A voice of change
By Dan Wallace
“When I saw everything going on in the world, I just knew that I couldn’t sit at home and do nothing.”
Junior Prevail Bonga has stayed true to her word, using both her platform as a student-athlete at UIC and her voice to speak out and spark change in the communities around her.
“A lot of people like to use the term ‘activist’ for me and it’s a cool term, but I don’t like to label myself as an activist,” said Bonga, who competes in the long jump and triple jump for the women’s track & field program. “I like to label myself as someone who does the right thing and speaks when things are going wrong. I’ve always been someone who has cared about Black issues, I’ve always fought for Black issues.”
For Bonga, her work on speaking out and educating others on the issues in and around the current climate began on social media with a simple Instagram Live video. The Downers Grove, Ill., native invited a few of her friends and a previous teacher on to discuss the Black experience, racial tensions, policing and an assortment of issues that people, in Bonga’s opinion, may not fully understand unless they are Black.
While Bonga’s title as a student-athlete and presence on social media helped bring in over 70 viewers to the live video, Bonga has not let the label of being “just” a college athlete dictate what she does.
“I feel like being a college athlete, specifically, you’re stuck in that athlete identity and I’ve always made sure that people know me outside of athletics because I’m not just an athlete. I’m someone who can educate, I’m an organizer, I have a brilliant mind and I’m capable of so many things outside of performing for others.”
Bonga has always been a planner and an organizer, having previously organized a March For Our Lives walk along with other initiatives. It was with those experiences in mind, and the support of her friends, that led Bonga to her next organized event, a peaceful protest in her hometown.
“One of my friends reached out to me and we talked about how we should do something. My friends are always asking me if I rest, and I try to rest, but things always find me.”
“I consider Downers Grove my community, which is predominately white, so I wasn’t sure how it [a peaceful protest] would go. But one of my friends told me, “You’ve done things like this before, so go ahead and do it,” and I was instantly 100% committed.”
The commitment paid off, as estimates of 4,000-5,000 attendees joined in on the peaceful protest, which began at her alma mater, Downers Grove North High School, and traveled through the streets of Downers Grove.
“It was peaceful all the way through, and there was collaboration with the police department and village hall. It was an amazing thing and it was something that I think the people of Downers Grove needed to see.”
For her efforts, Bonga’s peaceful protest was featured on the NCAA Track & Field Instagram page, garnering over 1,550 likes in addition to the close to 800 likes on her personal Instagram page.
A Criminology, Law & Justice major double-minoring in Political Science and African American Studies on the Pre-Law track, Bonga has kept busy despite also working this summer as a legislative aide for a state representative. With a successful peaceful protest in the books, Bonga had little time to rest before the next initiative, this time brought to her by a current teammate on the track & field program, came to light.
Bonga and Brenda Nguyen, a rising sophomore mid-distance runner on the track & field team, wanted to organize a fundraiser and partnered up with Good Kids Mad City. A grassroots, nonprofit organization led by Black/Latinx youth, Good Kids Mad City (GKMC) is looking to improve the community around them. As part of its mission, GKMC looks to improve education and health care, reduce the occurrence of violence and establish a strong foundation for the Black/Latinx community.
“The series of murders and injustices that recently occurred shed light on a serious issue in our country that opened many people’s eyes, including mine. I’ve always understood the notion that all Black lives matter, but I didn’t realize how flawed our society is in seeing people of color as equals,” Nguyen said. “Systemic racism exists and is a real thing that takes place more commonly than it should. On top of donating, protesting and educating my peers, I wanted to do more for the Black community, especially in Chicago.”
“Being from the suburbs and going to school in the city, it is very evident that neighborhoods in Chicago are not receiving the funding they should, even just a couple blocks down from our campus. With the community of Chicago in mind, I reached out to my friend and teammate Prevail Bonga asking about her thoughts on creating a fundraiser and collaborating with me. With her many connections, she heard about Good Kids Mad City who have done amazing work to increase the resources and services in low-income areas of Chicago. They sounded like the perfect organization to work with so we decided to establish the fundraiser in support of their goals.”
“As this movement and change has gone on, people were sharing organizations to support to but Good Kids Mad City was left out of the equation a lot of the time just because they aren’t as big and don’t have as big of a platform as some of the other Chicago organizations,” Bonga said.
As of June 23, Bonga and Nguyen collaborated with GKMC to raise just shy of $5,000. It is a great start, but not enough for the duo from UIC.
“The amount we have raised is not enough, it’s just the competitor in me,” Bonga said. “In the coming days we will be looking more at strategizing and how to raise more money because there is still work to do.”
“Prevail and Brenda are natural born leaders and they are taking their leadership skills to the next level,” head coach Ashley Lucas said. “They are using their voices and platform in such a positive way to spark necessary change and awareness right now.
“The peaceful protest that Prevail organized had over 4,000 people, which is astonishing and a testament to her handwork and passion. Her voice matters, and people are listening. As their coach I couldn’t be more proud of the initiatives they have taken and I know that they will continue to use their voices and platform to educate others as we try to invoke change in our society.”
Good Kids Mad City already has begun to implement change in the Chicago area. GKMC has been providing emergency funds of $50 for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) for individuals between 18-24 years old that are in need on a weekly basis. Additionally, the group has begun a grocery delivery service to individuals in the North Lawndale, Austin, Englewood, South Shore and Woodlawn neighborhoods of Chicago while also working to stop displacement and gentrification in Chicago’s various neighborhoods.
“I was drawn to Good Kids Mad City and have seen the work that they do. I know that every dollar that gets to them gets back to the community in one way or another,” Bonga said.
“I had a feeling that our fundraiser would blow up, but seeing the amount of support that we have received so far is incredible and we are beyond grateful,” added Nguyen. “Essentially, I just hope to see the change that we wish to have in our future, starting with our beautiful city of Chicago. Through supporting GKMC, we hope to have their goals fulfilled by improving education and healthcare, reducing the occurrence of violence, and establishing a strong foundation for the young, Black/Latinx community. Otherwise, I’m just a shy, regular student at UIC studying to work in the healthcare field. If I dream to help people as an occupation one day, why not start with supporting the lives that have been constantly oppressed and discriminated against?”
For someone who knew they just, “couldn’t sit at home and do nothing,” it is safe to say that Prevail Bonga has done more than “nothing.” A lot more.