This is the final installment of our series of community commentaries on Temple University anthropologist (and Oak Park native) Jay Ruby’s “Oak Park Stories,” a five-part, multi-media, ethnographic study, available for checkout at the Oak Park Public Library.
The concluding commentary is written by Rick Kuner, who has lived in
We learn a lot from people’s stories. Jay Ruby’s
An integrated community is a desirable place to live. Ruby asserts, “the alternative-segregation-is worse.” A diverse community enhances our lives. It helps us appreciate and respect the ideas, creativity, and contributions of others. It forces us to think more carefully about our actions and their impact on others. Former village director of community services, Rogene Hill, illustrates the point when she says, “Integration means something positive for whites. For many it is a cause they feel good about, a feeling of having been generous, courageous and noble. For African Americans, it means getting what is due and often with struggle. African Americans do not often integrate for the noble experience but for the economic benefit, period.” Some disagree with Hill, arguing that integrated communities have social benefits as well.
Ruby believes most people in the village do not understand the complexity of what we do to encourage diversity in the housing market. I agree. There are many programs and some are hard to understand. There are linkages that take time to appreciate-for example, the links between the quality of our schools and neighborhoods or the links between village and
The housing market is really a group of submarkets. The weakest submarket are the apartments. Rental units are not evenly distributed across the village. Most are in east
When Ruby interviewed the two former directors of the
Unfortunately, racism still exists, so 40 years after the village passed its Fair Housing Ordinance, we still need village housing programs, the
How do we live in a diverse community? The people Ruby interviewed have some tips:
Yolanda Taylor – “Accept me for who I am and I will accept you for who you are.”
Helena Gervais McCullough – Be tolerant and accepting of all kinds of people.
Rebecca Levin and Bob Trezevant – Work to make
Craig and Yolanda Taylor – Do the best you can for the children. They need to move across race, class, and cultural divides.
Jay Ruby – “To live in
Val Camilletti – “We say we want to be a diverse community, so we have to try to make it work.”
Learn from our differences.
What are the lessons we can take from Ruby’s work? I suggest the following:
Diversity is fragile and hard to achieve.
Work together. Disagree respectfully. Resolve our differences. Move forward. Collectively, we can make a difference.
Understand that progress will come in small increments among many people with occasional large spurts. It will take time. We will see progress more easily in our children than in ourselves.
Support leaders who understand what will make us a better community and who know how to get things done.
Be willing to take on tough problems. Make timely decisions even with limited information, monitor results, and take corrective actions as needed.
Pass our knowledge on to the next generations.
Beware of the “free riders” who claim we have achieved diversity so we can stop spending time and money on diversity programs. They are wrong.
Take advantage of the wealth of talent in this village. Many people will help if asked. Get rid of the Not Invented Here Syndrome. There are many sources for good ideas.
Take the advice of former village president John Philbin who said provide good village services first-otherwise government will not have the creditability to operate social programs.
Ruby concludes that
I think we are losing our diversity, especially in the apartment submarket. We are overdue for some revisions.
When you see Jay, shake his hand and thank him for sharing the stories with us. Thank the people who shared their stories with Jay. His work provides a valuable snapshot of our community. It will help those who come after us. We cannot pay back our debt to Ruby and the people he portrays. This debt we pay forward.
Our predecessors did a great job. Now it is our turn. As poet Robert Frost said, “We have miles to go before we sleep.”
Rebekah and Sophie – A Lesbian Family
Dear Old Oak Parkers – The Helena Gervais McCullough family
Val Camilletti – A cultural institution