RACE RELATIONS | Local activist’s conservative upbringing shaped social justice focus

By KENNEDY WILLIAMS, News Reporter

MACOMB, Illinois (NEWS3) — In 1968, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, which led to riots across the United States. 

It is also the year local activist Heather McMeekan was born in Park Ridge, Illinois. McMeekan comes from a very conservative, white background, and the messages she grew up with were to not talk about politics, race or religion. 

“I always just felt like I was in the wrong family,” McMeekan said, remembering her childhood. 

Growing up with a hard-drinking father, McMeekan said she can relate to a system that is only there for you, if the white man with power is a good guy. 

“The messages that we got as kids were, well maybe he won’t hurt you if you dress properly,” McMeekan said. “Maybe if you stand at the door and say, ‘Hi Daddy,’ and then not talk to him until after he has had a few drinks, maybe your night will go better.”

In fourth grade, McMeekan’s family moved to McHenry County, Illinois, and she quickly encountered racial discrimination. 

“We had one black student, throughout all the years I was in school there, and every day she got treated awful, just despicably,” McMeekan said. “I just remember feeling like, ‘What can be done?’” 

Coming to Western Illinois University, McMeekan met and connected with a variety of different cultures through the university’s marching band. 

“It just bridges a cultural divide,” McMeekan said. “That helped me see that I needed to do better than what my upbringing prepared me for, so my friendship circles became far more diverse.”

After college, McMeekan became a paramedic, in which she witnessed several unjust incidents. She thought complaining would be enough, but she realized she had to be willing to share the burden of the pain of the victims.

Today, McMeekan has made it her life’s duty to share the burden of pain with victims of social injustice. 

“It is not my goal to make people angry, but it is my goal not to be quiet,” McMeekan said.