It's June. It's a Saturday. You're bound to come across a block party somewhere in Oak Park.
Block parties are a staple of summer in the village. Kids on bikes. A bounce house in the street. Grownups managing the grill. Neighbors getting to know one another.
Block parties began in the mid-1970s in Oak Park and they are still going strong. Their beginning has little to do with bounce houses and grilling hot dogs, though.
"One of the things that we were trying to do was to get people together," recalls Sherlynn Reid, who was director of the village government's Community Relations Department for many years. "And we thought that having block parties would be one way to get people on blocks [together] because we were trying to encourage racial diversity throughout the community. Having organized block parties would help people get to know each other and also ensure diversity and inclusion of people of different races and backgrounds."
And that's how block parties got started, Reid says.
In those early days, the community relations staff would assist residents in setting a date for their party and contact the police. "Because a policeman would come out and talk to residents," Reid says.
Oak Parkers took to the idea. "They went right for them," Reid says. "That's why we had so many. It took some people, especially in the blocks where they are more racially diverse, a while to decide whether [parties] were something they wanted to do."
Now there's probably not a block that hasn't had a party over the years. And the village still engages them "as a way to build community spirit, meet neighbors and have fun," its website says. "From time to time the number of block parties may have to be limited due to demand."
And that says they're still popular, much to Reid's delight.
Block party resources:
Block Parties in OP: www.oak-park.us/our-community/block-parties-garage-sales, 708.358.5700 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
OPPL Book Bike: oppl.org/visit/the-oak-park-book-bike/book-bike-make-a-request/
Dinner & Dialogue: www.oak-park.us/our-community/community-relations/dinner-dialogue
SAY Connects is sponsored by the Good Heart Work Smart Foundation in partnership with Success for All Youth (SAY).
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