Last winter, the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation partnered with the Nova Collective, a women-owned, Black-owned consultancy founded in Oak Park, to conduct a community needs assessment for the west Cook County region. We convened a series of focus groups and conversations centered on racial equity, with the goal of building trust and determining priorities where the Foundation and our broader community could work together to create a more just society. Participants included people who have not historically been invited into such conversations, along with community leaders and frontline staff from grassroots organizations serving those in need.

Through this process, the Foundation sought to understand our communities’ greatest needs, and acknowledge our often under-celebrated assets. We heard stories of struggle, but also voices filled with pride and spirit, that despite all odds continue to push forward and challenge deeply rooted systems of inequity. These valued community members identified a number of priorities for building racial equity, represented in the “word cloud” accompanying this story. All of these needs intersect and interrelate in a person’s daily life. This interconnectedness was clearly evident in our conversations with focus group participants, who often described multiple issues woven together.

The top priorities — as well as data from a broad range of sources that supports these findings— were published in our Community Voices report, which can be downloaded at

We view the report as a beginning, a spark to galvanize not just the Foundation and nonprofit sector, but to inspire local government, schools and the community at large. It contains not just problems but also community generated solutions, and provides a framework for future efforts toward racial equity.

These solutions are achievable, with your help. Together, we can work to eradicate symptoms of poverty like hunger, homelessness, and health disparities. And together we can build upon the legacy of our progressive region, and address the deep root causes of racial and wealth inequality in order to provide everyone an opportunity to prosper and thrive. There’s a role for each and every one of us, and it takes all of us to make a real impact.Help us ensure the voice of every member of our community is heard by making a donation to the Foundation or to any of the deserving nonprofits in this special guide.

Join the discussion on social media!