*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
Juanta Griffin is a lifelong Oak Parker and — like 41% of Oak Parkers — a renter. As a community activist and working-class woman with a disability, she knows what it takes to achieve real equity. She is focused on housing affordability, renter’s rights, and pandemic recovery.
Juanta excels in identifying a community need, and organizing to meet it using her strong internal compass and work ethic as a guide. Juanta holds a master’s degree in Early-Childhood Education and serves as our Multicultural Learning Coordinator at the Oak Park Public Library.
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.
Our village, schools, and township, in particular, are going to face some of the most difficult challenges that we’ve had in some time because of the impact of the pandemic and because of the systems that created inequity have always been there – compounded; homelessness, trauma, food and housing insecurity as well as small businesses suffering.
These challenges aren’t unique but they are now glaring and can’t be ignored. Oak Park has long strived to be a leader in diversity and inclusion…what we’re now all calling “equity”; but over the years we’ve lagged behind, not because we don’t know what to do but because we haven’t had the leadership in place to take bold steps to do it – starting with the basics, like recognizing and centering the folks that have been most impacted and are also at the greatest risk of further harm.
We have some very reasonable steps that we can take in my first year to address issues exacerbated by the pandemic and lay the foundation for years to come; those steps can be found at https://www.juantaforoakpark.com/race-equity. Our Race and Social Justice Initiative calls out five key steps that Oak Park should take to address equity in Village governing;
1) implement a robust community engagement process and ensure residents are included in decision making
2) adopt a race and social justice policy so that the board and staff can be held accountable
3) develop an annual race and social justice action plan to help us stay nimble and attentive to what’s impacting people
4) implement a race equity assessment tool when decision making so that we are more likely to get it right for the right reasons 5) initiate a participatory and equitable budgeting process and allow our residents to help us make decisions about how public resources are used.
We have to do a better job of meeting decisions with need, or “meeting people where they are”. It is recognizing that we all have different needs and starting points, so when developing fair and equitable policies, they have to be informed, strategic and data driven. Equity is a lens through which we must analyze every decision the Village makes.
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?
Our Race and Social Justice – Year 1 Plan would have the Board take a number of steps to ensure that we are prioritizing the immediate and long term needs of Oak Parkers.To name a few important actions to take;
● The Board has to listen to our community to identify the real needs by hearing from those that have been harmed or impacted because of the pandemic
● We have to leverage what the Board and staff already have access to in GARE, a resource that we’ve already paid for, and begin to use a tested REIA tool to help us with the decisions that reach the Board table.
● Finally, we have to develop 2022 equity goals while conducting a robust review of the 2022 proposed budget, through the lens of racial equity, to ensure that opportunities to achieve equity, efficiency and sustainability can be leveraged.
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?
The community should be involved in deciding what community safety means for Oak Park. Black residents, youth, and our most vulnerable residents plus Chief Reynolds and his staff need to be included in these discussions.
We are going to have to make difficult decisions about spending, but it’s important to prioritize basic human needs like safety and wellbeing when making them. We should be careful and thoughtful about which capital expenditures are necessary when we have residents experiencing homelessness, trauma, food and housing insecurity as well as small businesses suffering.
I believe that all public servants should answer to the people that they serve, so therefore the village police department works for the people of Oak Park. They should answer to the residents that they are sworn to protect and serve. If the residents believe that they are not doing their job effectively then changes should be explored.
Today, we have a Citizens commission (CPOC) which would like to do more as a body to support what they are hearing from residents or seeing from the data. CPOC, our police staff, and the voices of our community (especially youth) is critically important to help inform any changes that are made. My community engagement process can help us begin to do the work towards truly listening and learning from our community.
Business and non-profits have suffered due to COVID-19. How will you help facilitate their recovery?
As previously mentioned, we have to prioritize people over development and keep focused on humanity versus expediency. We cannot do it all – but, what we can do is feel good about making sound, equitable, well thought out decisions in the best interest of our residents.
How will you address the affordability of living in Oak Park, while understanding that affordability must extend to renters as well as homeowners?
This is why I’m running, I am that person – my family are “those people”. I am a Black woman who is disabled, an hourly wage earner, and a renter – like 41% of our community. I plan to bring the perspective of middle-income families that are working hard to live and thrive in our Village, to the board table so that we can make changes that will help people like me.
I also understand that property taxes are unreasonable and it’s pushing Oak Parkers out of the village that we love. Uncontrolled tax increases impact homeowners, renters and small businesses so if we say that we love this community, then we have to protect what we love by making equitable decisions that impact our ability to thrive here; the levy, the regional housing center, small business support, capital spending, and climate action decisions to name a few.
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 grew up in Oak Park. My husband and I are raising our four children here. We are well aware of the issues that face our Village from homelessness and food insecurity to lack of affordability and high property tax control. We understand the deficits in our schools because my children have attended them.
I am a community organizer, which requires me to act and get things done. I have long been supporting our community by creating and executing programming that directly impacts youth, residents, and communities in need; from working in East Garfield Park to working in our schools to create equitable outcomes, I have done it. I have worked directly with and have impacted the lives of residents experiencing homelessness, food and housing insecurity and I work directly with our youth so that they feel uplifted and seen.
For the last decade, I have led community wide events that elevate black, BIPOC, and youth excellence including being the lead organizer of the District 97 Multicultural Festival and our annual Juneteenth celebrations, which resulted in a 2020 resolution to acknowledge Juneteenth as a Village holiday.
I currently sit on two executive boards that drive equity in our Oak Park schools — one of which successfully drafted and worked to have adopted a district wide race equity policy. Equity work in education requires me to work with others that don’t necessarily look, think, or have experiences like mine. These are just a few things, in addition to having earned three degrees that make me feel comfortable with the experience that I bring to serving Oak Park in this capacity.