Credit: Park District of Oak Park

My family is bursting with joy as our community celebrates the opening of the Community Recreation Center (CRC). Oak Parkers made this dream a reality because this is who we are, a high-expectation, never-give-up community committed to elevating the quality of public life for the benefit of everyone.

For individuals and for communities, progress is always in a state of emergence. Sixty years ago, a group of activists and policy makers made a deliberate commitment to put Oak Park on a path to be inclusive, equitable, and racially just. It’s no secret that we are still becoming the community we want to be. Let’s be clear: the advancement of these civic priorities isn’t about checking boxes; it’s about everyone having access to spaces where they feel welcome, comfortable, and have a sense of belonging.

Our park district, or any other agency, can’t simply serve up a sense of belonging; it’s something all of us must help to cultivate. There are lots of things we cannot control, but thankfully we all have the capacity to control how we relate to one another. 

The kind of social progress we seek will have a better chance if we push fear and blame aside and use our capacity as caring, compassionate individuals. The kind of progress our community needs is the human relation kind that comes from assuming the best intentions of a person or entity rather than the narrow-minded worst.

This kind of progress can come from hitting the pause button on a negative social media post. It has a better chance of taking hold if each of us looks inside ourselves to see our own unconscious biases. Progress also comes from trust, or at least a commitment to build trust, even with people who are different from us. 

As children growing up here, my husband and I were exposed to Oak Park’s vision of an equitable community. Through modeling and messaging, this vision was reinforced by our parents and role models and, frankly, that is why we chose to raise our children here.

This vision is why we, and all donors, made a commitment to this project because we all want to live and thrive in an equitable community.

But folks, it is our turn to move this journey forward. We cannot wait for the promise of policy; we must build this kind of community together. 

Let’s use the CRC as a momentum-builder in terms of advancing a sense of belonging in our community. As you use the CRC, please make new connections with others and give them the gift of your full attention because this feeds our desired atmosphere of kindness, community, and that divine sense of belonging.

If you are fortunate to have extra resources, please donate to the Parks Foundation Financial Assistance Fund because even low-cost programs can be too expensive for some families.

Every single member of our community has the capacity to help cultivate a sense of belonging. If any community can fulfill our vision, I am convinced that our generation of Oak Parkers can!

Mary Jo Schuler is co-chair of Community Recreation Center Campaign.

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