A Country That Works For Everyone

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By Congresswoman Cheri Bustos

Growing up in central Illinois in the 1960s, I was taught at a young age the importance of treating everyone fairly, regardless of their race, ethnic background, religion or other personal characteristics.

My Mom and Dad instilled in our family these basic American notions.

As a young newspaper reporter trying to support a family of five, my father helped to integrate the low-to-mid-income duplex housing complex where I spent my early years. 

As hard as this is to believe today, the Garden Court housing complex in Springfield only allowed white people to live there.  After being approached by a prominent statewide African-American leader and realizing the injustices of segregation, my Dad helped lead the charge to desegregate the housing complex.  He helped give African-American families and white families the chance to live together and call each other neighbors.

It was a few years later when I was in fourth grade that my public grade school was integrated.  I remember vividly the meanness that some in my school displayed to our new African-African classmates following desegregation.  One day our principal came into our class and told us that one of our African-African classmates had been leaving school in tears due to the cruel treatment she had received.

Like we did on many important issues of the day, my family discussed the situation around the dinner table. My Mom and Dad adamantly stressed that no matter what our classmates might do or say, my brother, sister and I were to treat everyone with dignity, respect and fairness.

As an adult, I carry those lessons with me.

Before I decided to run for Congress, I worked for one of the nation’s largest non-profit health care systems.  In my position, I helped the disadvantaged navigate the health care system and worked to improve the quality of health care available to all families throughout the region.

I also started a scholarship program for minorities who wanted to go into the health care field, creating opportunity for many talented young people who didn’t have the resources to afford college on their own.  As a journalist, I served on the Mayor's Roundtable on Ethnic Diversity to help assure the media covered minority communities in a fair and accurate light.  My husband and I have been members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for many years.

As I reflect on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the values of equality, fairness and opportunity for all continue to be a moral compass for me as a new member of Congress representing all the people of Illinois’ 17th Congressional District.

I believe that everybody should have the same chance at success and to live the American Dream that I have lived, no matter what they look like or where they come from.  Whether it is making sure all our children can succeed in the classroom, all those able to work have access to a fulfilling job and can provide for their families, our seniors and veterans are taken care of and discrimination of all kinds is not tolerated, I’ll continue to fight to uphold these important ideals so that our country works for everyone. 

Cheri Bustos represents Illinois' 17th Congressional District. She lives in East Moline.