No one could have predicted the abyss of 2020 when it took the stage a year ago. Clearly it has been an almost impossible challenge from start to finish. Globally, nationally, locally, COVID-19 had us by the neck throughout the year.
What’s ahead in 2021 can’t be predicted until we understand when vaccines will be available widely — and fairly — enough and prove effective enough to begin to suppress this pandemic. Any look ahead comes with the proviso that normal may be far off and not exactly normal.
So what are we hoping for in this welcome but uncertain new year?
Continued progress on equity at OPRF. The coming departure of Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams is an unexpected twist in what had been aggressive progress in recent years against the systemic racism that has left this school stuck in place. The current school board plans to hire a permanent replacement for Pruitt-Adams before the April election. We understand the rush. But a bad hire would be a disaster. That election is also critical to maintaining this school’s sharp focus on equity.
It’s a four-way race for village president in Oak Park. That’s a first. And with the pandemic likely upending some traditional routes of campaigning, we worry that divisive social media may supplant a necessary debate of complex issues.
Oak Park’s village government, whoever is elected as village president and as trustees, needs to focus on equity at village hall. There are many opportunities. The list ought to be topped by open and innovative talk about reimagining what public safety looks like in these towns and how our two local police departments can be positively remade to accomplish those goals.
The future of independent, locally owned retail shops and restaurants is imminently threatened by the one-two punch of the pandemic and online sales. Until their presence is radically diminished, we are not going to really grasp the many ways these entrepreneurs create and reinforce a culture of welcome and inclusion that defines our villages. We need to actively, consciously support these businesses so they are still with us when COVID isn’t.
Again, it will be determined by the pandemic but by autumn at the very latest, we need our children back in school full-time. Credit to teachers, to school technicians, to parents and to our kids for their persistence and adaptability in finding some value in virtual learning. But in real ways this will be a lost year. And those losses, we are not surprised to find out, are more profound for our Black and Brown children. There will be tech attributes that we carry over to the new normal. But it cannot replace the social and emotional connection of face-to-face learning.
The Twin Village Covenant between River Forest and Maywood is one of the bright outcomes of the racial reckoning our nation and our villages began to grasp in the aftermath of last summer’s murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. Two towns which have long been wary of the other, based simply on race and fear, found a connection last summer. Altogether remarkable. In 2021 it must become actionable.