Asafonie Obed

The People Issue

The diversity advocate

“Of course, you see color. Everyone sees color. We shouldn’t pretend these issues don’t exist

Asafonie Obed

Interview by Ben Joravsky

Photos by Eddie Quiñones

By her own admission, Asafonie Obed might be the last person you’d expect to lead a charge against a MAGA insurgency in DuPage County’s public schools.

She’s not even from DuPage County—only moved there about a decade ago, when she was still in college.

Yet for about a year she’s been at the forefront of a showdown with MAGA school activist Shannon Adcock, a leader of Awake Illinois and Moms for Liberty—two organizations which, as far as I can tell, fervently believe in liberty for themselves and no one else. Especially members of the LGBTQ+ community.

You might say Obed has been warning people about the MAGA movement for “parents’ rights”—or rights for the right parents—long before some of its ugly transphobic rhetoric became front-page news. 

Obed is a south sider—a graduate of Kenwood High, class of 2004. She grew up in South Shore—“roughly 79th and Saginaw.”

She says she had no interest in politics or activism in high school. “I was into art, theater, and dancing. I loved to dance. I loved to go to dance parties–Mary J. Blige, Beyoncé, and Cardi B are my favorites.”

Asafonie Obed is leading the charge against a MAGA insurgency in DuPage County’s public schools. Credit: Eddie Quiñones for Chicago Reader

Her father, Justice Obed, is an immigrant from Ghana. “He came to this country with nothing and instilled in me some survival skills that never left me. He told me I was a ‘strong African queen’ and that I ‘walked in the light.’”

Her mother, Kim Obed, worked for the post office. “She’s from Chicago—born and raised on the south side. She taught me how to fight for myself. To articulate what it is I’m trying to say without getting emotional. That has helped me a lot.”

Obed spent a year at Dillard, a historically Black university in New Orleans. Then she transferred to Northern Illinois, graduating with a degree in sociology. “I came home and went to Northern because, quite frankly, it was less expensive.”

In the years after college, Obed began a career in IT. Got married. Had four children and moved to the suburbs for the same reason thousands of other Chicagoans made that move before her—schools. “I was looking for a top school district to raise my kids,” she says.

Obed and her husband (they have since divorced), moved to a neighborhood in Aurora that’s part of Indian Prairie School District 204 (which also serves Naperville, Bolingbrook, and Plainfield). “It’s a very diverse area—Black people, whites, Hispanics, Asian Americans. Everyone is very welcoming. I always felt welcome—until the school board election.”

That would be the April 2021 election in the Indian Prairie district, where her children are enrolled. Adcock was one of several candidates in that race.

“From Adcock’s campaign material, I knew she didn’t support culturally responsive teaching in our district,” says Obed. “So I sent her an email. I wasn’t trying to change her mind. I really wanted to have a conversation with her—to hear her perspective and hear why she felt the way she said she felt. And, unfortunately, rather than have that conversation, she pretty much told me to go and build my own charter school for race-based curriculum and social justice, if that’s what I believe in.”

To Obed, Adcock’s response was patronizing and racist. “When I got that email, I had to read it a couple of times. I couldn’t believe a woman who wants to represent a district that supports diversity, equity, and inclusion would tell a Black woman to start her own school. Like—there’s no place for people like me in this school district?”

As Obed sees it, Adcock was essentially telling her that people who believe in integration, diversity, and inclusion should be segregated in a separate school. As opposed to having these values embraced and fostered district wide.

“What I heard when she emailed me is that you and your children are not welcome in this district. I felt she didn’t want the history of African Americans to be talked about. Or celebrated. She didn’t want to acknowledge the injustices that African Americans have faced. And she didn’t want to address the current climate we were living in.”

This was less than a year after George Floyd’s murder. “At one point in our exchange, Shannon wrote, ‘I don’t see color,’  says Obed. “That’s highly offensive to me. Of course, you see color. Everyone sees color. We shouldn’t pretend these issues don’t exist. You know, if my son showed up at her house dating her daughter—you won’t see color then?”

Credit: Eddie Quiñones for Chicago Reader

After the email exchange with Adcock, Obed posted an online petition asking people to oppose Adcock’s school-board campaign. The petition went viral—got written up in local newspapers—drawing hundreds of comments, pro and con.

Some trolls chided Obed for being too “woke.” On the other hand, she drew a lot of support and Adcock lost the election. “I truly believe that if I had not said anything, Shannon would have gotten elected,” says Obed.

That election was by no means the end of the story. Adcock went on to form Awake Illinois, which, among other things, badgers librarians to ban books they find offensive (generally, those with LGBTQ+ themes) and muzzle teachers from teaching the history of race for fear it might hurt the fragile feelings of white children. Also, they have a thing against school mask mandates—don’t get them started on that.

In July, Awake took its fight to private businesses, demanding UpRising Bakery & Cafe not hold a family-friendly drag show at its place in Lake in the Hills. The show was canceled after the bakery was vandalized. Like I said—liberty for them, not for others.

Adcock is once again running for the District 204 board—the election is in April. And Obed is urging voters to vote against her. “I believe in diversity and tolerance,” says Obed. “And I realize we have to fight for it.”

The People Issue 2022

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