12 years at the center of intentional integration

This article originally ran in the May 8, 2018, edition of the Wednesday Journal.

By Rob Breymaier

June would have marked my 12-year anniversary at the Oak Park Regional Housing Center. It’s a bittersweet moment to know I’ll miss it by a month. While I am moving on to a new organization, a piece of me will always be at the Housing Center. That’s because I wholeheartedly believe racial integration is necessary for an equitable future in America, and in a society built to be segregated, we cannot expect to experience integration without an intentional effort.

In Oak Park, that intentionality is centered at the Housing Center. There is no doubt that the Housing Center cannot and does not promote integration on its own. We are fortunate and grateful for partnerships with local government, housing professionals, and other entities in the community.

There is also no doubt that without the Housing Center our community would lose the mechanism by which we sustain our commitment to integration.

While it is sometimes hard to notice for those of us who live here, it is clear to outsiders that nowhere else in America has been as successful in sustaining integration as we have in Oak Park. It is even known to folks far and wide as the “Oak Park Strategy.” In fact, one of my final duties at the Housing Center will be to present a webinar to mayors from across the world on how to promote integration in their cities because they know our work is a best practice.

Working at the Housing Center has been wonderful because I believe in integration as a basic moral tenet, and I personally want to ensure that the community where my family lives is a community that embraces diversity, integration, inclusion, and equity.

I use all four of those words because they require one another to mean anything on their own. At the Housing Center, we describe how they interact.

First, we must promote Oak Park in a way that attracts the broad diversity of our region.

Second, we must engage with people as they seek out a home in Oak Park to promote integration so that all neighborhoods include all races.

Third, we need to build on our integration to promote more social interaction and inclusion in power structures to foster a community that is informed by our full range of diversity and in which we all feel tied together in a common destiny.

Fourth, these steps will create the structure to ensure equitable outcomes regardless of race in our community.

It is a tall order and no one agency or government can do it alone. But we do need to support an organization that will consistently and diligently fight for this agenda and ensure that other entities join in the effort. That is what is meant by intentionality. The Housing Center is the only entity in Oak Park with this mission. Thus, it is the only place that will always make it the top priority.

Intentionality is needed now more than ever. From national politics that have rekindled racial animosity, hatred, and fear to local voices that call on us to abandon our efforts because they believe racism is over or that Oak Park is somehow immune to the norms of American society, integration and equity are under attack. If we want Oak Park to be able to withstand this assault, we must support our core values.

That means supporting the Housing Center.

You can help! Tell everyone you know to use the Housing Center when looking for an apartment or place to rent in Oak Park. Inform our elected officials that the Housing Center is important to you and that it should be well supported. Join us for community conversations and forums that are meant to build a more equitable community.

And, of course, please donate to the Housing Center.

A week from now, I won’t be the director at the Housing Center anymore. But I will always be a champion for it and for its mission. I hope you will too.

Our future and our values depend on your support.