Oak Park helped Ferguson work toward integration

Troubled town hosted Oak Park Exchange Congress in 1994

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The fatal police shooting of a black teenager and subsequent protests earlier this month in Ferguson, Mo., have made the St. Louis suburb a household name across the country.

News outlets have reported imbalances in racial diversity in the majority black community of about 21,000, with much of the focus aimed at the Ferguson Police Department, which is comprised of nearly all white officers.

But 20 years ago, the battle in Ferguson was against white flight, and community leaders turned to Oak Park in an effort to foster racial diversity.

In 1994, the city of Ferguson hosted the 18th annual meeting of the Oak Park Exchange Congress, an organization established in 1977 that held forums in communities across the nation to share strategies for integration.

Former village clerk Sandra Sokol, who attended the Exchange Congress meeting in Ferguson, said the forum was supported by the Ferguson city council, school officials, churches and other community leaders.

She said part of the purpose of the Exchange Congress was to "tell the good story" about integration success in Oak Park. She said the forum, which was funded by the Village of Oak Park, was held in roughly a dozen municipalities over the years in addition to the forums held in Oak Park. Other cities which hosted the congress include: Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights, Ohio; Bloomfield, Conn.; Southfield and Oak Park, Mich.; Starret City, New York; and Teaneck and Willingboro, New Jersey; among others.

Sokol said it was difficult to recall the specific issues facing the city of Ferguson during the 1994 Exchange Congress, but added that it is "shocking and sad" to see what is happening there today. She said she was surprised by the roughly two-thirds minority population in Ferguson and that the police department there is not more integrated.

News reports have shown that the Ferguson police department is almost entirely white, despite race demographics of residents. The city's elected council is all white.

"I remember that there were all kinds of people of good faith (in 1994) working in the community … I'm sure there are still lots of people of good faith who want to live and work together in harmony, including the police department," Sokol said.

Bobbie Raymond, former vice president of the Exchange Congress and the founder of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, also traveled to Ferguson for the 1994 forum. She also had difficulty recalling the details of the event, but noted that every community that participated in the Exchange Congress faced the issue of white flight.

Raymond said the clashes between police and residents in Ferguson "reopens a raw wound" over the question of whether police treat blacks differently than they do whites.

"And if they do, and they themselves may be black or white, then why do they do that?" Raymond asked.

While the forums addressed issues of education, housing and economic development as three key elements to battle resegregation, Raymond said the three aspects must work together for the strategy to be successful. She said public entities such as police departments also play a critical role, not just in their interactions with the public, but also in the information they provide residents.

"If somebody is looking for housing and the police say don't live here because of crime, then people take that as the most important source of information," Raymond said. "That could be the decisive factor in where you move."

Rob Breymaier, executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, which advocates for housing integration, said his organization consults with some 3,500 families searching for housing in Oak Park every year.

"Everybody comes to Oak Park with a preconceived notion of what are the good parts and the bad parts of Oak Park, and race is the number one component of that preconceived notion," he said.

Breymaier said he educates clients on a daily basis that crime is not that different from one part of the village to the other. He said white applicants are frequently concerned about living in areas of the village with more black residents and black applicants are often concerned about discrimination in predominantly white areas.

He said that integration, however, is just one part of the process in aiming to achieve racial harmony.

"After you have integration as a foundation for equity in your community you then have to use it by getting people to talk to one another and make sure that you are providing services that are equitable," he said.

Breymaier joined the OPRHC in 2006, so could not give anecdotal information about the 1994 Exchange Congress forums, but said the community of Ferguson somehow did not embrace these principles wholeheartedly.

"If you want to promote diversity, then you have to have public officials that are reflective of the population; that's the opposite of the case there," he said, noting that the although roughly two-thirds of Ferguson's population is black, the majority of city council members, school board members and the police department are white.

"That's a huge problem," Breymaier said. "That's an indication that they weren't taking seriously diversity and integration in the community and certainly not any kind of inclusiveness."

Email: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Charli Miles from Eureka  

Posted: November 23rd, 2014 8:10 PM

Check out this article, it is quite accurate and balanced at the following link: www.Vdare.com/posts/ ferguson-is-a-story-of-the-section-8-era

Winter Skye from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: November 16th, 2014 8:47 AM

@Charli: How do you know that the victim and his family lived in public housing? I find your remarks very interesting and a new slant on things. So very true about lack of participation in local government and voting and the results being what they are. If your stats are correct, it is downright pathetic. The distortion by race shills in the media these days is actually quite dangerous. Painting a picture of continuous inequity while conveniently ignoring stubborn facts is criminal and at least partially responsible for racial tension (which is its goal, actually). The meme spread about voter suppression in the last election flies in the face of your comment.

Charli Miles from Eureka, Mo  

Posted: November 15th, 2014 8:52 PM

I lived in Ferguson for 23 years & attended the 1994 National Oak Park Exchange Congress. Ferguson is not the Ferguson that it was in even in 1994; neither am I or anyone else, we all have changed. A natural integration was hindered both by some white flight and black infusion being supported by Section 8, HUD, or low income housing such as that in which Michael Brown lived. Only 12% of the population voted in last election and not 1 black person, though %70 of population, filed for office.


Posted: August 29th, 2014 3:44 PM

Good to see that the WJ continues to provide a same place for meetings of the OPKKK....

In Glen Ellyn formerly from OP  

Posted: August 28th, 2014 6:54 PM

Island Dweller- yes, you basically just reiterated what I said. We agree.

Island Dweller   

Posted: August 28th, 2014 6:35 PM

Mose, how about examining things on a case by case basis before talking about generalizing how police have treated people, and using that as the basis for judging Wilson. I'm not saying there are not issues with that department, I'm saying the cop deserves to be judged based on the facts of the situation, and not based on how a community feels about white cops in general.

Island Dweller   

Posted: August 28th, 2014 6:31 PM

Glen Ellyn, I've not forgotten "history", but it does seem like "history" is for many an excuse for pulling the race card. These riots and looting started before ANY evidence was analyzed. A lot of he said, she said, and people crying racism before the fact have even been presented.

Mose from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 28th, 2014 5:23 PM

It does beg the question. Have the police in Ferguson applied the law equally to all?

In Glen Ellyn formerly from OP  

Posted: August 28th, 2014 4:26 PM

We do forget sometimes just why the white cop vs. black perp is NOT the same as black cop vs. white perp (or black on black): HISTORY. But, jeez, stop pulling that card already at every opportunity, like crying wolf, and stop denying the facts that clearly refute oppression or racism.

Island dweller  

Posted: August 28th, 2014 4:02 PM

Mose, yeah, Brown's was the only life lost, but it still begs the question if he brought it onto himself. Seems like everyone and there brother automatically makes the determination that if a black person is shot by a white cop, the cop is automatically a racist murder, and the black person an automatic victim. Ironic how that ideology doesn't work the other way around for the unarmed white person shot and killed by the black cop in Dallas.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 27th, 2014 6:37 PM

Dan's statement - The resegregation that Ferguson is experiencing should be a reminder of how fragile Oak Park's integration or racial diversity is. Tell us more about the dangers you see Dan. If I am wrong accusing you of race baiting, I apologize.

Dan Lauber from River Forest  

Posted: August 27th, 2014 5:59 PM

Just gotta love how Mr. Murtaugh puts words in my mouth and then accuses me of race baiting. I never wrote what he said I wrote. I did caution how the resegregation of Ferguson MO is a reminder of how fragile stable racial integration is in a sea of segregation. I doubt if you'll find anybody expert on this subject who would disagree. Even Juliet Saltman's classic tome on community integration is titled ""A Fragile Movement.:The Struggle for Neighborhood Stabilization."

Mose from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 27th, 2014 5:16 PM

Give it a rest. The only life lost was Mike Brown's.

John Q  

Posted: August 27th, 2014 5:11 PM

Mose, jump in a lake. Who said anything about whether or not Brown's death was a tragedy? Who made any hateful comments about Brown's life or death? I'll repeat my sentiments that the only "offensive" thing I read was you challenging the race of posters because you didn't think their responses "sounded" like those of black people. It's a tragedy that people are rioting and looting stores and don't care that an officer was hurt and a store robbed before Brown was shot. That's the tragedy.

Mose from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 27th, 2014 1:38 PM

Race has been part of the national and our local discussion, Ebony. Thankfully you have refrained from making more hateful comments about Mike Brown's life and death.. May peace and love fill your heart and remember in your prayers a family grieving the loss of their son. Let's leave it there.

Mose from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 27th, 2014 1:31 PM

Still wrong, John. The death of Michael Brown was a tragedy. We still don't know what happened that day and will have to wait for the prosecutor to present evidence to the grand jury. They will decide if an indictment is warranted. Passions and prejudices are clouding the discussion. Reading some of the comments posted are offensive to some and rallying cry for others. It seems some wish they could have pulled the trigger and would have done so without a second thought. Give it a rest.

John Q  

Posted: August 27th, 2014 12:33 PM

Mose, I didn't read anything offensive to me. So I don't really see it as an objection. I objected to your silly assumptions. I don't find joy in his death. I do find great joy that it was not the officer's death though. You have no way of knowing if we are "people of color"...LOLOL what will you do once you confirm it? What will that change? That's why I took exception with your silly assumptions. It looks like you based our "blackness" on our opinions. Of course all black people think alike.

OP Res 253  

Posted: August 27th, 2014 11:46 AM

Positions in a police force are tenure based and long term. Unless you want to fire officers based on skin color, you are turning over the force in less than a decade. AA officers that Ferguson, and similar small towns have hired get lured away by bigger depts with more $$--it's not a demand, it's a supply issue. I am certain that you will see a quick shift in governance, Dan Lauber, and Fergueson will be that remade in the image of leadership utopia known as Detroit in no time at all.


Posted: August 27th, 2014 11:29 AM

This is what Oak Park's housing authority will bring to our community as well.

Ebony from Mose, Illinois  

Posted: August 27th, 2014 9:06 AM

Mose - thank you for injecting my race into the conversation. However, I would appreciate you explaining the relevance...not sure why it matters at all. Your race is irrelevant to me, why do you care so much about mine? Also, has there ever been a justified shooting in your mind?

In Glen Ellyn formerly from OP  

Posted: August 27th, 2014 1:00 AM

Mose- do you know what a broken orbital socket is? It's not a mosquito bite. The officer was attacked in his squad car until his gun went off in the struggle- amazing neither of them got shot. After M. Brown ran a short distance away, he went BACK at the cop to assault him again, not to shake his hand. This 18 yr old linebacker is a product of parents who say evidence doesn't matter. WTFudge. Nice parental example. NO surprise M. Brown is gone now or later. Sad waste of life.

In Glen Ellyn formerly from OP  

Posted: August 27th, 2014 12:50 AM

Right on! Wait, I used to drink Kool-Aid. I can't keep up with these rules. And I thought "ebony" meant black (from black wood). I can't keep up with this language. I thought they wanted justice but they say evidence (video tape of robbery, drugs in system, murder charges/conviction only after investigation gathers forensics, etc) doesn't matter. I can't keep up with these folks.

Mose from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 27th, 2014 12:37 AM

Good grief, Glen! What brings you to this forum on such a regular basis? Boredom? What drives your fevered interest in our community.? Lonely? We've moved on since you moved out. Are there any folks in that neck of the woods interested in hearing your opinions or no public forums? You conclude because there traces of weed in his blood and an incident at a local store, a death sentence for Mike Brown was appropriate. I disagree that those crimes were so heinous that he deserved to die.

Mose from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 27th, 2014 12:19 AM

Obviously, you object to me questioning the person who posted an offensive comment. I thought it cruel and heartless to offer such nastiness. There's no way of knowing if you and Ebony are actually people of color. It wasn't my intention to be cute by using that term. Strange that you seem to find joy in the tragic way this young man's life ended. He got what he deserved seems to be a disturbing view expressed by some and anyone wondering if the shooting was justifiable should be scorned. Sad.

John Q  

Posted: August 26th, 2014 11:51 PM

I think Ebony is accurately characterizing the grand de-emphasis on any evidence that has suggested Brown was in the wrong. Robbing the convenience store was not enough. The officer's bruised and swollen face (or claims of an orbital fracture) were not enough. So yes, to the media and all the kool aid drinkers he was a po' lil black boy that was just trying to better himself and go to school that got shot for no good reason because he stood up to a racist white cop. IRRESPONSIBLE thinking!

John Q  

Posted: August 26th, 2014 11:47 PM

Ironically Mose I am "a person of color", as you cutely call it, and had no issue with anything Ebony stated. I actually agree with a lot of what she wrote. What I did take note of is your assumption that Ebony isn't black and is using an "ethnic screen name" (we do have a monopoly on certain names afterall). How did you come to this conclusion, that she's not black? Also, how does using the name Ebony portray her as "a person of color"? There aren't any other women named Ebony but black women?

In Glen Ellyn formerly from OP  

Posted: August 26th, 2014 11:15 PM

JBM- I didn't read any race baiting in Dan Lauber's post. It sounded complimentary; was he being sarcastic? I thought OP was integrated successfully so far and can understand there'd be some racial discrimination in a free market, because some people don't like different outside their comfort zone, that I don't really consider racism more than differentism, but law sees it the same way. Mose on the other hand is in denial that M. Brown did anything wrong- drugs, robbery, assault.

Mose from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 26th, 2014 10:37 PM

Ebony, do you recognize the cruel nature of your post? When you refer to Michael Brown as "our beloved" are you saying that he doesn't deserve to have his passing mourned by his family and those who knew the young man? Obviously, the death of this young man did not have any impact on your life and have concluded that he was not a "st". I sense there is joy in your heart from his death and sadly use an ethnic screen name as an attempt to portray yourself as a person of color. Shameful.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 26th, 2014 10:08 PM

My comment was in response to Dan L's comment, not to Tim's article.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 26th, 2014 8:39 PM

Using the Ferguson situation to imply that OP must needs to be ready for a massive shift in its population is race baiting. You should be ashamed!

Dan Lauber from River Forest  

Posted: August 26th, 2014 5:38 PM

The resegregation that Ferguson is experiencing should be a reminder of how fragile Oak Park's integration or racial diversity is. OP is one of a handful of Chicago area communities with a racial composition that would be expected in a free market devoid of housing discrimination. All the efforts of the OP Regional Housing Center and other entities in OP are essential to maintaining, and improving, the village's success so far.


Posted: August 26th, 2014 5:06 PM

"If you want to promote diversity, then you have to have public officials that are reflective of the population..." Are you saying you have a problem with a black president and/or black attorney general? I know, I know...facts can be so darn inconvenient.


Posted: August 26th, 2014 5:04 PM

"...clashes between police and residents in Ferguson "reopens a raw wound"..." I think the raw wound was more likely opened when our beloved "unarmed" st michael brown attacked the police officer.

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