Editorial: Council woman's departure emphasizes the challenge of diverse leadership in the suburbs

  • Denise Barreto of Relationships Matter Now, LLC in Lake in the Hills accepts an award during the Daily Herald Business Ledger's Influential Women in Business awards.

      Denise Barreto of Relationships Matter Now, LLC in Lake in the Hills accepts an award during the Daily Herald Business Ledger's Influential Women in Business awards. Mark Black | Staff Photographer ¬

Posted7/16/2015 2:45 PM

By all accounts, including our own 2013 endorsements, Denise Barreto has served with distinction as a Lake in the Hills village trustee.

And as an African-American woman, she offered a different viewpoint than many in office in the suburbs, especially in McHenry County.


So, it's disappointing that she is leaving office for that very reason -- that living and serving in Lake in the Hills and McHenry County is difficult for a minority, especially, she says, as a woman and a minority.

"McHenry County is a tough place to be, if you are different," Barreto told the Daily Herald's Madhu Krishnamurthy about her resignation in a story published earlier this week. "As my kids have gotten older, they want to be in a place where they see people that look like them in leadership and in school."

We understand and empathize with her concern, though in that quote, she overlooks the fact that she is someone bridging that gap and has been and would be a role model able to pass on that torch of leadership to her children. What better way to teach your child about diversity and change than to be the one leading the way in your community?

However, this is a personal decision for Barreto and her family. We make no judgment about her move to Evanston, which she said, "matches our family's lifestyle a little bit better than out here."

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Certainly Evanston is a much more diverse community than any in McHenry County, including Lake in the Hills, which is 81 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian, 2 percent mixed races and 1 percent black.

We strongly denounce critics who accuse her of being racist for pointing out the obvious fact that true diversity is still a long way from reality in many suburban communities.

As the managing partner and founder of Relationships Matter Now LLC, Barreto helps government and corporate clients develop strategies including diversity strategy. It sounds like she could have done some good from within to bring Lake in the Hills and other suburban communities along in the laudable goal of building diversity within the ranks of elected officials and employees.

Other communities see the benefit of working toward that end. Elgin, for example, which has a large minority population, elected its first Latina council member this spring and re-elected a long-serving black council member. And in Naperville, the city has specific efforts to recruit minorities into government by creating outreach efforts for its Indian and Chinese residents.

Barreto says she hopes that her time as an elected official in Lake in the Hills proves the community is open to diversity and adds, "I hope I have inspired somebody else to step up."

It would be easier for that person if someone like Barreto were still there providing guidance. But all elected officials need to understand and welcome the need for more diversity within their ranks and work toward that end.

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