There is a big idea percolating through the civic discourse of River Forest and Oak Park. And it is equity. A single word with a complex definition and a great moral imperative.
Beyond equal opportunity, equity is recognition of past, current and enduring unfairness in how our common resources have been allocated, the impact of that unfairness in this moment, and a willingness to unbalance the scales in favor of those long shortchanged.
Right now, in a moment that was not pre-ordained for these villages but was built by plain talk, common sense and shared values, equity in public education tops the charts in strategic plans, nonprofit efforts and grassroots energy.
Just last week the annual $50,000 grant raised by some 40 local entrepreneurs — mostly, we presume, good ol’ capitalists — was handed over to a rookie nonprofit called Excellence with Equity. It took the top prize from among some 20 applicants and five finalists.
While still quite new, Excellence with Equity has serious credentials as among its leaders are Dr. Jackie Moore, currently the president of the OPRF school board and Frances Kraft a longtime educator and advocate. This program, run out of Oak Park’s increasingly engaged public library, actively connects with both at-risk high school students and their families for intense mentoring and some crucial lessons on how to advocate and navigate complicated school situations.
There are other similar models. Two weeks ago, the Journal reported on the involvement of many Oak Parkers in a new-to-Chicago nonprofit called Friends of the Children. It will work in the Austin neighborhood with a model that identifies kids on the brink in kindergarten and first grade and provide 12 years of mentoring and connection.
Next week the Journal will launch a year-long reporting project with Success of All Youth, another local nonprofit, focusing on issues of youth in our villages. That project is funded by the Good Heart/Work Smart Foundation.
Meanwhile, the school boards and administrations of our three public school districts — OPRF, District 90 in River Forest and District 97 in Oak Park — are focused on equity like never before.
This really is the Big Idea.