Will County Leadership Series - Michael Simelton
In celebration of Black History Month, Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant is proud to announce the Will County Leadership Series. Throughout February, community leaders will be highlighted and will share their thoughts on the importance of recognizing Black History.
County Executive Bertino-Tarrant would like to thank these leaders who have stepped forward to share their thoughts, including Michael Simelton, CEO of the Housing Authority of Joliet.
1. As a local leader, why is Black History Month important to you?
While I am proud to celebrate a month in which we talk about the accomplishments of African Americans, the honest truth is Black History is American history and it should be taught as such, year around and not relegated to one month.
I see my role as a leader in affordable housing as one who creates opportunities and changes lives by developing affordable housing, encouraging self-sufficiency and championing homeownership. Homeownership, especially among low-income African Americans, has been a challenge, due to systemic redlining, predatory lending and purposeful devaluation of land in predominantly minority communities until gentrification; in which case, the land values skyrocket and minorities are still left behind. This is how minority families have missed their opportunity to participate in the American dream of owning a home.
As an affordable housing champion, it is my hope to level the playing field for families.
Our redevelopment efforts provide quality affordable housing and access to generational wealth and economic empowerment by promoting homeownership. At the helm of HAJ, the largest affordable housing provider in Will County, this is how I contribute to my place in Black History.
2. Why do you think it’s important for everyone to learn about Black History?
Environments where diversity of thought, opinions and lived experiences exist broadens the conversation. People have a lens through which they see life. Diversity helps them to see a world outside their own and makes for a more compassionate and empathetic human being.
History should be based in fact; not what people think or feel about what happened. The original sin of slavery and counting slaves not as men and women but as three-fifths of a person has led to the systemic devaluation of a people who have just as much right to be considered founders as the framers of the Constitution do. What is most notable is that although Blacks have been here since the start of this country, we are still today fighting to keep voting rights that were granted to us less than 60 years ago.
Why should Black history be taught? To finally bring to light the truth of the history of this country, which routinely suppresses the contribution of African Americans. If anything comes out of understanding Black history, it's the contributions that we've made, and those contributions go all the way back to the 1600s. If people understand those contributions, they're more likely to value African Americans as contributors to this country and as people.
About Michael Simelton
Since 1989, Michael Simelton has worked with the Housing Authority of Joliet. Beginning as a Construction Administration Manager, he worked hard to learn all aspects of the program and in 2013 was named CEO. Simelton credits his personal background, growing up in Aurora’s public housing, for his dedication to improving the quality of life and opportunities for participants in the Housing Authority of Joliet’s programs.