We don’t have a vaccine yet for COVID-19, but we do have an antidote. Community, collaboration, cooperation, confinement. Regrettably, “we’re all in this together,” the popular slogan right out of the gate turned out not to be true nationwide, which is why we’re still mired in the pandemic. Not enough community-mindedness. All we had to do was embrace confinement, wear face masks in public, practice physical distancing, wash our hands a lot. Americans couldn’t do it. Not all together. Some “knew” better, didn’t care, didn’t trust the authorities. Americans still believe more in individual rights than in community.

We don’t have a vaccine yet for the virus known as racism, but we do have an antidote. Community again, but community taken to another level. What Martin Luther King Jr. called “the beloved community.”

Creating the beloved community, person by person, leaving no one behind, is the only way to eradicate racism. Oak Park has a good base but we still have a long way to go. 

“Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives,” said King, who spoke about it often:

“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, so that when the battle is over, a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppressor.”

“The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But the way of nonviolence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”

“Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the ‘fight fire with fire’ method is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community. … Yes, love — understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies — is the solution to the race problem.”

“It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

Oak Park has built community in a number of ways: the Fair Housing Ordinance in 1968, resisting white flight, a public commitment to maintaining stable diversity, celebrating that diversity, block parties, the Community Relations Commission and Department, the Housing Center, the Residence Corporation, the Equity Assurance Program, the Village Diversity Statement, and more. Laying the groundwork. 

Our challenge is to build the beloved community on top of it. White Oak Parkers must acknowledge the systemic racism we all grew up with and the racism that lies within each of us. We must surrender our attachment to white supremacy and white privilege and get over our white fragility and become part of a community that, as Dr. King said, requires “a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”

Not easy at all. But for the first time in my life, it feels doable. It won’t happen, though, without community, collaboration, cooperation.

Which brings us to the 40th anniversary of Wednesday Journal. I’ve been here 30 of those years, long enough to know that this newspaper has played a small but significant role in the process, and has a role to play still, reflected in the company’s new name, “Growing Community Media.” Double meaning there. We aspire to grow “community media” for sure, but we also see ourselves as media with a mission: to “grow community.” 

You need a newspaper with a clue in order to “grow community.” Wednesday Journal has a clue, but we also have to provide some of the glue. A newspaper is doing its job when it allows readers to experience the town they live in as a dynamic, vibrant, interconnected social system, aka “community.”  

The community would exist without a newspaper, but you would only know one small part of it. Your part. And the community would feel fairly static. Community wouldn’t grow without media around to reflect it back to readers.

So first, Wednesday Journal has to stay alive. And we’ve done that for 40 years, no small feat, especially in the last decade. 

In February of 2014, in a column titled, “Will WJ make it to 40?” here’s what I wrote:

Like every other newspaper, this company has been struggling — ever since the Great Recession of 2009. The recovery has been painfully slow, and there’s no boom waiting around the corner. Advertising and subscriptions alone won’t keep this newspaper afloat forever. The internet won’t ride to the rescue either.

The free market alone cannot save us. To make this enterprise sustainable, readers must view Wednesday Journal as an indispensable community asset and be willing to support that asset with donations. 

Yes, it takes a village. If not Oak Park, then where? Well, River Forest, too, we hope.

There’s a reason the good folks of a little burg in northern Wisconsin are able to support a championship-caliber NFL franchise, and it’s not free-market economics. It’s the collective that makes the difference for the Green Bay Packers.

Like NPR and PBS, sooner than later we will have to become donor-supported. And that won’t happen unless we hit the sweet spot for the majority of readers who pick up our product.

This newspaper is only as good as it is because the creative, talented people of Oak Park and River Forest feel enough ownership to contribute to its excellence. We need to take that a step further. Maybe several steps.

We need a new model for community journalism, one that demands a lot more of the community. The old model is insufficient to the stormy present, as Lincoln said once upon a crisis. We must think anew and act anew. We need a combination of free-market forces and collective investment. 

Without community support, will we be around to celebrate Wednesday Journal’s 40th anniversary in 2020? 

Your guess is as good as mine.

I didn’t originate these ideas. They were kicked around the office for some time. Dan Haley made it happen, and he did it in the nick of time — just before the coronavirus arrived — or we might not be having this conversation.  

We made it to 40! Readers are contributing their creativity and their treasure. 

Will Wednesday Journal be around to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2030? Only if we build the beloved community.

Can we build a beloved community? 

Not without a community-supported newspaper.

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