Candidates for the District 65 school board. Top row (from left): Sergio Hernandez Jr. and John Martin. Bottom row (from left): Ndona Muboyayi, Omar G. Salem and Mya Wilkins. Credit: Composite image

Evanstonians gathered online Thursday, Feb. 16, to hear the five candidates running for election to the District 65 school board participate in an evening community forum moderated by Meleika Gardner, founder of Evanston Live TV. 

In her introduction, Gardner emphasized the importance of the community hearing from the five candidates. “They have a vision for our youth, and we have to know what that is before they take those seats,” said Gardner, whose Evanston Live TV produces content for YouTube and other social media.

Three spots on the board are up for election. The five candidates are:

  • Incumbent School Board President Sergio Hernandez Jr.
  • John Martin, who works at a Chicago software company and was previously the regional commissioner of AYSO Soccer.
  • Financial consultant Ndona Muboyayi.
  • Omar G. Salem, professional issues director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
  • Incumbent board member Mya Wilkins, a Chase Bank executive who was appointed last October.

The forum’s moderators and audience members centered their questions on Black history instruction, equity and diversity in the classroom, metal detectors and the transition for students to ETHS from District 65 schools, among other issues. The pace was quick, with most candidates given just a minute for their responses. 

Sergio Hernandez Jr. Credit: Evanston Live TV

Candidates largely agreed that it was important that students be able to see themselves “reflected in the curriculum and need to see about others,” as Hernandez initially explained it. 

Wilkins added, “Students need to understand their own history and be given opportunities to think critically. In order to achieve equity, you need to feel welcome at a school.”

Mya Wilkins. Credit: Candidate website

She later commented that instruction in critical thinking needs to be applied to the teaching of Black history, further suggesting that for instructors and students, “That ‘why’ is very important.”

Martin said that he was pleased with the amount of instruction in Black history his children were receiving. He emphasized that schools must be “upfront and honest” about Black history. 

All the candidates agreed that instruction needs to go back further to give Black students and others a better sense of their ancestors’ experiences. 

Omar G. Salem. Credit: Coldwell Banker Realty

“The way we’ve learned Black history is [with it nevertheless] centering white folks,” Salem said, adding that instruction “needs to center the Black experience more.”

Muboyayi, who earlier said that she had to provide books to her children’s teachers, added that “the history of Black folks needs to be incorporated” in all classrooms more extensively.

The candidates were each asked about their knowledge of and participation in FAIR Evanston, the local chapter of FAIR (Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism), which is largely mobilized against teaching what some people call critical race theory. All the candidates said they were aware of the local branch but were not involved, but an audience member noted Muboyayi is listed on the group’s website as a chapter leader. 

Ndona Muboyayi.

Muboyayi said that she had left FAIR Evanston and was no longer involved with it because of “certain things I do not agree with.”

FAIR Evanston, according to Muboyayi, “stated that were doing anti-racism work, and they were not doing anti-racism work.”  

Candidates were also asked what qualified them to address the issue of equity, i.e., did it stem from specific situations in which they were involved with or training they’ve taken part in. 

Salem said that “educational equity” training is an integral part of his work, adding, “Part of the reason I left the classroom is because now I have the opportunity to do those trainings.”

Muboyayi said that, as a Black woman in this country, her intelligence has been constantly second-guessed, and that she has been “dealing with micro-aggression and systemic racism for years. … [That] gives me enough experience to know how to right the wrongs.”

John Martin. Credit: Candidate website

Wilkins also said that her own experience as a Black woman with Black children fed into her own competencies, and noted that she had co-founded an affinity group called Black Students Achieve. 

Martin faced some disbelief when he said that he had not had the opportunity to take part in diversity training. He said that he was willing to take part if asked. He also recalled authoring AYSO’s transgender-participant policy when he headed that organization.

When asked whether students should be checked for weapons at District 65 schools, Hernandez said the schools already have managers who coordinate safety responses. Wilkins recalled that, when she was young, her own school had metal detectors and it was “bad for the kids.”

Muboyayi added, “They won’t feel safe having to walk through metal detectors. … You don’t want them to feel like they are going into a prison, on an environment where they’re not welcome.” 

The Feb. 16 forum was sponsored by YoFresh Cafe and Diversify Golf. Larry and Jean Murphy, Olivia Ohlson, Emily Zarefky, Heather Heuman Sweeney and Sarah Ojiambo Liddell were among the panelists.

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  1. Great job by all the candidates. I for one am disappointed to continually hear the “criticism” targeted towards certain candidates.

    Where were these voices to help John shape a “better” AYSO policy when it was going into action? Its also not too late to change these policies, run for an AYSO board seat (shocker…they need volunteers) and make the change you are asking for instead of griping about them after the fact to drive votes away from a qualified candidate.

    This anger and frustration seems to be misdirected. I would hope we can channel that energy into positive change instead of focusing it on these people who are not only candidates but also our friends and neighbors. Its simply not constructive.

  2. If John Martin authored AYSO’s transgender-participant policy, he had no business doing so. He offered no option for non-binary, gender-expansive, gender-fluid kids to participate on a gender-affirming team. When questioned about this, he said, “…it’s their choice which gender team to participate with,” promoting the cis-normative, binary gender construct that simply doesn’t exist.

    1. I’m sorry but did we miss you raising your hand to join the AYSO board? Where were you when John volunteered to keep AYSO running during the pandemic when no one else wanted to? Why didn’t you help construct a policy if John “had no business doing so”? Was it not worth your time? You talk a lot of talk behind your keyboard and have been for some time, but it seems particularly focused on John these days….

      1. AYSO is still looking desperately for volunteers next season, so anyone reading this with interest in helping should definitely reach out. There is still time!!

  3. I hope there will be other forums. I would like to hear Dist 65 candidates discuss:
    • what they think is the job of the School Board/Board Members vis a vis the Administration?
    • when do they think it is appropriate to hire consultants vis a vis when tasks should be done by administrators currently employed?
    • do they support an accelerated math curriculum, as was offered in Dist 65 middle schools until this year?
    • what instructional/curriculum issues, in addition to equity, should the Board address?
    • should the Board sell current school properties to finance the debt for the new school the Board approved?
    • how much money will it cost to bus all of the students from Bessie Rhodes to the 5th ward?
    • how much money will it cost to bus children to different schools if two current elementary schools are closed?
    • do candidates think there will be further and accelerated decline in enrollment if the District closes current schools?
    • whom do candidates feel Board members should represent?
    Mary Anne Wexler

    1. Thank-you, Mary Anne. I am interested in the candidates’s answers to your questions. Is there another forum coming up before the April 4 election?