I am a community member and local teacher. In the past weeks I’ve read several articles/letters in both Wednesday Journal and the Chicago Tribune discussing the student protest at the mayor’s house. It is ironic that the only time these students have been able to get the community’s attention is when property has been damaged.
For two years these young people have been writing letters, starting petitions, staging protests, marches and sit-ins — calling for change in the hope that someone would listen. Over the summer, my family and I attended a Black Lives Matter protest/march at Holmes School that this student group helped organize. At the march’s conclusion, I listened with tears in my eyes to two of my former sixth-graders speak to the crowd, each bravely describing in detail the pain they experience growing up as young Black people in America — and in “progressive” Oak Park.
It takes tremendous courage to stand in front of a sea of strangers and speak about something so personal and so painful. And statistics support what they are saying. According to Oak Park Freedom to Thrive, a local organization that has been gathering and analyzing data on police “field stops” (when an officer stops a person in public to ask questions about a crime), 96 of 102 minors stopped by the Oak Park police between 2015-20 were Black. Two of them were 10 years old.
The statistics are staggering. The courage of 14- and 15-year-olds, speaking out about this reality, is also staggering. It is my hope that our elected officials will also have courage — the courage to listen instead of condemn. Make time for these young people — your constituents who are too young to vote, or run for office themselves — and listen to what they have to say. Listen to their ideas for making our village a place where everyone — no matter their age or race — feels safe, valued and respected.