Back in the 1970s, Oak Park was frantically trying to figure out if it were possible to build a community that was racially integrated for the long haul. A lot of visionary projects were launched in that remarkable decade.

But it was a simple idea fostered back then that we have long seen as among the most impactful efforts. Block parties. Novel idea at the time. Close the street. Fire up the grills. Get people — neighbors but strangers — to spend a day together. It allowed the new people, mainly white people but some new black residents, to know each other, to create bonds, to lessen the chance fear would convince a neighbor to pull up stakes for Elmhurst. 

Right now in the throes of this pandemic, 50 years out from the first block parties, we are most inspired by the power of the block to find ways to create connection, to lessen isolation, to offer some hope in a seriously bleak moment.

Last week’s front page had the image of Olivia Ortiz taking part in a fun run on the 500 block of Highland. A couple of weeks ago we featured the weekday morning ritual on the 800 block of Linden where families, mostly with kids but not entirely, come outside at 8:30 a.m. to recite the Pledge of Allegiance before eLearning begins.

Over the weekend, we posted a video on our Facebook page of the 500 block of North Elmwood gathering — but not overly gathering — to accompany a recording of Bill Withers’ singing “Lean on Me.” It was wonderful. Made more wonderful by remembering Withers who died just last week.

We also posted a gallery of photos by our Alex Rogals of the Mann School Teacher Parade last week. Another great, simple, powerful idea that had great meaning for Mann students and for their teachers.

We’ve heard of other blocks banging pots and pans ala New Year’s Eve. We know there is a lot of shopping for elders going on. The senior outreach program in River Forest is going gangbusters. Tell us what else is going on where you live in Oak Park and River Forest. Send us an email at or

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