Martha Brock, Black history and Oak Park


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STAN WEST, Columnist

Photojournalist and trustee candidate Martha Brock's first foray into Black history occurred more than four decades ago when she, like so many other Chicago-area African Americans, was born in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era. I witnessed her historic leadership on MLK Day when she led 30 demonstrators outside Oak Park and River Forest High School to protest a double-standard of discipline practices against students of color, which is why Blanca Vargas from the Latino support group, LULAC, joined Blacks and Hispanics from APPLE and Whites from the New Leadership Party to a "rainbow" protest. Superintendent/Principal Dr. Susan Bridge called the protest a "surprise" and seemed to treat the action as an unwarranted nuisance. She denied a double standard.

As an author-journalist-historian who has worked with Brock with African-American news organizations like N'Digo Magazine and Chicago Defender where she was the photographer and I was the reporter, we share similar experiences and identification with capturing historical moments. Today, I'm standing with Brock at her stunning month-long Black History Month exhibit of color and black and white photos at Village Hall (perhaps the best photo exhibit ever here), a place she may soon be calling home.

Brock, a former Neighborhood Watch commissioner, education activist and organizer for a 1991 Miss America Parade with Oak Park's own Marjorie Vincent down Lake Street, is now a candidate for trustee on the New Leadership Party slate and is perhaps the best liked and best known of her slate that includes: Robert Milstein, Geoff Baker, Greg Marsey, Mila Tellez, a Library Board candidate who I support, and Sharon Patchak-Layman, who is running for Village Clerk, who will not get my vote. I'm instead voting for incumbent Sandra Sokol, who I feel is much more experienced and competent and certainly someone who will not abstain from the most important decision of her elected career, which is just what Layman did when it was her time to vote for the incoming new school superintendent during her term as a District 97 school board member. Milstein, on the other hand, will get my vote as will Brock because they represent inclusive, principled, open government. There are six trustee candidates for which you must pick three.

Here's why Brock, a former leader of APPLE, and local businesswoman, is my choice, and why she should be yours, too.

As we walked from one end of her exciting exhibit to another marveling at a lovely display of local and national educational, cultural, and political leaders from State Senator Don Harmon to U.S. Senator Barack Obama, from Joie Pierce to Rev. Jesse Jackson, from Michael Jordan to Alicia Keys?#34;a biracial singer who hired Brock as her personal photographer?#34;Brock showed me the stairs leading up to council chambers, pointing to all of the photos of past trustees, responding to thoughts about how and why she would be a good fit for the job.

"When I walked up the trustee chamber stairs, I realized I could do an excellent job because being a trustee means being an extended hand of the people who elect you," she said. "Often, the citizens are left on the back burner when policy decisions are made and that's why I'm here. It's time for a change."

When asked what might be the biggest challenge for her candidacy, she said, "What most Black folks fear is not the opposition, but the fear of going to the next level. I have no fear," she said, while privately adding that getting disenchanted minorities to the polls as well as fair-weather liberals who may secretly prefer a White trustee, might call for a lot more help than she's getting right now.

As my eyes rested at the Oak Park Area Arts Council Gallery's display of my personal favorites?#34;a 16-by-20 color portrait of former APPLE president Wyanetta Johnson (now headed by Edith Rodriguez, Minyone Gibbons and Darryl Rogers) and a black and white shot of a baptism at a Black church?#34;Brock explained her exhibit opened Jan. 25 with a who's who of Oak Park (many of whom are pictured here on the wall): State Rep. Karen Yarbrough, Police Chief Rick Tanksley and his wife, Janice, Chet Stewart, Geraldine McCullough, Sherlynn Reid, Flora Green, Julie and Bruce Samuels, Barbara Mullarkey, Rae Kalin and Eric Linden, Edith Rodriguez, Rickey Sanes, Jim Boushay, and Dorothy Reid, who is a VMA-endorsed candidate (though through a clandestine process), who is also running for trustee along with Ray Barbosa and Mas Takiguchi, a conservative Asian American.

Despite the secretive, closed, elitist process that produced Reid, she, too, is getting my vote, and possibly Barbosa, a brilliant Black Puerto Rican who, like Brock and Reid, seem to be the most energetic, progressive and small business-friendly of all the candidates, all of whom are able and qualified.

I might even vote for Baker or Marsey instead of Barbosa. Only three will take their places in our history, though. You can decide which three.

My rhetorical question to you, especially liberal Whites and apathetic voters of color, is while you pride yourselves on your seemingly enlightened views, how many of you are willing to help candidates of color and progressives lead our village? The choice is yours.


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