I am a phenomenal woman. Birthed, loved and raised by phenomenal women. Taught, mentored, and befriended by other phenomenal women. Led and followed by yet more phenomenal women. Some might think of this as self-aggrandizement. Woman, traditionally, are supposed to wait for compliments; compliments that usually focus on characteristics that are of value to others. It is exciting to witness so many women, young and old, embrace their worth and unapologetically stand in their glory. The presence of it is not new. It has always been there. But women, particularly women of color, are finally claiming their space for themselves and not just for others.
So much of what makes Oak Park a pleasant place to live involves the vision and free labor of women. The more I learn about how Oak Park works and what it takes to have good schools and a good quality of life, the more women I get to know. That is not to say that men do not play a role in the leadership of the community. However, the important work that so often ensures that things actually get done and improve have involved women seeing a need and stepping in to fill it; particularly when it involves our children. Women have done the primary work when our systems have fallen short. School volunteers and PTOs, P!NG, Kuumba Kids, APPLE, and DivCo are a short list of efforts that help to make reality the promise of what Oak Park could be.
The pandemic has also shown the extent to which women are on the front lines of serving those most in need in our hospitals, shelters, food pantries, child care centers and schools. They are leading efforts to keep people safe. They are leading social and racial justice movements and calling out the injustices perpetrated by individuals and systems. But more importantly, many are doing the work to create the world we want to see. I have no doubt that the women on D200’s Board of Education at Oak Park and River Forest High School are the reason why the Student Resource Officer contract was ended.
We are seeing women increasingly seek positions of power and control in which they can make the decisions and allocate the resources needed to make change. It seems it will be up to women to reimagine a country and a community in which the ability for one group to thrive doesn’t rest upon the need to stand on the backs (or kneel on the necks) of another. More women of color are giving themselves permission to vocalize their personal aspirations and pursue opportunities that put them out front and not just behind the scenes; and many are doing it in a way that serves others as they serve themselves. Many are doing this while still working in and out of the home, raising children and caring for elders.
Women of color are often questioned in ways that are not used for men. Women can make mistakes or not be well suited for positions just as men have been. But you seldom hear folks questioning whether even poorly performing men should be paid their salaries, have the intelligence for the job, or care about their constituents. Men who forcefully advocate their position are fervent and dedicated; women who do the same are labeled shrill and unreasonable. Luckily, many women of color no longer care what they are called by those who would see them fail. We will support each other, bind each other’s wounds and continue the work that must be done.
2020 has turned into a trying year in many ways, from the wide-spread deaths to the economic hardships felt by individuals and businesses. It has also laid bare the inequities and faults within our public and private systems. This provides us an opportunity to create the systems change required to have communities that work for everyone.
Women have been driving the changes we need to see in federal and local policy and it would be beneficial to have more women of color involved in local government. However, it is a challenge. Our village governments are not structured for the participation of the full time employed; hence the reason why so many have been those of wealth and business folks who can determine their own hours or have supports at home. It will most likely take women to reimagine political participation in a way that is much more efficient and inclusive. Based on the women with whom I have had the pleasure to work, I have no doubt that they are up to the task.
I have also birthed a phenomenal woman. And I look forward to her and her generation continuing the work; but finally, on their terms.