And now we have all three of Oak Park’s most critical institutions in sync in refocusing the attention of our historically progressive community beyond integration, beyond diversity and fully onto equity. This is the foundational belief that the prism of our decision-making — small decisions, major efforts — must be on creating equitable outcomes for those who have historically been denied equal opportunities, specifically people of color.
In a bold presentation, Oak Park’s Community Relations Commission last week urged the village board to both fund equity training for all staff, commissions and elected officials but more critically to accept the truth that there is racism baked into our institutions, our processes, our data, our way of looking at the world. This doesn’t make us racists. But it calls on each of us, all of us, to acknowledge that we bring our nation’s and our own complex and divided history to our lives in Oak Park.
In recent years we have applauded elected and appointed officials at Oak Park’s District 97 elementary schools and at Oak Park and River Forest High School for their clear-eyed recognition that equity must be our most essential goal.
Oak Park’s village government was the cradle of racial progress in this village 50 years ago when it adopted the dramatically forward thinking Fair Housing Ordinance, when it made racial integration the essential work of this village and took bold steps to invent new programs to make that real.
In recent decades it has been the public schools that have thought more consciously about race and achievement while village government has worked more diligently on economic development issues than on race and equity.
That makes the strong affirmation this effort received from the village board more notable. As Trustee Andrea Button and Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb called for a village-wide conversation on equity, it was Trustee Bob Tucker who pointed out the obvious, that with the exception of Abu-Taleb’s Palestinian heritage, the village board is, for the first time in decades, all white.
That does not need to preclude headway on equity, but it requires that this board set its antennae to a particularly high level of sensitivity.
This might be a significant moment in Oak Park’s history. We applaud the Community Relations Commission, long ago a key agent of change in Oak Park, for reasserting itself in leading this effort.