A Conversation With Dr. Rita Ali

by Adeline Ferolo

Peoria County’s local election is in full swing, and it is time to become involved in the community and vote! If you are unfamiliar with the City of Peoria’s politics, this year is extremely important regarding the race for mayor. The current mayor, Jim Ardis, held office for the past sixteen years and is not running for reelection. Following the February 2021 primaries, the race was narrowed from five potential candidates to two—Dr. Rita Ali and Mr. Jim Montelongo. Both have served on the Peoria City Council. With the April 6, 2021 general election date approaching soon, it is important to become an informed voter—especially if you are new to the local political scene. For many high school seniors, this is their first experience participating in local politics. Luckily, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Dr. Rita Ali about her background in politics and her interest in youth-specific initiatives in Peoria.

Upon introduction, Ali was incredibly friendly and charismatic, describing her first experience with politics during her time at Manual High School. During her freshman year, Ali campaigned for freshman class president against her close friend. She eventually won the election with the spontaneous slogan, “In order to get up, we got to get down!” Following her election as class president, she tackled her first big issue: allowing girls to take industrial arts classes. These classes included mechanical and architectural drawing and were reserved for boys only. By organizing a group of students and taking it to the school board, the following semester industrial arts classes were open to all students. Outside of high school, Ali also served on the Police Community Relations Committee and the Community Action Board at just fourteen years old. Ali plans to create similar opportunities for high school and college students to become active in the community by instituting a Young People Advisory Board upon her election. It would constitute high school and college students in hopes of engaging with young voters and their ideas for the community.

Ali’s interest in youth-directed initiatives also expands across employment and educational opportunities in the community. As the current Vice President of Workforce and Diversity at Illinois Central College, Ali is familiar with educational opportunities in Peoria. She hopes to strengthen and reevaluate the Peoria Promise program, ensuring financial aid to low-income students in pursuit of a college degree. Additionally, she hopes to expand the program to low-income high school students taking dual degree courses. This could allow high school students to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree without having to pay college tuition. Ali plans to implement accessible training programs for jobs in the healthcare industry, a prominent economic sector of Peoria. Outside of these initiatives she also hopes to connect Peoria with other cities by advocating for an Amtrak passenger railroad line. This would be a cost-friendly and safe option for transportation, especially for college and high school students hoping to spend a weekend in Chicago or St. Louis. Ali certainly has youth-focused plans for the Peoria community, reassuring me at the end of the interview, “Even (with) the leadership position as a mayor, know that I am accessible and that I have your interests at heart.”

Watch the full interview with Dr. Rita Ali, where we discuss these and other issues in fuller detail: click here!

Note: The Montelongo campaign was contacted three times over a span of two weeks in an attempt to secure an interview for this article, but they never responded to these requests. For more information on the Montelongo campaign, refer to his official website by clicking here.

About Adeline Ferolo

Stories, arguably, are the most underrated form of currency that floods the digital world, through highlighted Instagram posts and viral YouTube videos. As a rising senior at Richwoods High School, Adeline Ferolo aims to express herself and the issues closest to her authentically through engaging, storytelling, and other mediums. She is a competitively academic student. Her interests range across many creative outlets—as an active writer for the Richwoods Shield, the monthly school newspaper, and as a contributor to the youth-led blog EnviroWrite, which explores rising environmental concerns. Recently she has discovered her passion for the medium of film after attending the National High School Institute summer program at Northwestern University, where she had previously studied creative-intensive subjects ranging from sustainable architecture to graphic design. Within the past year, she has focused her efforts on exploring the visual medium in both her academic and personal life, opting to create experimental videos for class projects and continuing to explore different aspects of the visual language.