OUT IN THE OPEN: Audience members wait to speak during a Nov. 14 meeting on race at OPRF. | Photo by Paul Goyettetle

This year, Oak Park’s education landscape may have been a bit drier after talks of replacing the two pools at Oak Park and River Forest High School — which dominated 2016 — receded. 

The tone of pool-related conversation has become much milder and more disciplined since the OPRF Imagine committee kicked into high gear earlier this year, with the committee shifting the discussion to a deep, comprehensive analysis of facilities. 

The source of tension this year revolved around race, the rough edges of which were often out in the open. When some OPRF football players and band members took a knee in September, the catalyst was set for what turned out to be the most significant and multilayered story of the year. 

In October, a 17-year-old OPRF senior posted a photo showing himself in blackface to his Snapchat account on a Sunday. Minutes, if not seconds later, the groundswell began. 

A popular OPRF teacher, activist and Congressional candidate, Anthony Clark, was suspended for his role in the contentious debate, leading to a march along Lake Street and at least a week of heated debate, most of it on social media. 

The story touched on so many aspects of the modern condition — from the appropriateness of outrage to the limits of empathy to the consequences that technology has had on people’s ability to relate to each other. 

The series of events reached a climax during a meeting on race held in November at the high school, which featured mediators from the Justice Department and Dr. David Stovall, an associate professor of educational policy studies and African-American studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“When you talk about equity, you have to think about a word that becomes fearful to districts and leadership — redistribution,” he said. “If we are talking about equity, we can no longer talk about who is getting what under what terms. You have to be clear about who has been denied historically. I don’t talk about an education gap. What has been owed to students who have been historically disenfranchised? Something has been taken.”

The year 2017 in Oak Park might well be remembered for the rawness that was brought to the town’s grappling with race. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

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