The Village of Oak Park is expected to begin measuring its policies and practices based on a newly developed racial equity toolkit as early as this fall. The toolkit will be used as an instrument to determine the effectiveness of current and future village procedures and practices related to achieving a racially equitable community.
“Our goal isn’t just about reducing the gaps between white people and people of color, but it’s really about raising the bar for everyone and giving everyone an opportunity to succeed,” Assistant Village Manager Kira Tchang explained to the board at its June 27 meeting.
“When we talk about equity, we’re talking about eliminating racial disparities and improving outcomes for all,” she said. “What that means is that our strategies need to be targeted based on the needs of specific groups who may need more support or different support.”
The toolkit itself is not “a very fancy document,” according to Tchang, but was created based on materials from the Government Alliance on Racial Equity (GARE), which pleased Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla. GARE is also the racial equity education agency of the village’s Community Relations Commission.
The village’s racial equity toolkit is intended “to force the reviewer to delve more deeply into the specific equity aspects” when analyzing existing or future decisions, policies, budgetary items, programs and practices.
The village board was widely pleased with the toolkit, the implementation of which will begin over the remainder of the summer and the start of the fall, beginning with a meeting of the Community Relations Commission next month. The village’s human resources department will train village department heads and other decision makers in using the toolkit.
By October, the board will begin seeing the tool’s impact analysis on agenda items and by November, the village will begin reviewing existing policies, programs and practices. Village staff also hope to have a director of diversity, equity and inclusion hired in the next four to six weeks.
“This is going to be a process,” said Tchang.
Some trustees raised a few concerns about the toolkit. Trustee Lucia Robinson asked for some questions to be revised to examine unintended inequities. She also flagged that “equity” and “racial equity” seemed to be used interchangeably throughout the presented materials.
“It’s really important to recognize that racial equity is not the same as equity,” she said.
Trustee Walker-Peddakotla, however, said that racial equity “gets at underlying equities at the root of law and at the root of government,” she said.
Citing an increase in the local Hispanic population, Trustee Ravi Parakkat asked that the word race itself be more clearly defined so as to include those residents. He said currently their inclusion was not “coming through in his reading” of the toolkit.
Trustee Chibuike Enyia disagreed with Parakkat, saying he does not believe the racial equity toolkit highlights any one particular race over another.
“It should be pretty clear that it covers all races,” he said. “In my reading, that’s what I assumed.”
The ultimate goal of the toolkit, Enyia reiterated, is to eliminate disparities among “all of the minorities that have a gap” to create an environment where every individual can succeed. Citizen engagement, he said, plays a critical role in reaching that ultimate outcome.
“Part of what we need to focus on when we are trying to bridge this gap is the engagement process and figuring out, ‘Hey, how do we standardize the engagement process so that no stakeholders are left out of the conversation,’” he said. “If we achieve that, then we know that we are truly bridging the gap and getting to the goals at hand.”