IT is hardly a secret that Illinois is struggling on many fronts, with many of its most recent problems stemming from continual political infighting that left the state without a budget for more than two years.
But there remains plenty to be proud of if you are an Illinoisan. Let's not forget that Illinois, despite its budget woes, still has the nation's fifth-largest economy. We were also the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, and home to the first skyscraper. Illinois also hosted the first Farm Aid concert, and Ray Kroc gave birth to the first golden arches in the Land of Lincoln.
You want more to celebrate? Well, how about a yearlong statewide birthday party that will be centered around what is good about our state.
Illinois is set to initiate a bicentennial celebration that will last from early next month with an official kickoff at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield until Dec. 3, 2018 -- the date the state turns 200. There are plans for exhibits; a school curriculum; a United Center ceremony honoring 200 Illinoisans in arts, entertainment, sports, agriculture and business; and more.
The bicentennial can clearly serve as a harbinger of hope.
"People want us to use the bicentennial as a platform to change the conversation about the state of Illinois, to talk about all the great things that Illinois has contributed to society," Stuart Layne, executive director of the Illinois Bicentennial, told the Associated Press. "The second is pride. People are proud to be from this state. … That has become our mantra."
Considering some of the current problems Illinoisans are facing, it might be difficult to remember there has been more positive than negative emerge during the state's first 200 years.
The bicentennial celebration can provide a soapbox for Illinois to remind not only its own citizens, but also the rest of the world that there is plenty here to applaud, and that includes locally, too.
Watch for regional acknowledgements about the role West-Central Illinois has played in development of the nation's 21st state. Our area was home to one of the historic Lincoln-Douglas debates; had a key role in the Underground Railroad; and provided Illinois with its 12th governor, John Wood.
The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County will be an important element of the region's celebration of the bicentennial. The organization is providing the public with an informative website at illinois200.com.
During the next year, you are likely to hear a lot about the four presidents who have ties to Illinois -- Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.
Lincoln, of course, has long been the state's favorite son, and much of the bicentennial will be geared around all that is connected to the man who not only paved the way for the end of slavery, but also strengthened the federal government and modernized the economy.
Clearly, it would be a fitting bicentennial tribute to the 16th president if Illinois can take major steps toward rectifying its own governmental turmoil so positive stories about our state can continue to be told throughout 2018 and beyond.