Editorial – September 2016

Growth occurs best under uncomfortable situations. The times where the truth stings, where statistics make us want to shield our eyes and avoid needed conversations, are the perfect chances for change.

The number of deaths this year in Chicago due to gun violence in Chicago has soared upward of 500. It is easy to categorize Chicago and the strife associated with it as ending in Austin, currently one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago, and only couple blocks from “those things that are best.”

Yet, Chicago’s problems coincide with our own.

The suffering defining Chicago impacts many of our neighbors, students, faculty, and even family members. In that way, it affects the whole Oak Park and River Forest community.

It is no longer the “Windy City’s” problem.

It is our problem.

In our city, the city where we pride ourselves on diversity, stellar deep-dish pizza, and boundless opportunities, we have chances for change. With every headline, every name, and every late-night shooting, we should have uncomfortable discussions.

The suffering defining Chicago impacts many of our neighbors, students, faculty, and even family members. In that way, it affects the whole Oak Park and River Forest community.”

That is where Anthony Clark enters the scene.  Clark, an OPRF teacher, said he believes it took him until he was in his 30s to realize he can do something.

He realized finding your voice can be the most significant tool each of us have. “There is a difference between talking and productive conversation,” he says. “Anyone can talk….in productive conversation, you are talking about issues  (and) moving toward a solution..identifying change that can occur.”

Clark organized Suburban Unity Alliance this past summer because he said he believes we have to realize “everyone does not have the same experiences…it is important that we have resources in this (the Oak Park-River Forest) community, that we recognize our voice, and tap into those resources, not only to help individuals in our community but to help our surrounding community as well.”

The Alliance meets at 6 pm  either Tuesday or Wednesday night at the Oak Park public library. The next meeting will be the second week in October. Everyone is welcomed to share their distinct voice, and to offer “support bases” for individuals who might need a helping hand, whether that be just a kind word or financial contributions to someone who needs help getting back on their feet.

The Alliance works off the idea that equality is impossible  in a capitalistic society like ours, but equity for all is a very real ideal that can be instilled in each of us.

To be equitable means that no one should be matter-of-fact about being shot. There should be no exception to the ‘Golden Rule,’ everyone deserving the same fullness of life that comes with respecting others.

Clark is hoping to create a club at OPRF associated with the Alliance, as a way to incorporate young voices.

There is hope in the fact that people are finally doing something as simple as productively talking. No longer should the words be empty, attached to meaningless complaints. The things discussed should be about finding your own voice, empathizing with others, and  focusing on  similarities to others, not differences. Whether these conversations be about the achievement gap, recent shootings, or any discrimination that students walking our hallways experience daily, these conversations are vital for growth.

Today, Chicago is made up of 77 neighborhoods. Eighty-six percent of African-American neighborhoods suffer under a  higher poverty rate than the rate for all Chicago neighborhoods combined.  This poverty seems to be an evil that does not have a panacea.

It is easy to see the magnificent parts of Chicago, the Loop, bustling with activity and diversity, or even OPRF, renowned for excellent academics and state-bound sports teams. It seems easy to sweep the issue under the rug, and turn our eyes away from the issue that has been plaguing the Chicagoland area for years now.

The hardest thing to do can sometimes be the most important. It is vital to look a little closer at the societal ills that can be bettered with becoming educated, and important to realize the cycle of death and destitution is a convoluted issue, but one that can be fixed.

The unity assembly on Sept. 24 was a great first step. Let’s take advantage of the “diverse” and “welcoming” community Oak Park is usually coined by. Let’s use these unique voices our community has been gifted with to educate the public, to put ourselves in other’s shoes, and take comfort in the fact that Elijah Sims will rest in peace knowing his name is not another headline or number.