This late summer and into fall we collectively and imperfectly move into our “living with COVID” phase of life. We’re not post-COVID for sure. But we are no longer fully in its grip either. Thanks to science, thanks to government, thanks to mostly rational thinking, we are coping and creating a new normal.

How does that play out in our villages? In small and wondrous ways that build community and connection. Here are three examples we’ve reported on recently:

A parent with a plan and a good memory resurrected Longfellow School’s back-to-school jazz parade. This was a fun and fabulous tradition in the Highland Avenue school’s recent history that disappeared through some combination of graduations and the aforementioned pandemic.

So simple. So joyful. A small group of local jazz players with Longfellow connections invented an impromptu back-to-school parade a number of years back. We reported on it multiple times. Then it went away until Chris Parente, a parent of two Longfellow kids and a resident of the Longfellow district, in part because he’d heard about this cool parade five years back, decided it had to be brought back.

He raised a few hundred bucks on Go Fund Me to pay the musicians and, voila, at 7:30 a.m. on Aug. 24 the jazz parade gathered steam once more and kids and parents happily joined in the march.

The MicroBrew Review turned out a crowd of 2,600 in downtown Oak Park on an intermittently rainy day, Aug. 20, to hoist a few and to raise money for the essential Seven Generations Ahead nonprofit. In its 15th year, the event roared back from pandemic restrictions and gathered 70 brewers and their fans for a zero-waste celebration of hops and hope for our climate.

Featured at the event was Funkytown Brewery, a Black-owned brewery launched by three 2002 OPRF grads. Zach Day, Rich Bloomfield and Greg Williams made the front page of the local paper. Always a good thing.

Still on the food beat, and the southeast Oak Park beat, our Melissa Elsmo reported last week on the upcoming SEOPCO (South East Oak Park Community Organization) annual Barrie Fest. This is a tradition birthed in the resurrection of Barrie Park (Lombard and Garfield) from the decades-back, multi-year horrors of its environmental cleanup from underground coal tar plant origins.

The news this year is the expanded collaboration between SEOPCO and Takeout 25, Oak Park’s innovative food support system. So on Sept. 10, the party at Barrie will also be a food fest with 10 local restaurants joining together to provide an array of dishes to happy folks.

From the nadir of those coal tar years, we’ve watched with admiration and wonder as this Irving/Longfellow/Arts District neighborhood has coalesced, battled and celebrated. The comeback of Irving School from its afterthought status to a premier and connective institution, the escape of the Arts District from the clutches of a recalcitrant property owner, and the work of SEOPCO have combined to strengthen southeast Oak Park.

There is still work to be done to reclaim the Roosevelt Road commercial strip. That needs to become a village government priority for both development and policing strategies.

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