River Forest officials took a closer look at a potential equity and inclusion partner when representatives of Dominican University gave a presentation on the River Forest school’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) effort at the Sept. 29 virtual village board meeting.

Officials from the village and the university are eyeing a mutually beneficial partnership that will assist the village in becoming a community where there is a commitment to a culture of equity and inclusion and help the university expand its TRHT efforts into the community.

On Sept. 14, village officials announced plans to form two advisory groups, one internal and the other external, to address the equity and inclusion issue. At a committee of the whole meeting Sept. 21, village officials discussed the internal advisory group consisting of community and staff members.

The group is expected to provide guidance, feedback and advice to the village board and the village administrator, creating an action plan that focuses efforts on all village operating departments and developing proper data points to measure equality and inclusion.

The external group would begin a larger community conversation and interaction centered on equity and inclusion, utilizing the existing Twin Villages partnership with the village of Maywood and creating a new partnership with Dominican University using its TRHT framework.

TRHT is a nationwide effort to prepare the next generation of strategic leaders and thinkers to break down racial hierarchies and dismantle the belief in the hierarchy of human value.

The Twin Villages Covenant, approved earlier this summer, is designed “to guide the overarching spirit of our distinct towns to think as one and to interact in more collaborative ways.”

“We talked at our last meeting about becoming a better government,” Village President Cathy Adduci said. “We’re talking today about becoming a better community.”

In her presentation, Sheila Radford-Hill, chief diversity official for Dominican University gave an overview of TRHT in general and the effort at Dominican in particular.

“We need to change the narrative about race,” she said. “We need to eliminate racial inequities on campus and in our communities.

“We’re trying to be an equity-enhancing and anti-racist institution. To do that, we might have to reorder our priorities, not just in the classroom or in the hallway but also in the community.”

Trustees Erika Bachner, Patty Henek and Respicio Vazquez expressed interest in TRHT’s beginnings and its future.

In response to Bachner’s question, Radford-Hill acknowledged that River Forest would be the program’s first community partner but noted the connection with River Forest has already led the group to Maywood.

She noted Dominican has formed partnerships with individual groups in Oak Park but not the village government itself.

“What do you envision beyond the Maywood covenant?” Henek asked.

Noting the group needs “to think broadly,” she suggested issues such as economic development and infrastructure that could be included.

“Is this a model that can grow?” Vazquez asked.  “Can it be the foundation of something we can use into the future?”

Radford-Hill explained that the proposed partnership with River Forest is a project of one of eight TRHT working groups at Dominican.

“The idea is to get the working groups working on projects,” she explained.

In response to a question from Trustee Bob O’Connell, Amy Omi, minister for liturgy and the arts at Dominican, explained that the working groups are headed up by faculty and staff who have passion for their chosen group.

“This is a long-haul forever project,” she said. “We’re going to have fun and be challenged but might crash at times.”

Maywood Trustee Miguel Jones, who also attended the meeting and was instrumental in creating the Twin Villages Covenant, expressed interest in becoming involved with what he called a “historic” effort.

“I’m excited to hear what value we can add,” he said. “There’s relationship-building to be had.”

In addition to Maywood, Adduci, Henek and Vazquez suggested inviting other entities to join the effort.

Henek recommended including Trinity High School, also located in River Forest, and Adduci listed Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200, the River Forest Public Library and “especially” River Forest Elementary School District 90.

Also representing the Dominican TRHT effort at the meeting were Stephanie Samuel, director for community outreach at the Maywood Public Library, and Leila Wills of the Save the Hampton House Committee, a group that is seeking local and national landmark status for the childhood home of Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton.

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