A river and woods separate River Forest from Maywood. It has always, until now, been about maintaining that separation between these two neighboring villages.
River Forest is largely wealthy and largely white. Maywood is largely Black and Brown and suffers from low incomes and high unemployment. River Forest has only thought about Maywood in terms of containment. Maybe in the old days it was also a source for hired help.
Monday night, though, not even a month after the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, all that changed in a way that feels startling, wonderful and hope-filled.
By a unanimous vote, the River Forest Village Board ratified the Twin Cities Covenant, a working document that pledges collaboration and partnership between these two villages. When it meets in July, the Maywood Village Board is expected to take reciprocal action.
This is an aspirational effort to join the futures of these towns. The covenant will “guide the overarching spirit of our distinct towns to think as one and to interact in more collaborative ways.” But its goal is to have meat on the bone as it calls for “a regional perspective on commercial and residential investment/development.”
While the death of Mr. Floyd has sparked a month of now worldwide protests calling out systemic racism, it is telling that the opening sentence of the covenant refers not to George Floyd but to the hate crime reportedly committed at the River Forest Jewel in early June when a prominent local resident and developer, Rob Palley, allegedly assaulted, first verbally and then physically, a Black woman he had encountered in the Starbucks inside the store.
It was that racist act that led a Maywood woman to talk to a Maywood village trustee about next steps. And that Maywood leader, Miguel Jones, opened a conversation with Cathy Adduci, River Forest’s president.
The outcome is a pact based on “principles of humanity, equity and inclusion.”
An obvious question is: If River Forest has the gumption and the grace to partner with Maywood, what is keeping Oak Park from doing the same with its neighbors in Austin?
The historic bonds between that West Side of Chicago neighborhood and Oak Park are deep and profound and lovely. Until the rapid racial resegregation of Austin in the late 1960s and ’70s, Oak Park and Austin were effectively one community. Fear and ignorance based on race led Oak Park to wall off Austin in ways psychological and physical. It is also true that Austin has been suspicious of Oak Park for decades, worrying over gentrification.
There have been genuine connections bravely built between Austin and Oak Park, especially in recent years, mainly through the efforts of nonprofits and faith leaders. But outside of a mostly collaborative relationship between Oak Park police and Austin’s 15th District, Oak Park’s village government, which saw its heyday of leadership on race end several decades back, has little connection.
That needs to change. River Forest — yes, River Forest — needs to be a model.