We know that racial diversity is the foundation for building an equitable community. And we know that the next step is integration. It’s through integration that we live among one another, begin to learn from each other, and build empathy with our neighbors. It allows us to see how we have so much in common with each other — how we all want a bright future for ourselves and our community.

Integration is a path to realizing our humanity. We need to reconnect to our humanity more than any time I can remember. We are living in a moment when our nation is practically tearing itself apart. Racism, homophobia, and sexism are tools being used by those who would like us to divide us. They hope we will give in to fear. That we will scapegoat those who seem different.

Fear, blame, and stereotyping are useful tools to perpetuate a segregated society. But in an integrated one, those tools lose their utility. The bonds between us, and the sense of common purpose we all share, allow us to see through the fear mongering. They dissolve hatred. We know that together we are stronger, safer, and smarter.

Our struggle right now is to ensure that we won’t let segregation take hold of us. That we will fight for integration. We must do this because we know integration is the path to both equity and justice as well as prosperity and opportunity. Integration is both just and pragmatic. It provides a structure for everyone to benefit from a united community.

Yes, integration is about more than ideals and principles. It is an imperative if we ever hope to deal with the inequality in our nation and communities. 

Segregation is more than a problem. Segregation is at the root of all other problems. It is the environment that creates concentrations of poverty, reinforces educational disparities, exacerbates hot spots of violence. It promotes an imbalance of investment across our region and breeds mistrust, disdain, and apathy.

Our little laboratory of Oak Park might seem like it’s just a tiny effort. But it is so much more than that. It is also a model that proves we can be integrated and prosperous. It’s a model that must continue to be supported and expand. We can help create inclusive and thriving communities across the country. And more importantly, we can help our neighbors do that too. 

But we have to remain committed and intentional. We have more to do in Oak Park. We have more to do across the Greater West Side. We have more to do across America.

We need integration now more than ever!

This is an edited version of the speech Rob Breymaier, executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, delivered at the Housing Center’s gala on Sept. 15.

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