Three local organizations have united to back Black candidates running for Oak Park village trustee in the 2021 election. Called Represent Oak Park, the coalition was created by Black Residents of Oak Park, Live Cafe & Creative Space and political action committee (PAC) Activate Oak Park.
“It’s a collaboration of love and respect and support and one of necessity,” said Brynne Hovde, of Activate Oak Park.
Represent Oak Park has committed to supporting village trustee candidates Anthony Clark, Juanta Griffin and Chibuike Enyia, all three of whom are Black and active in the community.
“It’s important that we have Black representation,” said Makesha Flournoy, an organizer with Black Residents of Oak Park, an online community group. “It’s about Black leadership and having their Black experiences center when making decisions at the board table.”
While the candidates collaborate with each other, the group is emphatically not a slate and was not filed as such with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
“Slate implies a particular kind of being that really leads to a homogeneous way of thinking and it signals and messages that we all believe all the same things,” said Reesheda Graham Washington, consultant and Live Café founder.
While traditional to file a slate, not doing so allows candidates to present themselves as nuanced individuals with similar ideals but distinct ideas, Washington explained.
“I’m not sure this group wants to be sending the message that they’re all going to think about all the things in exactly the same way,” said Washington. “I think we see how that sometimes gets us in trouble.”
The candidates all work with and support each other, regardless of their slate status. Represent Oak Park will help facilitate the group as a whole, but also as individual candidates, by providing them with resources needed to successfully conduct a campaign in Oak Park.
Those who want to support Represent Oak Park can do so by donating to the Activate Oak Park PAC. The funds will be used explicitly on means that benefit all three candidates or will be split between the candidates, according to Hovde.
So far, the PAC has amassed $4,547, according to data from the Illinois State Board of Elections. Some of the donations have come from current members of the village board. Back in June, Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla donated $1,132 and Trustee Susan Buchanan donated $250 to the PAC.
“Being able to collaborate, pool resources and work collectively, even if not on a formal slate, is imperative for our candidates to be able to show up in a race,” said Hovde.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents a new and novel reason for the candidates’ desire to work in collaboration with each other, according to Flournoy, who noted that having free time to campaign in general is a “luxury” not everyone has.
“Not to mention, these folks have real jobs. These folks are out here making a living; they’re working class people,” said Flournoy.
A familiar face at village board meetings already, Clark is a well-known community activist, as well as a military veteran and teacher at Oak Park River Forest High School. He founded the non-profit Suburban Unity Alliance group in 2016, which works to promote equity and raise awareness of discrimination.
Griffin, who currently serves as the Oak Park Public Library’s multicultural learning coordinator, is running for village trustee on a platform of promoting inclusion and affordability in Oak Park.
Over the years, Griffin has started a number of youth outreach programs, including “Uniquely You Tea Party” for young Black and biracial girls. Griffin is also instrumental in organizing Oak Park’s yearly Juneteenth celebrations.
Enyia is a small business-owner and native Oak Parker, whose parents moved to the village from Nigeria.
“They moved to this community as renters. He understands and his family understands what it means to work hard, not only to put food on their plates, but also for an education,” said Flournoy.
Enyia mentors Black youth in Oak Park, a community where he grew up but one where he “hasn’t always felt welcome,” Flournoy said.
Clark, Griffin and Enyia all grew up in Oak Park, which Hovde called “exciting.”
“The authenticity and genuine nature of this group of candidates is really inspiring,” said Washington.
Washington called the candidates “consummate professionals” who each possess a “heart of service.”
“They’re dignified ambassadors to the places they are tied to and the people they’re connected to,” said Washington.
COVID-19 permitting, Live Café will serve as campaign headquarters. Each of the three candidates have individual Facebook pages for their campaigns with websites coming soon. Represent Oak Park plans to host campaign and fundraising events for Clark, Griffin and Enyia.
“These are the folks that should be at the [board] table,” said Flournoy. “I’m certain in my heart.”