To our Oak Park community and friends

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by Olivia Tse

Following last week’s election results, we might still feel helpless and confused. We may want to duck quietly under the covers, or to scream at xenophobia, white supremacy, and other forms of bigotry. As a township, Oak Park is decidedly blue. Only about 10% of residents cast votes for Donald Trump, and we may take some solace in this.

However, it is perhaps too easy to find comfort in surrounding ourselves by people who do not perpetuate hateful rhetoric. In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton reminds us that there is much work to be done, and at the Housing Center, we believe in and are often driven by this very maxim.

Such an outcome may have been unthinkable just a short time ago, but it is now a reality that cannot be ignored. President-elect Trump is no longer a caricature, nor are the 60 million people who turned out to cast a vote for him. It would be negligent to breathe a sigh of relief because at least we, Oak Park, made the right call.

The segregation that prevails in our country contributes to the disjunction between us and those who voted for Trump, and this separation makes the results of the election particularly difficult to understand. We are fortunate to reside in a community where unemployment, low educational opportunities, and housing difficulties feel outside of our reality, but these are not issues we can overlook. Our Housing Center would not continue to fulfill its mission if it were to operate with a passive and inward-turning attitude. Instead, it thrives due to the great initiative of individuals.

When Roberta Raymond founded the Housing Center in 1972, the country was not waiting to receive integration management with open arms. Even today, it is a practice that requires explanation and persuasion. When we began, Austin was undergoing rapid resegregation, while at the same time, the black population of Oak Park was growing as the white population declined. Without some intervention, Oak Park was on track to follow the same path to drastic resegregation. Some panicked and moved away, while others stepped forward to help maintain the diverse and well-integrated environment that Oak Park enjoys today. Of all the efforts created in the 1970s, only the Housing Center remains solely committed to the effort of sustaining an integrated Oak Park.

Our model is grounded in the power of a face-to-face interaction, and its ability to overturn a prejudice in the span of a single conversation. Each day, our advisors work against stereotypes about which parts of the neighborhood are perceived to be safer or better than others. They explain how they have lived happily on Austin Boulevard for 25 years, or that they feel fine letting their ten-year-old daughter walk the mile home from school with her friends. From our experience, we understand that just one conversation can change a person’s biases, or at the very least, open up a new and fruitful dialogue. If Oak Park had chosen to hide under the covers 45 years ago, things would be different here today.

In a large sense, we cannot dismiss the half of the country that voted for Donald Trump. Instead, we must continue to ask questions, hold discussions, and work persistently to understand our neighbors’ perspectives. We must do this while continuing to embrace the diverse experiences that make our community a wonderful place to live. This is exactly how we succeed at what we do at the Housing Center, and this is how we will make the most of President-elect Trump’s term in office.

In previous blog posts, our summer interns have outlined the tremendous value of housing integration. Tom talks about ways in which racial segregation creates traps of poverty and unemployment. Mayra writes about the higher rates of success for everyone in diverse schools. Now, more than ever, we need your support so that we can continue our work in Oak Park and Austin, and to expand on a national scale in the near future. Unfortunately, we exist in 2016 for the same reasons we did in the ’70s: people tend to fear what they don’t know, or what they comprehend as different, and this resistance is a giant roadblock to greater prosperity for all.

Please consider helping us out with a gift to our annual fund, and let’s keep the conversations flowing.

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