Group seeks to determine community views on racism
More and more major companies are moving from the Northwest suburbs back to the city of Chicago. United Airlines, MacDonald's, Sears, Motorola Solutions, AT&T and Walgreens are among more than 20 companies that have relocated since 2012.
These companies moved to the suburbs seeking more skilled employees and land for expansion. As these and other companies transition back to the city, Chicago continues to undergo massive redevelopment and neighborhood improvements, especially in the Loop and in predominantly black and brown communities.
Once rundown neighborhoods are in the process of revitalization. New sidewalks, townhouses, streets and streetlights are being built and installed. Suburban whites are returning to the city, and more brown and black people are replacing them in the Northwest suburbs. There is a great population shift occurring.
The Illinois Commission on Diversity and Human Relations has been following this monumental change for the last 10 years, and in 2014, the board of directors elected to determine the readiness of the Northwest suburbs for it. At the same time, there was increasing racial tension drifting across the nation. The commission was very aware of the feelings of people of color but wanted to determine what white people in the suburbs thought about race and racism, subjects that many feel uncomfortable discussing, especially in public. It was decided to conduct "readiness assessments" in four suburban communities, including the Northwest suburbs of Chicago.
This is largely due to the homogeneousness of the area, African American deficits within police departments and school administrators as well as the long-held image of the area.
The commission believed that non-minorities were in the best position to conduct the assessment. Therefore, a group of white residents and community leaders were contacted and became involved. Among these were the Rev. John Alan Boryk and Dr. Elizabeth McKay of Our Savior's Lutheran Church of Arlington Heights, Sister Kris Vorenkamp of the Sisters of the Living Word and local residents Colleen Kave and Sandralyn Bourseau. This effort became known as the Black and White Divide, led by these and other suburban residents.
The goal of the Black and White Divide project was to encourage conversation among area residents and community leaders to determine whether they believed racism was present in the Northwest suburbs either implicitly or by intent. The group, known as CORE, had noted the diversity inclusiveness in some communities, such as Glenview, Schaumburg and Hoffman Estates, but also found municipalities throughout the area without any African-Americans in leadership positions and the absence of African-Americans anywhere in some police departments despite the fact that there are no geographical recruitment limitations and most white police officers do not reside in the jurisdiction they served.
During the three years that the Black and White Divide has been operational, more than 1,000 residents have been involved in a series of meetings to discuss race, racism and related American history. The meetings revolved around a list of 77 assumptions covering these three areas as they relate to the Northwest suburbs. It is important to note that data gathered involved perceptions regarding the Northwest suburban schools and not proven facts. However, it was noted that perceptions are often more powerful than facts.
While the Black and White Divide initiative is far from complete, the following are some of the perceptions the group found of white suburban residents.
• Racism is believed to exist in the Northwest suburbs.
• Fear by community leaders of reprisals from donors, members and supporters inhibits more openness regarding the race issue.
• Schools are not teaching about "real slavery" and its application to modern society, white privilege and the value of diversity inclusiveness. Arlington Heights Elementary School District 25, however, was highly saluted for its participation and progress in these areas.
• Given the fact that poor relationships between law enforcement and communities of color have helped drive racial division across the country, most suburban police departments are not as sensitive to the need to engage in dialogue and partnerships with African-American leaders within and outside their jurisdictions.
• The number of citizens residing in the Northwest suburbs who feel that there is a lack of
diversity inclusiveness in key institutions is growing. The area is changing not only politically and racially, but also in values. People are beginning to become more positive in their views of racial inclusiveness.
• The villages of Glenview, Schaumburg and Hoffman Estates were viewed to be municipalities that resemble the efforts of Oak Park, Evanston and Elgin in that deliberate action to obtain diversity inclusiveness is advanced compared to most of the others.
• Leaders of key institutions remain nervous when asked to join in efforts like the Black and White Divide. They appear to be unsure as to what they are becoming involved in and, therefore, perceived to be uncomfortable even when participation occurs.
The commission will issue a preliminary report regarding the project in the near future.
The Rev. Clyde H. Brooks, of Arlington Heights, is chairman of the Illinois Commission on Diversity and Human Relations.