Obama won! Time to celebrate. Actually, it wasn’t. The Romney team was figuring out how they lost, so we waited. It would be an hour and a half before the loss was accepted and the concession speech began.
Too tired to go to bed, I watched as the TV shifted from Romney’s headquarters in Boston to Obama in Chicago. The pundits chattered on as the viewers watched the Romney and Obama supporters wait. There was a profound and obvious difference at the parties. Friends, financiers, and elite fundraisers, dressed elegantly and sipping champagne were the guests in Boston. The Obama crowd included his friends, but more importantly, his election volunteers. Their dress was simple. They looked tired. They had the pained looks of sore feet. Their drink of choice was bottled water. The small white crowd in Boston was somber. Chicago’s large, colorful crowd, in face and clothes, was manic.
Diversity popped into my head. I have read the Oak Park Diversity Statement many times. It is a powerful document, but it confuses me. The statement is loaded with vision but no action. Each paragraph challenges us, but no words drive us to action. Maybe it’s a statement written for a different time – when the community went face to face with segregation and said, “Hold on, this is not us.” Maybe the statement has outlived its power. That would be a shame.
In 2008, shortly after the President Obama’s election, Dan Haley wrote an article on integration in Oak Park. The article expressed disappointment that Oak Park seemed to have lost its diversity enthusiasm. With a black president-elect and a country that felt fresh, he chided us all by writing, “We in Oak Park are in no place to rest on our laurel.” The laurel? The village’s historic fight for a integrated village. He went on to conclude with a reminder that the village needed to reactivate its racial zeal. It didn’t work.
As I watched the diverse guests at the Obama celebration, I recalled a walk I took with a friend in our hometown — Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I kept saying how much it was the same as when we were growing up. He said it had changed. He pointed out a building that was gone or stores that had closed. He looked pained. We came to a classic Brooklyn candy store that sold newspapers, cigarettes, racing forms, and yes, candy. I said it was exactly as I remembered it. He pointed to the newspaper stand, a 5-foot piece of wood held aloft by cinder blocks. The papers were in the language of the new immigrants — Muslim, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, etc. They had replaced the foreign language newspapers of the old immigrants — Irish, Norwegian, Hebrew, German, Italian, etc. My friend said, “Look how that has changed.” I shrugged. I didn’t see change, I saw progress.
Oak Park may not be the melting pot that my old neighborhood was, but it has changed and it will change, again and again. It will not be just buildings, favorite stores, and meeting spots changing. The residents will change. There will be many new colors, customs, cultures, dress, etc. They will be accepted just like us. That is what the Diversity Statement is all about.
Are we in action mode? Are we making progress?