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U of I, Chicago native student Damani Bolden making history as first African-American student body president

Sunday, April 14, 2013

History is being made at the University of Illinois campus in Urbana-Champaign.

After 146 years, students elected an African-American to lead the student body government for the first time. Chicagoan Damani Bolden hopes that distinction is a footnote in his life's work.

"In 146 years of our university's history, I am the first African-American. That is a fact," Bolden said.

It's a fact, but not one that Bolden wants you to dwell on.

He'd rather you focus on his agenda of putting students "first" again in the eyes of administrators at the state's largest public university. Increasing transparency and communication are also on his list.

But first he's got to endure a bit of praise from his proud parents.

"Every since he was five-years-old he's been walking around the house with a shirt and tie on pretending like he's playing school and he wanted to be a politician," his father Brandon Howliet said. "It's significant with Barack Obama being the first black president and him being the first president of the student body, I believe it was just mean to be."

"Race or color is not an issue to him. He doesn't see black and white, he sees a person for a person," Bolden's mother Rachelle Howliet said.

Damani is an agriculture and consumer economics major who graduated from Chicago's Lindblom High School in the Englewood neighborhood.

"I hope it's a footnote. I hope I'm remembered for the things I can do and the things I have accomplished for the student body of the University of Illinois," Bolden said.

His parents pushed him, and he says, led by setting an example of hard work.

"I've been blessed to have a village. The cliché is it takes a village to raise a child. I firmly believe it because I am that example," he said.

As Bolden takes the reigns of the body that represents U of I's 42,000 students this week, he'll have a big family in the Ashburn neighborhood rooting for him.

Bolden promises we haven't heard the last from him. He hopes to one day ask for "all" of our votes when he runs for public office.

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