Itedal Shalabi, leader of the nonprofit Arab American Family Services, celebrates the addition of a the Middle Eastern and North African catagory for census data in Illinois. (Hank Sanders/Daily Southtown)

Middle Eastern community celebrates Illinois becoming first state to add its racial classification

With just a few short words, lawmakers passed a bill that, once signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, makes Illinois the first state to add the racial classification of Middle Eastern or North African for state data collection purposes.

State senators, representatives, Arab community activists and the mayor of Worth gathered Thursday in the south suburb to celebrate the change they say will improve the lives for the thousands of people near Palos Heights and around the state.

“We soon learned that we could not provide the demographic or scientific data that funders required to justify giving us program fundings,” said Itedal Shalabi, the co-founder and co-director of the nonprofit Arab American Family Services, who has been working on making this change for years. “Today marks a significant, historic step in changing this scenario — at least in the state of Illinois.”