Danielle Walker, the Village of Oak Park’s first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer | Provided

The Village of Oak Park is pushing forward on its plans to conduct a racial equity assessment in the community. The project will begin in earnest as early as this spring. The assessment is intended to provide the foundation of the village’s overarching racial equity plan, one of the board’s primary goals.

The village’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, Danielle Walker, gave the board of trustees an educational presentation regarding the assessment process during a special meeting held Monday night. 

“Sometimes society tosses around words like ‘diversity,’ ‘equity’ and ‘inclusion’ without a grounded understanding of what those words mean,” said Walker.

As Oak Park seeks to be a leader in racial equity, it is important to understand how those words interact but also delineate from each other, said Walker. She said the assessment will be a “really pivotal step” in the progression of racial equity in the village. 

“It’s not a cure,” said Walker of the assessment. “It provides clues or a snapshot to address disparities.”

Using a weathervane as a metaphor, Walker said the assessment will serve as a tool to point Oak Park in the direction of achieving racial equity. The assessment will measure to what extent the Village of Oak Park is contributing to the systemic fair treatment of all races in such a way that produces equitable outcomes and opportunities for all. The evaluation is a more “macro” type of evaluation, Walker told the board.

The village has budgeted $150,000 for a consultant to facilitate the assessment, with a request for proposals to be released in the near future and a vendor selected by February. That amount is on par with the magnitude of the study, according to Walker. For that same reason, Walker said having a consultant will help the village navigate the assessment, which will be the village’s first ever dedicated to racial equity. 

The design of the assessment will be solidified in March, which is also when the assessment will start being dispersed through the community. Community engagement has historically been a struggle, as Trustee Lucia Robinson noted, but Walker and the consultant will be “intentional” in selecting focus groups and developing surveys. The village will also collaborate with other taxing bodies, which Walker called “paramount.”

“We’re integrating principles of collecting empirical data and creating a baseline that we can benchmark over time,” said Village Manager Kevin Jackson. “If there are gaps, we can design programs and policies to address those gaps.”

The data collection period will last through the second quarter of the year, with analysis happening in quarter three. Analysis will include the development of the final report. Once the report is brought forward to the board, a racial equity action plan will be implemented, which is expected to occur in the fourth quarter of this year.

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