RE: Henry Harry’s Open Letter to Jay Schenirer
Wow, that is quite a “quick comment”. I hope you will continue to write on this vital issue and explore the situation in much more depth.
I agree with you that gentrification of an area is not a desired outcome if you care about economic equality, justice and humanity. Fighting the negative pressures of redevelopment/revitalization is one of my primary concerns and it motivates me to contribute my time and energy to the Oak Park community. To me, gentrification denotes the displacement of current residents as rents and property values increases.That is a very possible outcome for Oak Park. It is not the only outcome nor is it one we can accept.
We all claim to value and love diversification but let’s be honest. It doesn’t look that way in far too many situations. How many times do we all attend functions where the overwhelming majority looks like us? How many birthday parties, New Year’s celebrations, holiday gatherings, and birthdays are truly diverse? Not enough. This doesn’t mean we don’t value diversification, but it does mean that we’ve too often not enjoyed it in our social and everyday lives.
That’s understandable; values are often something we must continuously strive toward. They are often the underpinnings of goals.
Oak Park deserves or, at least, needs revitalization, right? Currently we see too few shopping choices, too few jobs, and too few opportunities for civic engagement. New and sensitive growth is welcome can help us in achieving more equality. But, it will not happen by chance.
As Historic Oak Park demonstrates that there is money to be made here, money will flow into our community. Development will follow and we’ll see either revitalization or gentrification. We can ascribe blame to others, economic realities, racism, history, capitalism, and many other factors. And we should attempt to understand the roots of the problems. At the same time, however, we should work to assure that we direct and influence the direction our community takes and avoid being crippled by analysis. We should also make certain that development, while welcome, is based on consultation with residents—consultation, not presentations of “done deals”.
We will not assure the future we desire if we don’t start now, right now, working together as a community who cares about all of its residents. We will not be powerful if we act alone. By working as a community we have more power and more opportunity to have influence. Oak Park demonstrated that it has a powerful voice during the City Council District redistricting process. Our voices matter and we can demand they are heard. One voice is beautiful while many voices are powerful. Let’s be both beautiful and powerful!
Henry, I assure you that I don’t pretend to know the answers. I do feel certain, however, about process. I am confident that combined voices are much loader and demand attention. Let’s determine our own futures by working together. NO young blacks should ever be are “made more and more outcasts in their own neighborhood.” No human should ever be made to feel like an outcast in their own neighborhoods.
A couple of notes:
First, we should work with our elected officials when they are working for us. Jay Schenirer has demonstrated that he is committed to the values and goals that will move Oak Park into a community of economic and racial equality. He is on our side, an asset to our community and a powerful ally. Let’s work together to make use of his experience and knowledge while holding him accountable to representing Oak Park for all residents. I am certain that he would agree with this sentiment and I also know this is exactly what he has been doing.
Second, let’s determine the best way(s) to work together. One organization that is already leading the way is The Oak Park Neighborhood Association (OPNA). As a longtime leader in the community, OPNA, is positioned to fight for all of Oak Park, but, it cannot happen without participation of the residents. That includes you and all others who truly care about making a difference.
Third, this response is simply meant to be an invitation to further exploration of the challenges we face in Oak Park. Let’s truly discuss how we can best serve our community by “Preserving our history while creating our future”.
Disclosure: This is a personal response to Henry Harry's open letter. I am the president of OPNA but this comment is not representing an official position as I've written it on my own and not submitted to to OPNA. I'm also an Oak Park resident.