What holds a community together?

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By Linda Francis

Director Success of All Youth

We started with diversity – removing systemic barriers that kept certain people out. It then increasingly became a choice – a conscious decision to live somewhere with others, who do not look like you, pray like you or have the same family structure as you. Still, others may have come for the proximity to downtown, the access to public transportation, good schools, stately old homes or the quiet and safety. Regardless, these are all attributes of Oak Park that we proudly tout as benefits. But the only thing that is constant is change; and as we continue to grow and change, we must decide what it is that continues to make this Oak Park and what will hold us together in this shared home.

But what of those that never bought into this shift or do not hold diversity and equity as desirable aspirations? I posit that the question is moot at this point. Equity is the healthy evolution of diversity -- a realization that those formerly kept out are not just visiting; providing occasional color and spice to the existing pot. Rather, they are an important aspect of the meal itself; and their presences will inevitably change the recipe.  It cannot stay the same. That has always been so. So we must decide what we hold onto and what we let go. We must also decide what this new thing will be -- this thing we make together. If done with care and a desire to lift everyone, systems will improve and we may stumble a bit as we increasingly learn to do better.  Our children have growing rates of anxiety, depression and substance use. Keeping things as they are is no longer an option, for the existing structures are already crumbling.

As we move forward in making our community equitable and inclusive of the voices and needs of all of its members, here are some things I hope you will keep in mind:

1.Intentionality. Becoming an equitably diverse community does not happen without intentionality. Few things worthwhile just happen, miraculously. We must intentionally build systems that support and care for all of us; which means sometimes focusing on those most in need at the time in ways that ultimately improve systems for all – targeted universalism

2.Core values. Divisiveness has not been built on difference; it has been built on selfishness. There will always be differences. A commitment to the human values of neighborly love, trust, mutual support and hospitality is sorely needed

3.Centering a unifying concept. We may have differences, but the act of working on this together is where we will find our commonality. Binding relationships are built when people work on challenges and experience success together; not just by occupying the same space or worse yet, fighting over resources or perceived power

4.Good methods for dealing with conflict. We won't always agree, but we must find productive ways of acknowledging that difference while moving forward. 'Head in the sand' or 'willful indecision' approaches just don't work

5.Responsible cooperation. No one entity or institution can create this alone. We must work together and trust and respect each other's strengths and knowledge

6.Clear infrastructure. We must choose our leaders wisely and help them implement solutions.  Everyone has a role to play.

7.Leadership free of domination. Everyone's voice is important even when it gets messy. Strong leaders will listen to perspectives, consider the evidence and make decisions based on the common good, and not just opinion or expediency

8.Collective efforts based on facts. We all have opinions and feelings; and those opinions and feelings need to be understood; but they cannot drive decisions. Evidence-based decision making is crucial

9.Transparent decision making. Communication is vital. Clearly stating the challenges, data, analysis, positions and rationale for decisions is imperative; as is admitting when we are wrong or have made mistakes

10.Integrity. The state of being whole and undivided, even when times get rough; sticking with our values and principles; but knowing when to bend toward justice

Linda Francis is Director of Success of All Youth

SAY Connects is sponsored by the Good Heart Work Smart Foundation in partnership with Success for All Youth (SAY).

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