*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
Chibuike Enyia has lived in Oak Park since he started kindergarten, when his family moved to the village in 1990. His parents, Nigerian immigrants, sought a community where their children could thrive, grow, and contribute. His mother worked a full-time job while earning a master’s degree at Rosary College (now Dominican University), toting a young Chibuike along to classes with her. His father managed three jobs while also finishing multiple masters degrees. Initially, they rented an apartment until buying and settling into a house in northeast Oak Park that is still the family home.
After graduating from OPRF, Chibuike attended Triton College, then transferred to Briar Cliff University in Iowa, where he earned a bachelor’s in mass communications. He returned to the area and began his professional career, taking positions with AT&T, Motorola, and Chicago Public Schools, where he trained and led frontline teams and large telco budgets. Recently he formed his own company, Gameday Video, a production company focused on high school and college athletics.
A husband and father of two young children, Chibuike believes in contributing to the community. He spends time mentoring youth locally. His own upbringing was heavily influenced by positive adult role models; he believes that it’s important for him to be that influence for others. He also volunteers for PADS and the Boy Scouts and with the diversity committee at Irving Elementary School.
What are the biggest equity challenges Oak Park faces, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and how will you address those challenges? Equity includes race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, sexual orientation, income level, religion, as well as physical and cognitive capability.
We know that marginalized communities have been hit hardest by COVID-19, and are receiving relief at slower rates. This pandemic has shown that equity can not be an ‘afterthought’ — we must have a lens of equity built into our systems and processes as a proactive measure. Unfortunately, our Village government has yet to adopt a racial equity policy or any kind of comprehensive equity plan, which would guide our decision making during crises such as COVID-19.
I have co-sponsored a Race and Social Justice Platform that would provide frameworks to develop goals, strategies, and plans to mitigate racial disparities in our local government and provide equitable services to all residents. A key part of that process is to implement a Racial Equity Impact Assessment Tool for public decision-making so that all significant policy decisions are appropriately analyzed through an equity framework. As a new board comes into office in the middle of this pandemic, they must be prepared to evaluate our vaccination, recovery and relief efforts through the lens of equity – and to make adjustments where needed. https://chibuikeforoakpark.com/race-equity
How do you intend to balance the priorities and needs of the community with the financial realities of COVID-19 equitably without inordinately increasing taxation of residents? What are the priorities and needs, in your eyes?
There is no doubt that COVID-19 recovery will take creative budgeting. Revenues are down and numerous projects have been put on hold due to the pandemic. This challenge does, however, offer unique opportunities. It is clearer than ever that we have to utilize the resources at hand, including strengthening intergovernmental cooperation. It has also demonstrated that we must work to diversify our tax base and develop new revenue sources that do not weigh most heavily on low-income residents.
We are not experiencing this pandemic in a vacuum, and our challenges are the challenges of municipalities everywhere. As trustee, I would work with other local leaders to understand how their communities are adapting and responding and seek best practice and collaboration from other elected officials.
What does community policing in Oak Park mean to you and do you believe the village should spend less, the same or more on policing and police facilities?
Public safety is one core function of local government – it is the work of keeping residents, business-owners, and visitors safe from harm.
Community policing in Oak Park means a true collaboration between the police and the community, for the benefit and safety of the full community. Community safety would entail authentic relationships, built on a trust of both the individuals and the system they operate within, and include engagement from the full spectrum of residents in Oak Park – especially our young people. An effective safety strategy should proactively address root cause conditions that lead to public safety issues like crime, violence, and social disorder.
The incendiary rhetoric around this process must stop and we must start recognizing that everyone in Oak Park wants to ensure the safety of our community, our families and our homes. We must also acknowledge the disproportionate impact of policing on certain communities, and use our lens of equity to center those communities in our decision-making. Too often in our nation’s past, white “safety” has come at the expense of Black and brown people. We can’t allow that to be the case in our own community.
It is difficult to make an informed analysis and decision without taking into account data and community input that is not yet available. We need to gather more information before making budgeting decisions regarding the Oak Park Police Department. This includes engaging in a robust Community Engagement Process and collecting further data from the Oak Park Police. After receiving community input and more robust data, we will be in a better position to truly evaluate the effectiveness of our current approach and determine how we can move forward as a community.
Business and non-profits have suffered due to COVID-19. How will you help facilitate their recovery?
We need to take the time to listen to our small businesses. Each business’ needs are going to be different and will require unique solutions. Village government and staff will need to roll up their sleeves to work with small businesses and help them find and secure federal loans and grants, as well as offer low interest capital loans.
We can also increase non-residential property tax revenues by investing in local small businesses. If we can continue to intentionally develop a thriving retail community, we can keep sales tax dollars of Oak Park residents in Oak Park and begin to attract more visitors from outside communities. This will not happen overnight but is a vital step if we are going to begin to ease the tax burden on residents.
This type of development is not in competition with achieving the goals of equity, diversity, and improved quality of life. By enabling Supplier Diversity guidelines for the village, as well as creating outreach and start-up programs to attract MBE (minority business enterprise) and WBE (women’s business enterprise) in our community, we can see Oak Park flourish in line with our values.
How will you address the affordability of living in Oak Park, while understanding that affordability must extend to renters as well as homeowners?
We need to make sure that Oak Park is affordable both to renters and homeowners. We can diversify the tax base within Oak Park by both: recruiting and supporting small businesses in Oak Park, and supporting the development of two-flats, three-flats, and accessory dwelling units.
One of the fundamental problems facing Oak Park is that many residents view their property taxes as a tuition bill….we’ve likely all heard the math of comparing a property tax bill to private school tuition. This is misguided, in that it positions residents as “customers” of the school system, and short shifts the many other incredible services we receive in Oak Park – our libraries, our parks, the Township services….many of the reasons that residents choose to live here are directly connected to the taxes we pay.
We can diversify our tax base and spread the services burden by encouraging young adults to move to Oak Park and empty nesters to stay after their children leave for college. We must market and communicate that Oak Park is not just a community to raise your children in, but a community for your whole life. Developing additional affordable housing is vital to achieving this – and vital to promoting equity, diversity, and quality of life in Oak Park.
What life experiences do you have that give you the capability to serve on the village board and to guide staff through complicated times?
I have spent my life being a part of teams, clubs and organizations that are bigger than me. If we are
going to succeed as a Village, our elected officials need to leave ego at the door and roll up their sleeves to find solutions. I pride myself on being a great listener and firmly believe that a leader must listen to all viewpoints before acting.
By listening, I can adapt my leadership style to different situations and meet people where they are. I will take the same approach as Trustee. I will listen first and, after hearing the input ofthe community, work collaboratively with the Village Board and our commissions to meet the needs of the community.
During my tenure at AT&T, I managed small business and mid-market client’s communication needs while serving in resource groups focused on giving back to the community. For my service, I received AT&T’s highest achievement – the Summit Award – twice, and numerous other awards for customer service and leadership.
I have been actively engaged in community service and mentorship programs for years, and would bring a youth-focus to the board that has been sorely lacking. This community is vibrant, diverse, energetic and compassionate — I am excited to see our board of trustees reflect this.
I believe that my combination of leadership and communications skills, as well as my lived experiences and commitment to service will be greatly valuable in helping the Village of Oak Park navigate the challenges and opportunities we face in 2021 and beyond.