In my May 1 column [A civic ritual for the Oak Park story], I wandered innocently into a controversy. Agreeing with N.Y. Times columnist David Brooks that communities needed more civic rituals, I suggested a public reading of the Oak Park Diversity Statement at Day in Our Village on the first Sunday of June each year since a sizable portion of the community (plus curious potential community members) walk through Scoville Park browsing the booths of myriad organizations the village offers to promote public participation. 

The Diversity Statement is the most concise telling of the Oak Park story. It is intended to inspire residents’ understanding — and appreciation — of the village’s core mission. Each newly constituted Village Board of Trustees proclaims its commitment to carrying out that mission.

In my May 1 column, I included a condensed version of the statement — which I had a hand in revising over 20 years ago — for the many Oak Parkers unfamiliar with the wording.

Turns out the village’s Community Relations Commission had just completed a revision of that statement. To “Diversity,” they added “Inclusion” and “Equity,” which are fine additions. With due respect to their efforts, though, I thought their revision needed editing. It sounded as if it were written by a committee, which indeed it was. There’s a reason that phrase is a recurring meme in mainstream culture. Committee compositions often contain clunky language like, “developing a shared, intersectional vision for the future.” It’s hard to know what the word “intersectional” means here, but it sounds bureaucratic and off-putting, and the one thing we don’t want with our new “Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Statement” is to put people off. We want to draw current and future Oak Parkers into our story and make them want to be an active part of it.

Committee language also tends to have an “everything plus the kitchen sink” quality, so they end up with too much, such as including “military status” in the already too long list of characteristics that sometimes divide people — but if there’s one thing Americans seem to have in common, it is honoring military service. 

The majority of village trustees wanted to seek more community input on the new Diversity Statement, so they decided not to approve the revised version. They approved the old version instead, and some felt the board was thereby dissing the addition of “inclusion” and “equity”. 

I generally liked the CRC’s revision but thought it needed another draft and since I happen to have experience as a writer and editor, I took a crack at it. Not meant to be the final, final draft, but I hope it will be considered. Offering it in this public space also gives more people a chance to read it and possibly weigh in. 

Here’s my revision of the revision:

The people of Oak Park choose this community, not just as a place to live, but as a way of life, a place to seek not just shelter and refuge, but acceptance, equality, and belonging. The residents and the governing body of Oak Park, therefore, declare our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity as core values because they are the essential elements of a strong community.

We are committed to diversity. We believe that our differences as well as our commonalities are assets, creating a dynamic village that welcomes, respects and encourages the contributions of all residents, reflecting the rich variety of race, color, ethnic ancestry, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, religious orientation, gender identity or expression, marital and/or familial status, language, mental and/or physical abilities, economic class, political affiliation, or any of the other characteristics that have been used by some to divide or exclude people. We welcome citizens and future citizens alike, and affirm all as members of the human family and members of our community. Our goal is for people of different backgrounds to do more than live next to one another, but to evolve toward unity. 

We are committed to inclusion. We recognize that a free, open, and inclusive community benefits from the full and broad participation of all its residents through active and intentional engagement with one another. We believe the best decisions are made when power is shared collectively and when all are authentically represented in the decision-making process. We strive for empowered participation, full access, and a true sense of belonging for all our residents.

We are committed to equity because diversity and inclusion, while necessary, are not sufficient to achieve true justice. Equity demands that we break down systems of oppression that prevent opportunity and fair outcomes for all. We reject racial barriers that limit and divide us, and we strive to eliminate bias — conscious and unconscious — toward any group of individuals.

Fostering a mutually beneficial, multicultural, inclusive, and equitable community happens only with intentional effort and interaction, treating all fairly, appreciating differences, and uniting in a shared vision for the future. We call this the common good.

The Oak Park story is about overcoming the fear that divides us and facilitating the interconnectedness that unites us. We need everyone in order to tell this story — a story that never ends.

We tell our story by embracing change while honoring the best of our past. The village of Oak Park’s Fair Housing philosophy, codified in a half-century-old ordinance, has fostered diversity and integration and pointed us toward a future that ensures inclusion and equity in both governance and community life. We welcome anyone interested in sharing both our benefits and responsibilities. 

We strive to make these values not just aspirational but operational, leading to fair treatment, equal access, and full participation in the village’s institutions and programs. Our intention is that these principles will form the basis for policy and decision-making in Oak Park. 

Our village has a proud tradition of community involvement and accessible local government. Success in this endeavor prepares us to live, work and thrive in the 21st century.

The President and Board of Trustees of the Village of Oak Park reaffirm their dedication and commitment to these precepts. 

This draft, I think, preserves most of the revisions of the CRC version, streamlines and organizes the statement for greater clarity, and is, I hope, more readable. 

Because readable is what we want the final version of this statement to be.

See Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla’s letter, page 40

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