DuPage not done talking about race

We are missing the mark on race relations. Even here in DuPage County. I'll explain how and why.

First, let's acknowledge and appreciate the gradual momentum of increased representation over many years. We see it at our grocery stores, shopping malls, schools and in many areas. You don't need a census report to know that DuPage is becoming more colorful with people of various ethnicities. At face value, this diversity is a mark in the positive column. We have it and accept it. We can check that box.

We have all learned that a community is more than just faces in a crowd. Remember the old saying about "playing in the sandbox" together? Most would say we do. For the most part, our officials, civic leaders and range of citizens speak out about embracing diversity and putting things in place to ensure that fair access and opportunity exist for all. Nonprofits are set up to provide amazing services with an emphasis on closing gaps. Corporate philanthropic efforts give top-dollar contributions for the underprivileged. Citizens give countless volunteer hours. These efforts don't exclude people based differences in skin color. You will get a long line of people ready to check the box that we have moved beyond issues about race relations.

The general consensus is that the fast lane of social inclusion has overcome the resisting winds of racism and discrimination. It's as if the winds have died down and gone away enough to where it is unproductive conversation. I caution us from checking that box.

This perspective that race relations has "arrived" and that we should no longer give attention to it, comes with limitations. It limits us from understanding remaining gaps and opportunities for us to be the great community our potential offers us to be.

It is important that as we celebrate momentum, we share an understanding for how things have come along and to accept other perspectives on where we are. Not too long ago, even as late as the early '80s, housing applications here in our county printed language that clearly prohibited black Americans from living in certain neighborhoods. Into the '90s and beyond, golf courses, social clubs and education programs denied entry to people of color in nearby areas. These social issues have drastically improved. However, these issues paint a picture for us to understand that momentum has not fulfilled all that we can be.

We are not Ferguson, New York, Sanford and not even Chicago. Yet, as the stories of racial divide across America populate our attention, we look at them from a lens of our own experiences. We apply our expectations and experiences accordingly. In addition, we fail to understand why other people don't think the way we do. We take positions of right vs. wrong, us vs. them. These polarizing stories cause us to lose focus and miss the mark instead of promoting dialogue that may cause self-reflection and evaluation of how we can protect the interests of our local community.

Talking about race should not be taboo. It should be an opportunity for us to learn more about each other. We can't embrace what we don't know. More importantly, we can't leverage the benefit of our diverse populations if we don't allow their voice and opinions to matter. Some people feel there is more they can offer. Some feel they are stereotyped and stifled.

Last week, my 11-year-old daughter told me she is hurt by how some of her classmates describe or treat others. She clearly is beginning to understand, in fifth grade, that race is a factor in how people are treated. She is also sensitive about how people feed into stereotypes and is beginning to understand her responsibility to represent others who share her same skin color. This dialogue opens great possibilities for her to learn more about herself and how to impact people around her. This conversation is helpful and necessary.

There are many stories that need to be told of how people from different races have come together to make positive strides for our community. We need to hear it. We need to teach it. This is important because if we don't, we are going to fail at creating the seams that will bring the fabric of our community together.

Everything comes down to genuine, authentic relationships.

All of us are here with a collective dream. To appreciate our DuPage County for the opportunity to have a wonderful life - a nice home, great schools and access to gainful employment.

Our journey should include finding ways of collaborating people to become comfortable to have open hearted discussions about race relations, and to have a desire to be a part of the solution.

If we can open the doors to other perspectives, we can get closer to having real relationships. These relationships will allow us to work closer together toward getting what is truly most important to all of us: a healthy community where everyone feels good about their opportunity.

The benefits could be enormous. Businesses will have more access to talent. Schools will have richer learning experiences. Neighborhoods will be closer and more transparent. Community service efforts will better understand how to reach and touch a wider range of people.

We can find "the mark" on race relations that we are missing. No individual person will have the solutions, but if we put effort toward identifying ambitious people who are passionate about finding solutions, then we will advance together. Let's check that box in 2015.

• Naperville resident and civic leader Mario L. Lambert II, former president of the NAACP of DuPage County, is a diversity-centered leadership consultant and founder of the @advancetogether initiative.

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