Naperville’s First African American City Councilman

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Naperville City Councilman Benjamin White began his career as a field artillery officer with the United States Army. A part of his career he says was somewhat unexpected.

“My thought was, I’ll do five years in the army, and then I’ll get out and go do something else after that, try to go into corporate America and make some money, you know? But I got into the military, and I really enjoyed the men and women I got to work with. It quite frankly gave me the foundation of who I am today,” said White.

White retired after 22 years with the army from his last position commanding the ROTC at Wheaton College. And he’s still involved today.

He has been working with junior ROTC at Joliet West High School for the last 10 years.

“It’s been great working with the young people who are just aspiring to do something with their lives,” said White. “If it’s military, if it’s just going out being a productive member of the community, or just going to college. It’s an opportunity for me to council them and get them ready for life.”

White says for him working with young people is a passion: one that took hold when he was asked to join the Indian Prairie District 204 school board in 2012.

“I was never interested in politics,” said White. “I mean we all kind of sit around the dinner table and talk about things from a political standpoint, but I’ve always been involved with my kids’ education.”

When asked what he was most proud of during his time on the 204 board, White responded, “I thought we did a pretty good job of bringing to light some of the diversity problems we were having in the district. We looked at the discipline data that was taking place and found that many of our African American students specifically were in trouble a lot more than any other subgroup by a lot. It was actually somewhat alarming, and as a result we were able to actually reduce that by doing training, getting cultural awareness, doing things like that with our teachers and our administrators, all those things kind of coming to light with a comprehensive solution.”

He says a lack of diversity at the board level was a motivating factor for joining the school board, and when he considered joining city council, White knew he could bring a new perspective there as well.

“It’s one thing being African American, but also being a military guy, having that diverse perspective to council that may not have been there in the past I think is something that I hope will benefit our city council and of course benefit our city as a result as well,” said White.

As Naperville’s first African American city councilman ever, White feels it’s his job to help bridge gaps between neighbors.

“If we have things going on from a diversity standpoint within Naperville, I want to be a part of that,” he said. “I feel I should. As an African American it’s almost one of my implied duties to get out there and address those types of issues.”

And he says he hopes he can be an inspiration for others.

“Maybe sometimes I say, am I a trailblazer at this point? I don’t know, but I’ll take that responsibility and I’ll take it seriously,” said White. “If it opens a door for others to say, ‘Hey I’m going to run for office’ or ‘I’m going to be on this commission’ or ‘I want to be on these different committees’, ‘I want to get involved in what’s going on in our city,’ then I think that’s a great thing. And if it takes me to get up and do it, then I’m happy about it.”

Naperville News 17’s Beth Bria reports.