Last week I attended two terrific community events.  On Wednesday, Suburban Unity Alliance (SUA) held its member meeting at the Oak Park Public Library to discuss next steps in addressing equity issues in our community.  On Thursday, the Oak Park Regional Housing Center held its annual fundraising gala at the Columbus Park Refectory. With the tagline “Diversity: Now More than Ever,” the Housing Center celebrated over forty years of commitment to diversity and integration efforts in the Oak Park area.

Both events were well-attended.  Both events had a diverse group of attendees.  Both events promoted a positive, activist message.  Both organizations are trying to do the right thing.

However, each struck a slightly different chord.

At the SUA meeting, the message was clear: we love our community but there is serious work to do to get where we need to be.  At the Housing Center affair, there was more pride in accomplishment, as if to say we are in a pretty good place because of the hard work we have done.  And, without continued hard work, we are in danger of going backwards.

Both perspectives are true.  We have come a long way with respect to diversity, integration and equity.  We need to keep working.  And we are nowhere near where we want to be for true equity.

Every part of our society has work to do:  business, healthcare, education, housing, youth services. Toward that end, last week the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce voted unanimously to support SUA’s “Pledge for Unity.”  In doing so, we acknowledge the problems and state publicly that the business community wants to be part of the solution.

“I hereby agree to hold myself accountable and not remain neutral in the fight for equity. I recognize that while progress has been made, various forms of discrimination still negatively impact my community. I pledge to treat others how I would want to be treated and utilize my group membership to create empathy and collaboration. I recognize the overall goal of this group is to use collaborations to create communities where equity is a reality.”

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...