Why America Needs Oak Park

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By Rob Breymaier

Executive Director, Oak Park Regional Housing Center

You would have to be stone cold to not be aware of and affected by the events surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. As the trial ended, it has brought to the forefront many of the issues most Americans often ignore. We are dealing with the fact that racism is real. That the racism we most need to address is the structural racism of our society. And, that despite the election of a President who identifies as black, we are still not a post-racial society.

Today on the NPR program, Morning Edition, social science reporter Shankar Vedantam spoke about studies that have worked to get to the heart of racism. The link to the story is here. In it, Vedantam talks about the issue of "racism without racists." This is the conundrum that despite the fact almost no one admits to being a racist or harboring racist feelings, we still often act in ways that are racist. There have been hundreds of these studies over the past decade or so. The study Vedantam highlights is one where doctors provided worse medical care for patients they thought were African American than for patients they thought were white. Provided the results of the study, the doctors were horrified. It was not as if they meant to make race a factor in the care they provided.

This same phenomenon, known as implicit bias, is at play in almost all of our interactions. All of us have the bias regardless of race, gender, or any other factor. All of us have the bias in the same direction – favoring whites, males, heterosexuals, and other privileged groups. However, we all have it to different degrees. Those who work to overcome their implicit bias can reduce its impact on our actions.

Implicit bias could explain a lot of the "whys" that surround Trayvon Martin's death. It certainly is part of the explanation as to why Zimmerman followed Martin. Whether or not you think he was purposely being racist, there is no doubt that he was implicitly racist to suspect, follow, and confront an unarmed teenager. I think it is part of the explanation as to why Zimmerman made a decision to shoot his gun as well. My gut tells me he would not have shot a gun at a white teenager in the same situation. And, I think there is an argument that implicit bias is involved in why the Florida legislature passed a stand your ground law in the first place. Statistics on who is found not guilty using stand your ground defenses support that notion. Whites are 350% more likely than blacks to be found not guilty using the defense.

Despite the fact that all of us have an implicit bias, we are not doomed to a racist society. Implicit bias has been here forever, certainly for the entire history of the United States. Yet, our society has become more equal and equitable over time. Dr. King was right when he said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." However, it is too often that justice happens only when we face a crisis. (A textbook example here is the passage of the Fair Housing Act, which occurred one week after the assassination of Dr. King.) The solutions are often contentious and sometimes divisive. They happen long after they are overdue.

There is a better, less disruptive, and more inclusive way to bend toward justice. We can alleviate implicit bias. There are essentially two accepted ways to do this. The first is to promote greater interaction between people of different races. The second is to be intentional about equality, equity, and inclusion. By reducing implicit bias, we change the structure of our societal interactions in ways that make society fairer and improve our interpersonal interactions as well.

For the most part, a strategy such as this is simply a theory or dream. However, we in Oak Park have implemented this strategy for more than four decades now. We both promote greater interaction and act intentionally by encouraging a diverse and integrated housing market. At the heart of it all has been the Oak Park Regional Housing Center. Over the years, Village Hall, our school systems, the real estate community, our park district and township, and others have joined in the effort. As a result, we have created a community that has at its core a value in diversity, a concern for social justice, and an aspiration to be equitable.

Oak Park is a community unlike any other. We have been more successful in achieving a diverse, integrated, and inclusive community than anywhere else in the nation. Just as important, we are a community that knows we still have work to do to sustain what we have created and improve upon it. We have created a community we can be proud of. We have created a community that is closer to the American ideal than anywhere else. We have created a community that should be a model for others across the nation. We have a created a community that works to diminish its implicit bias.

Yes, right now, as we talk about race, equity, justice, and America we should be talking about Oak Park.

Reader Comments

49 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

JK from OP  

Posted: April 17th, 2014 10:46 AM

Oak Park is a hotbed of a phenomenon called Moral Licensing: doing something to help strengthen our positive self-image (liking writing this ridiculous editorial) makes us less worried about the consequences of immoral behavior, and therefore more likely to make immoral choices... Read more at http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/moral-licensing-how-being-good-can-make-you-bad/#LykobQMCJHEpCtXS.99

Valerie  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 5:04 PM

Uncommon Sense, in such a case, the more someone fits the description of past perpetrators, the less attention you should pay to him.

OP Transplant  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 5:03 PM

Okay, Chad. I don't want armed vigilantes on my block. I also don't want mountain lions on my block. I don't worry about either, though, because they're both very unlikely. It makes a lot more sense for everybody, including the president and the media, to pay attention to more realistic problems. Two Oak Park kids have been shot dead in the last few weeks. Not a Peruvian-American vigilante nutcase in sight.

Valerie  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 5:00 PM

Chad, you posted, "The chain of events began when GZ didn't just stay home and watch TV. What compelled him to be out there in the first place?" Surely you have heard about the crimes in GZ's neighborhood, and surely you know the police can't be watching everywhere.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 4:54 PM

Chad, let's say you are pulling out into your alley and you see a sizable person in the rain that you don't recognize. He appears to be looking in garages or aimlessly wandering. This person has on a white tee or Hoodie and pants sagging. Your neighbors were burglarized recently by guys where white tees and pants sagging. Tell us... what do you do? Call cops? Keep any eye on person? Approach the guy? Mind your business?

The Chad from Oak Park  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 3:58 PM

Ok, let's not only focus on the Chicago murders in the black community, but also this issue. Can't we do both at once? I would suggest that we should care what GZ's motivations are. Do you want someone like him on your block? Yes or no. Do you want him on your block armed? Yes or no?

OP Transplant  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 3:09 PM

Chad - I have no idea what kind of paranoid craziness led GZ to be out there. Don't care, either. Vigilante shootings are rare enough that I don't worry about them. I worry about the Oak Park and Chicago kids who are killed by street violence, since that's a lot more common, and since I live here. Why is it only news when a black kid is killed by a white or Hispanic shooter? That should bother people, in my opinion. It bothers me.

The Chad from Oak Park  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 2:41 PM

OP Trans - blaming Obama and the media coverage is beside the point and is a distraction. The chain of events began when GZ didn't just stay home and watch TV. What compelled him to be out there in the first place? What about that? Do we want GZ behavior (ie walking the streets with a gun "on watch") in Oak Park. I do not. What say you?

The Chad from Oak Park  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 2:29 PM

So, joe (sic), are you walking the streets of south oak park with a gun (instead of, you know, living your life by interacting with friends and family), looking to see if any Austin thugs take your hyper-vigilance personally, so you can exercise your inalienable right to defend yourself? You seem positively aching to do so. Would you deserve to die if you walked through Austin, took a swing at a local because you thought he was following you, and said local blew your head off (in self-defense)?

OP Transplant  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 2:12 PM

Chad - GZ is a statistical blip. We have no national problem with armed Peruvian-American vigilantes. So why all the coverage? When the president feels the need to make impromptu comments about the deaths of every black kid gunned down in Chicago, or when LA freeways are closed by demonstrations against black-on-black murder, there will be some sense of proportion. Why ignore hundreds of deaths, and focus on one?

joe from south oak park  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 1:44 PM

Chad- what's the alternative? Should we resign to the reality of violent crime perpetrated by Austin thugs is part of the privilege of living in OP? Every week or two there are new armed robberies or robberies that include battery in the village. Instead of appealing to the 'better nature' of an attacker to not cause me great bodily harm or death, I'll defend myself appropriately. This isn't a choice for everyone but the right to self defense is every bit as inalienable as the freedom of speech.

The Chad from Oak Park  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 1:02 PM

OP Tran - So, we should equate the gang killings in Chicago with an armed man killing another during an altercation? Ignore or cover both? That makes GZ just the same as a scumbag gangbanger, right? Both killers are defending their turf, right? Austin may as well be Iraq for our level of concern about day to day violence. Agreeing that GZ should have been found not guilty, should he have been armed and walking the streets that night? Do you want armed GZ-types on your block? I sure don't.

OP Transplant  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 8:50 AM

Chad - I don't, to use your word, "sense" that something like this is going to happen here. Something like this is, in fact extraordinarily uncommon. I do, however, sense that hundreds of young AA men will be killed in the coming year by other young AA men. I also sense that their deaths will cause no uproar, while the media waits breathlessly for a high profile case where the shooter is white, or, in a pinch, partially white. Now, let's wait and see who is right.

The Chad from Oak Park  

Posted: July 24th, 2013 1:13 AM

Most off putting is a certain glee that some here find in the jury's acquittal of a guy who killed another after following him down the street and having an altercation. Do some here fantasize doing the same with a gun if such an undesirable walks past their home? Such rage against Martin. Why is that? Do we all sense Oak Park is ripe for just this type of incident. I sure do. The anger is boiling, and it will explode. We will simply nod, as we could see it coming. I mean, read these boards.

Too Much is Too Much from Chicago  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 11:14 PM

When did Oak Park decide Enuf was Enuf? I am Too Much is Too Much and I resent Enuf is Enuf running up the gangplank before my friends, Less is More, and Comme Ci Comme Ca, could move to Oak Park. As a biracial, multicultural, and half vegan family, we felt it represented our ideal. But after reading Enuf is Enuf's comments, I am less sure that I want my child, A Little Goes a Long Way, to grow up in Oak Park. I think I will look at Berwyn, where inclusiveness still means something.

OP Transplant  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 4:45 PM

Save your breath, "Correcting." John's mind was made up years before Trayvon Martin was even born. He will force the square peg of the facts of this case into the round hole of his world view, regardless of how many facts he has to make up or ignore. All whites (and apparently now Hispanics) are racists. All blacks are helpless victims. I think that's in Latin on Oak Park's village seal.

Correcting the DIsinformation Below  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 4:31 PM

Miami Herald, 3-21-12: "He once caught a thief and an arrest was made," said Cynthia Wibker, secretary of the homeowners association. "He helped solve a lot of crimes." But I guess, like the demographics of Sanford, the backstory doesn't the disinformers' agenda.

OP Transplant  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 4:15 PM

Jim - MZ is a loser wannabe cop. That doesn't change the facts of the case. This was a case that the prosecution could not win, because the evidence supported the claim of self defense. The state didn't seem too keen even on charging MZ until political pressure forced them forward. The media framed this as white racism, despite the fact that MZ self identifies as Latino, and there's no evidence that race played a role. This is just the wrong case to hold marches over.

JamesJones from Oak Park  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 4:14 PM

Jim C., I'll take issue with your earlier comment that "I'll join wth President Obama in accepting the rule of law and respecting the jury decision." The Current Occupant may have said words to that effect, but still has his henchman, Eric Holder, searching high & low for dirt on Zimmerman. The Pres won't accept the rule of law or the jury decision because it conflicts with his world view.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 3:36 PM

What is your understanding of the Neighborhood Watch program, OP Transplant? I recall reading that volunteers are not supposed to be armed. They serve only as eyes and ears for law enforcement and are specifically instructed during their training not to follow or confront a suspicious individual and after alerting law enforcement are advised to wait for the police to arrive. Zimmerman obviously didn't follow any of those guidelines on that evening. He reportedly had previously called 911 on at least 40 occasions while on watch to report what he considered to be activities that warranted police involvement. Surprisingly, none of the emergency calls Zimmerman placed resulted in an arrest and thankfully no one was injured or killed. If only?

King John IV from Frisco  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 3:10 PM

@OP Transplant. Oops. My bad. I thought we were talking about the case the prosecution actually presented to the jury, the one which millions of people watched in real time while every talking head opined. But we are actually talking about the imaginary case that is in the head of some other people.

OP Transplant  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 2:45 PM

King John - Sure, if you're going to believe the physical evidence and eyewitness testimony. But, if you let your imagination go just a little, you can base your judgment on the media's narrative and the president's implications. That story fits my pre-existing world view better, and that's the important thing. Didn't you see that picture of Trayvon that they kept publishing? He was a cute little guy when he was twelve.

King John IV from Frisco  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 2:32 PM

"With all due respect," your presentation is a lot of nonsense. The trial was not about race. It was about self-defense in a case in which large teenager was bashing a man's head against the concrete.

Village Voice from Oak Park  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 2:31 PM

The greater point of the Sanford demographics is that for all the preaching, self-promoting, and downright gloating the author does about Oak Park's self-perceived superiority, Sanford and the Retreat at Twin Lakes are at least as diverse and integrated as Oak Park if not more. That shows two things: 1) This isolated incident had nothing to do with diversity or the lack of it. 2) Sanford achieved such diversity without a professional diversity cheerleader/traffic cop wagging his finger.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 1:11 PM

No sense in trying to make sense of such nonsense, Uncommon Sense. I might say the tag fits you if I had any idea what it means. Just comes off as really odd and sort of goofy. It is what it is. Please understand there isn't any assumption nor insinuation by or from me that white women or men cannot be fair and unbiased. The Zimmerman murder trial and verdict has generated great national debate. It's interesting to listen to people who want to engage in a civil discussion about crime, guns and vigilantism. We'll never the truth about what happened that evening as the shooter himself has offered differing accounts. I'll join wth President Obama in accepting the rule of law and respecting the jury decision. I'll leave you to your thoughts.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 12:34 PM

JC, puhleeze. The whole point of you even bringing up juror demographics was to insinuate that there may have been some bias in the verdict because the jurors don't mirror the larger Sanford demographics. What is ironic is that now you are assuming that white women cannot be fair and unbias. As you demonstrate repeatedly, common sense is not very common, hence my name.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 12:14 PM

Of course, Uncommon Sense got it worng. Again! I did not post that "the jury was bias". I questioned whether a panel of five whites, one hispanic and four white alternates jurors properly represents the demographics of a community with a reported 32% african-american population? Having been chosen to serve on a jury on a couple of occasions, I am familiar with the selection process and understand how it works. Tossing out phony outrage and crying "BS" does little to strenghten the positions advocated by the individual who seeks to portray themselves as being blessed with uncommon sense. Whatever the heck that means.

OP Transplant  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 11:04 AM

Jury selection wouldn't have mattered too much anyway. The evidence supported Zimmerman's claim of self defense. Tough to win when the evidence is against you.

JamesJones from Oak Park  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 10:06 AM

Uncommon sense is correct...post trial interviews show the prosecution bet heavily on an all-female/all mother jury of 5 whites & 1 Hispanic. They assumed (correctly by the way) through this selection that race wouldn't be a factor, but that motherly instincts would weigh in their favor. That's where they were wrong.

joe from south oak park  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 9:48 AM

I seem to remember that a young black man from oak park and a teenager were charged with a hate crime back in April of last year for the beating of a white man because they were angry about this whole trayvon martin mess. OP is a shining example of the new 'american ideal' indeed.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 9:26 AM

Coughlin, the jury was picked by both prosecution and defense. There was an extensive selection phase where many men and other minorities were eliminated by both defense and prosectuion. The jury represented the opinions of both sides in their quest to figure out who would likely rule in their favor. To now say the jury was bias and didn't represent the demographics of Sanford is utter BS and shows a lack of understanding how the jury was selected.

Jim from Oak Park  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 8:48 AM

Mr. Breymeier, from your throne at the center of the known universe, could you please recognize Oak Parkers who bought homes here in the '70s and '80s? Many of us bet our families' futures on our housing choice. We stayed and worked day-by-day, helping to solidify the community's direction. If we had only known that your arrival in the mid-2000s was going to solve everything, we could have relaxed and just enjoyed life.

linux  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 8:40 AM

Also, there is clearly some tension in Oak Park as evidenced by the need to shut down so many comments on this site. I notice that when a crime occurs, there is little mention of defining characteristics of the perp. I suppose it's politically correct but not at all useful and usually starts outrage.

linux from Oak Park  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 7:36 AM

@ Auden - You are exactly right! Oak Park is, on paper, diverse. Even through some public elementary schools, you may argue diversity. Middle school hits and the tracking becomes obvious and classes are less diverse. At OPRF the honors classes do not reflect the diversity of the village. D97 throws plenty of $$ trying to narrow an achievement gap that is likely economic in nature. It isn't closing the gap. I see more diversity and less gap in the private local schools. Go figure.

Re: Sanford  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 7:19 AM

If you want the full story, Sanford FL also has a high crime rate and nearly 20% of the population living below the poverty line.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 1:50 AM

Very interesting data Sandford, Florida. Hard to understand why the jury selected to serve on the Zimmerman murder trail was not more reflective of the local population's racial diversity.

T  

Posted: July 23rd, 2013 12:59 AM

Who referred to you as a Caucasian?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 22nd, 2013 6:41 PM

Pretty offensive question. I have never referred to myself as a Caucasian and never will. It is a racist term that is incredibly offensive.

T  

Posted: July 22nd, 2013 6:01 PM

Why do i suspect Mr Murtagh doesnt have too many non Caucasians over for dinner

Auden  

Posted: July 22nd, 2013 5:31 PM

Diverse? Yes. Integrated & inclusive? No. Believe you me, I'd rather live here than other more homogenous burbs. But most still socialize w/ those of similar wealth/education levels, which often translates to race. OPRF epitomizes this. It was ~25% black when I attended, but AP classes were < 5% black - & that was w/ 'clustering'. I graduated more aware of race/class issues than my college buds who went to fancy prep schools, but what good does awareness do, other than assuage white guilt?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 22nd, 2013 5:05 PM

Mr. Breymaier - You were challenged last year to provide factual truth about your statement that without the Housing Center Oak Park would be segregated in five years. Your response was: "The statement is based on a combination of the day-to-day experiences at the Housing Center and social science research on the subject." I assume that last year's quote also applies to your most recent statement that, "We have been more successful in achieving a diverse, integrated, and inclusive community than anywhere else in the nation." Pure speculation and far fetched viewpoints are not unusual on Wednesday Journal Comments. Unusual is a public officials making off-handed statements that represent the Village of Oak Park and its resident on WJ Comments. Particularly offensive is your statement that "The Housing Center has been and continues to be at the center of the integration efforts in our community." Oak Park's center of integration rest with the elected officials of the seven taxing bodies who are responsible for diversity policies and their implementation and enforcement.

Village Voice from Oak Park  

Posted: July 22nd, 2013 5:02 PM

Sanford FL has maintained remarkably stable diversity despite 40% population growth from 2000 to 2010: White 59.7/57.3% AA:32.1/30.5%. Maybe that's why a multiethnic person like George ZImmerman felt comfortable there. Heck, the city is a designated Florida Black Heritage city. But yeah, god knows what will happen to that diversity now that those seeking to exploit this isolated incident for its racially divisive aspect have falsely portrayed Sanford as some sort of haven of white racism.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: July 22nd, 2013 4:21 PM

Mr. Breymaier ... please define the type of diversity that you claim, and then provide evidence tpwards your claim that Oak Park is more successful towards achieving that type of diversity than anywhere else in the nation.

Rob Breymaier from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 22nd, 2013 3:31 PM

It is not just claiming diversity at one point in time. It is also about sustaining diversity. And, it is about embracing diversity. This is something where Oak Park has very few peers -- even fewer in suburbs. The Housing Center has been and continues to be at the center of the integration efforts in our community. Our model works to integrate Oak Park. And, every day we receive clients that prove our work is still necessary. The Housing Center has adapted plenty over the years, including the last 7 years since I've been here. We have added new programs, enhanced existing programs, and engaged other institutions all with the goal of an integrated community and region in mind. We are repeatedly highlighted as a model program and organization. The evidence consistently demonstrates our need and effectiveness.

Village Voice from Oak Park  

Posted: July 22nd, 2013 1:47 PM

Yup, capitalizing on the incident and its publicity for personal or professional gain is, at best, distasteful. And such crowing rings hollow when two village families are in mourning after a much more common type of street violence. By the way, both Sanford FL and the Retreat at Twin Lakes are both more diverse than Oak Park despite not having a full time Diversity Traffic Cop, so this is not about diversity in any form despite the author's self-promoting claims.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: July 22nd, 2013 1:16 PM

I like the Housing Center, & think it has done much good for our community. However, this article reads like Mr. Breymaier is in the midst of a job evaluation and is trying to impress the board. What gives??

OP Transplant  

Posted: July 22nd, 2013 10:15 AM

I salute you, Mr. Breymaier. It takes a bold man to attribute the village's relative desegregation to his own tireless efforts, and then expand that claim to the benefit of the entire nation. I can't speak for other Oak Parkers, but I know that if it were not for the unblinking eye of the Housing Center, I'd be oppressing others right and left. Only the Mr. Breymaier's vigilance keeps my racist impulses in check.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 22nd, 2013 2:03 AM

In October, 2012, Rob Breymaier wrote "If we (the Oak Park Housing Center) were to cease operating, Oak Park would segregate within five years." Now in his most current essay, he states "Oak Park is a community unlike any other. We have been more successful in achieving a diverse, integrated, and inclusive community than anywhere else in the nation." I am not an expert on Ipso Facto's, but Breymaier's two quotes, sound like the forty-year old Housing Center is being credited for the OP's racial success? There are no studies confirming either statement. There is also a serious lack of a definition on how it was determined that Oak Park has been more successful than other communities in the nation. There are many communities that could claim the accolade. For instance, Queens Village in New York has a population of 67,900 with 14% White, 46% Black, 16% Hispanic, and 15% Asian. Queens Village has a median income of $74,400. Oak Park has population of 52,900 with 68.8% White, 22% Black, 5% Hispanic, and 2%. Its median income is $70,600. There are others that compare - see (http://www.businessinsider.com/the-most-diverse-cities-in-the-us-2013-7). It is strange to me that our village cannot be more humble? Why can't we objectively look at other communities and see that they also do good or great things that we can learn from? When the Dan Haley of the Wednesday Journal congratulated the Housing Center for 40 Years of Service to the village, he stated and asked "Any institution or vision that is 40 years old needs reflection. Has the Housing Center mission changed? Does its role meet the community's current needs? Are its costs fiscally responsible? Has it led to true integration of the village? And, what is the sustainability of a 40 year old business process?" Mr. Breymaier should be concentrating more on Dan Haley's questions and less on creating village public relations hyperbole.

Too much horn tooting  

Posted: July 20th, 2013 3:01 PM

I agree with the first six paragraphs here. I don't agree with the author's viewpoint that OP is a model of successful integration. In my experience, the black and white races stay separate in OP. Although many white people embrace causes aimed at helping black people, friendships, as evidenced by dinner parties, backyard BBQs, facebook, etc., that cross racial lines are rare.

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