latinx Club, I contributed to the mural by giving my thoughts on why we should add a mask to The Catrina as well as adding a fist to the mural to support Black lives, not only though the mural, but through our actions as a school community.”

Junior Paula Posadas contributed to the mural “by bringing up the idea of changing the painting,” she explained. “It first started off as a fist that you usually see used for Black Lives Matter. I didn’t really feel comfortable with it, because I felt like we were taking it from the Black community. So in the end we all came to a conclusion changing it to a Catrina. And to show our support for Black Lives, we all agreed with including a solidarity fist on its mask because we all stand together and support one another.”

In addition to Celeste, Miriam and Paula, the other students who created the mural are: 

Jatziry Ramos, Sarah Cardenas, Ireida Garcia, Karina Haro, Brenda Reyes, Aaron Garcia, Mariana Del Carpio, Vanessa Martin, Ashley Barrera, Danae Barrera, Andrea Meoño, Deisy Hinojosa, Alexa Agrelo, Sofia Olivares, Regina Saucedo, Michelle Zamora, Heena Ansari, Emily Jaimes and Lizbeth Jaimes.

Niles North Principal James Edwards thanked and recognized Latinx Club Sponsors Alejandra Arteaga and Cecilia Serrano for their leadership, along with staff members who helped with the project: La Joyce Morales, Monica Saucedo and Daisy Castillo. 


Janay Moncrief

Niles West senior Janay Moncrief was recognized by the Niles Township High School District 219 Board of Education at its April 7 meeting for her social justice advocacy. 

Niles West Principal Karen Ritter said, “Growing up as a biracial child, Janay had questions about her identity and learned about race at an early age from her parents, who made sure they taught her about her background. As she grew older, she became more interested in racial justice and was curious why topics of race and identity were not taught in school, because it was such a big part of her life and because she lived in such a diverse community.

“Her interest in race and identity turned into advocacy for social justice issues, particularly during the summer of 2020 when many events and protests were occurring across the nation in regards to the death of George Floyd,” Ritter said. “When Janay was not able to participate in other protests in Chicago, she felt compelled to do something, so she decided to organize her own event. In the span of a week, Janay, along with the help of some of her family members, planned, publicized, and received donations for a peaceful protest on McCormick Boulevard in Evanston, where participants lied down in the street for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in silence to honor George Floyd. The protest grew to more than 2,500 participants who marched down McCormick Boulevard with Janay, after more and more people found out about the event on social media and some just from observation. 

“Janay Moncrief is one person, but it goes to show you what one individual can do when they are empowered and passionate about something,” Ritter said. “We should never underestimate the power of our young people. Janay thinks the most important outcome is raising awareness in our school and in our community. While the Niles West community is proud of its diversity, racism, whether explicit or implicit, is still felt in the community. Janay believes she is helping to bridge the gap by starting conversations about race and social justice and making our school and community a place where everyone feels like they belong. We are so proud of her for doing so.”

Janay will start Western Michigan University next fall as a musical theater major with a minor in communications. Currently, she is in theater, the Black Student Union, and she is the president of High Fidelity and the Choir Board. 

“She hopes to continue conversations about racial and social injustice on her university campus next year, and we are confident that she will make a difference there as she did here at Niles West,” Ritter said.

Janay said originally she wanted to attend a protest in Chicago, but her family was concerned that the event might turn violent, so she shouldn’t go.

So, “instead of throwing my hands up and saying, ‘oh, there’s nothing I can do,’ I decided to start my own protest,” Janay told the Board members and audience. “And in doing so, I have learned so much more about myself, and about our community, and learned better ways to bring us all together. I did not expect my protest to turn into something way bigger. I was expecting, maybe, some 40 kids, some that I knew and maybe some that I didn’t. Well, we started off with about 40 kids, but as the night went on, we ended up with about 2,500 participants that joined while we were walking down the street. It’s honestly been the proudest moment of my life, and I know my parents are super proud of the work I was doing at that protest.”

Since then, Janay has been invited to perform and speak at more than 15 other protests and vigils, including the Skokie Vigil for Black Lives Matter, a Students Organized Against Racism rally and the event called Combating Racism in the Northwest Suburbs. 

“I believe that continuing this path of social justice reform will allow conversations to start, whether it’s in the small Village of Skokie or in the big cities like Chicago and New York,” Janay said. 

“If I can make a difference by just starting just one protest, imagine what we could do if we all work together and use our voices to raise awareness for things that really matter,” Janay said.  “And I believe that by sharing protest and getting the word out there and educating ourselves and our friends and family, then we are able to start that change and create a difference and build a space where our fellow students and teachers and everyone feels safe being a person of color.

Janay said, “I hope if there’s one thing anyone takes from the work that I’ve done in my four years at Niles West, it’s that anyone can make a difference. It starts with you. All you have to do is speak up for what you believe in and others will follow suit.”