I’m a trustee on the Oak Park Village Board. As a local courtesy, we don’t typically comment on incidents that occur in different local governments. However, an incident occurred that was so egregious that I can’t stay silent. A class was created with a racially insensitive title and description. The wording used was so obviously insensitive that many thought the screenshots were fake. No one expected this from an Oak Park government.

The title of the class is “The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” The description reads in part “Your camper will cook and investigate the history and flavors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. … Techniques this week will include African swallow foods, food evolution, and working with seafood.”

I repeat: “the history and flavors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.”

Reducing the pain, suffering, starvation, inhumanity, mass enslavement, and death of the slave trade to “seafood” and “African swallow food” is thoughtless, insensitive, offensive, and traumatic.

That it happened in a village as progressive as Oak Park serves as a stark reminder that representation matters. That even here, racial equity is often absent without the presence of Black voices and leadership.

So I use my voice to express the justified outrage of those who feel silenced, isolated, and further marginalized in a country, and now a village, that disrespects our experience, history, and very existence. We are worthy of more than callous disregard and racially insensitive narrative.

As Dr. King said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

So I express the outrage of those silenced, alongside a desire to find a productive path forward:

A path that includes an apology for the harm caused, that is inclusive of Black voices, and committed to working toward a racially-equitable future.

A path that looks beyond intention and focuses on the impact and trauma created to a community that shares this village but is now feeling unwelcome, disrespected, and invisible.

In the spirit of Oak Park, and the values that this village embodies, we will walk this path with you in an effort to transform this moment of pain into a moment of progress, but you will have to take the first step.

Cory Wesley is an Oak Park village trustee.

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