If it were time to hand out another of the Journal’s Villager of the Year awards — we know it is only February — it would hands down go to Reesheda Graham-Washington, owner of Live Café and a respected facilitator on equity and other issues.

We were taken by Graham-Washington’s comments at the well-attended vigil on Jan. 7 outside the Oak Park Avenue coffee shop and gathering space after a brick was thrown at the café wrapped in a racist message.

The tone of her message that evening was strong, direct, but also calming and healing. This was not necessarily a hate crime, we recall her saying, but it was most certainly a “fear crime.” We’d call it both. But acknowledging that racial hate comes percolating out of irrational fear is a key point. Not as the basis to make excuses but to plan a response.

Today, Stacey Sheridan reports the inconclusive results of the investigation of the incident by Oak Park police. Available surveillance video does not show the crime, said an Oak Park police commander. So while the case is currently closed, Commander Bill Rygh said the department is hopeful there will be new leads to track.

Graham-Washington says the Oak Park police were responsive and proactive. She said the connection between her and the department was “relational” and she contrasted that to the “objectified transaction” that many people feel in their encounters with cops.

Right there we have the basis for the sort of honest and open conversation about policing that Oak Park’s elected and appointed leaders have been fully unable to have since the racial reckoning began last summer with the murder of George Floyd by cops in Minneapolis. The village board bickers and provokes intensifying division and cloaking a certain desire to do better on policing in this village.

Graham-Washington’s tone also contrasts with the pathetic and debilitating social media exchanges currently underway among principals in our story from last week about Trustee Simone Boutet’s choice to involve police in a text message contretemps with Anthony Clark, a candidate for village trustee. This hurtful nonsense will blow up our opportunity for a healthy politics. 

We need to do better. Resheeda Graham-Washington ought to be our model.

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