River Forest officials took another historic step at the Oct. 26 virtual village board meeting, unanimously approving a resolution supporting a community partnership with Dominican University to fight racial and social injustice.
The action follows the Twin Villages Covenant they entered into with Maywood earlier this year.
Officials from the village and Dominican 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 Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation efforts.
Any uncertainty about the decision was dispelled by Dominican senior Jonathan Seals, who described how unsafe and unwelcoming it feels for him as a Black man to walk in River Forest.
“In the past, when I walked in River Forest, I felt unwelcomed and out of place by community members, including the River Forest Police Department,” he said. “When I would walk through the community, parents and children would stop playing and talking to stare at me as I walked past their homes.”
Seals described an incident the morning of the meeting in which a police car slowed down so the officer could look at him, apparently because a Black man with a beard resembling him was suspected of committing a crime.
“That’s scary,” he added.
Seals also expressed optimism that the partnership between Dominican and River Forest could change that culture.
“At the current moment it’s not safe to walk in River Forest,” he said. “I don’t feel safe right now, but I hope, with this new partnership, River Forest will become more welcoming to people of color by creating a culture that embraces and values diversity.
“To create change in the community, you have to create that culture that everybody follows. This partnership could be a big step in the right direction.”
Fellow Dominican senior Lauren Bergert also addressed the board, saying she “fully supports” the partnership.
“Our nation is suffering right now,” she added. “We must actively work together to implement effective change.”
After discussing the partnership thoroughly at the Sept. 29 and Oct. 12 village board meetings, comments by elected officials were brief.
“This is truly a historic moment for River Forest,” Village President Cathy Adduci said. “I didn’t think we would get here this quick.”
In response to a question from Adduci, Sheila Radford-Hill, chief diversity official for Dominican, explained that the executive committee of the Dominican Board of Trustees would discuss the partnership in November with the full board expected to vote on the matter in December.
Trustees Erika Bachner and Patty Henek thanked Bergert and Seals for addressing the village board, with Henek calling the students “brave to speak.”
Citing the “importance of the work of changing the mindset of people in the community,” Bachner said she is “looking forward to working on this.”
As outlined previously by Radford-Hill, one or two village trustees are expected to be designated to serve as liaisons to the partnership.
The resolution calls for Dominican and River Forest to collaborate with Concordia University, also in River Forest, as well as Maywood through the Twin Villages Covenant.