Two weekends ago, our family had a typical busy Saturday. We started the day with a soccer game on the newly installed artificial turf field at Irving School. As usual, the parents lined up on one sideline and had a blast cheering for our kids and talking amongst ourselves. That followed with a basketball game at the West Cook Y, where similar excitement ensued among another set of parents and kids. Following that, the kid was not to be denied the opportunity to join some friends at a neighbor’s house for some skateboarding, Ping-Pong, and other fun times.
Because he has grown up here, my son took for granted that the kids surrounding him had a wide variety of skin colors. Each activity included a multiracial group not because we as parents forced it, but because where we live made it possible, simple even. In most cases, I think a lot of us parents just take this for granted as well.
But, a diverse community doesn’t just happen. It’s no accident that my son gets to grow up in an integrated place. We work hard at providing that opportunity in Oak Park. Sometimes people recoil when I start talking about our community’s intentionality toward diversity, integration, and inclusion. To some, I seem to be on a soapbox or acting as a cheerleader for Oak Park. (On the latter, I cannot deny my love in being an Oak Parker.) I think this is because for many people, especially many living in Oak Park, diversity is no longer a question of for or against. Most of us live here because the diversity drew us to a community that reflects our values. It was diverse when we moved here and we expect it will stay diverse.
But, this is not how diversity works and certainly not how integration works. Most of the economic and societal forces in our society promote, enable, or reinforce segregation. Oak Park is not a place that is immune from social forces.
I think the following helps us think about how diversity and integration are sustained. While there are certainly people who live in a home for decades, most of us move at a much more rapid pace from one home to another. In the rental market, this is even faster. That dynamic nature of the housing market means the makeup of residents in Oak Park is constantly changing. Even if all 52,000 plus of us agreed today that diversity and integration are paramount in our community, tomorrow the makeup of Oak Park will be different as someone moves out and another household moves in. In any given year, as many as 10,000 of us will be rearranged some moving out, some moving in, some moving to different places within. To sustain our integration, we have to sustain our intentionality. We have to engage with the continuously changing population of Oak Park.
As sports seasons move on, I feel confident that our weekends full of fun will once again include teams that reflect a wide diversity of backgrounds. My confidence isn’t due to the fact that it was that way this season. My confidence stems from knowing our community will continue to make it possible.