River Forest’s District 90 elementary schools and the River Forest community are gathering once again to celebrate inclusion and diversity in the village during the second annual Pride Walk on June 1.
It was during the height of COVID when the world had shut down that District 90’s PTO responded to the rise of anti-Asian-American bias by creating the Belongingness and Inclusion Committee, which has since expanded to celebrating as many heritages and awareness months as possible.
“We want everyone in our district to feel like they belong, and they are included,” Megan Keskitalo, a PTO member, said.
Keskitalo worked on developing the Pride Walk for Lincoln Elementary School. 511 Park Ave., River Forest, and later the entire District 90 family.
Keskitalo said organizers found the event far better attended than what they had originally planned, only estimating about 20 people would participate, not anticipating the approximate 200 attendees that showed up. The event closed Park Avenue.
“It was just an outpouring of love and community and kindness and support,” Keskitalo said, adding she had agreed to organize the event as she is a member of the LGBTQ+ community. “I was honestly deeply touched by how amazing the whole community was. By how loving, supporting, how many people came out and felt represented and welcomed.”
As she helps organize this year’s walk, Keskitalo understands the need for a loving space and for acceptance from the community.
“I think it is really important for LGBTQ+ youth to experience affirming environments,” Keskitalo said. “That is one of the best things we can do to prevent harm to LGBTQ+ youth and we know that is something that is happening a lot right now, is our LGBTQ+ youth are receiving a lot of media attention or scrutiny in state houses but what they need is love and acceptance. That is what we hope to provide last year and this year.”
This year’s event received a grant from the Youth and Family Services of Oak Park and River Forest Township. The committee used a portion of the $6,940 to help plan the event, including food and beverages as well as a flag, banners, and decorations. Keskitalo said the approval of the grant means the River Forest community is not only behind the work but also working to further the cause.
“It means that they see the need and the desire for belonging and inclusion amongst our families and our children as strongly as we do,” Keskitalo said.
The Pride Walk will take place Thursday, June 1, the first day of Pride Month, at 6 p.m. Participants will meet at Village Hall, 400 Park Ave., River Forest, and walk around the Lincoln School block, ending at the Franklin playground where they will be treated to music and Kona Shaved Ice.