The Village of Forest Park is talking about building a bicycle bridge over the Desplaines River which would connect us to the Prairie Path. Another bridge between Forest Park and Maywood?

In the midst of all the hand wringing and finger pointing following Hurricane Katrina, there has been a lot of talk about race and class.

Many of us have been to the French Quarter in New Orleans and surely all of us have heard of it. But, who ever heard of the Ninth Ward? That is until Katrina struck.

Since Katrina, race and class has been a major conversation piece. Few have said that the racism has been overt”like refusing to serve a person of color in a restaurant. No, the accusations of racism have been of the institutional kind”sins of omission instead of commission. Why weren’t there buses to evacuate those folks in the Ninth Ward, most of whom were poor and black? Why weren’t there buses after the devastation? Why was the response of government, at all levels, so slow and inadequate? “Because,” said many African-American commentators, “those people are simply under the radar screen. They’re invisible.”

Another bridge between Forest Park and Maywood?

Do you know what the OPRFFPFTA is? It’s the Oak Park-River Forest-Forest Park Free Trade Agreement. You won’t find any government documents describing it, but it is a reality. Oak Parker’s are crossing Harlem in droves to eat at Marbuzet, pick up a lamp shade at Two Fish and”who would have dreamed”get an ice cream cone at Brown Cow instead of at Petersen’s or Oberweiss. We in Forest Park head east and north to go to the movies, buy books or spend our whole allowance at Whole Foods.

But Maywood? It’s invisible. The Forest Park Library doesn’t even subscribe to the Maywood Herald. In the September 7th edition of that paper there was only one ad for a Forest Park business. Last I heard, less than fifty per cent of every Middle School graduating class goes on to Proviso East High School. We know that 60302 and 60304 belong to Oak Park and 60305 goes with River Forest, but does anyone know Maywood’s zip code (answer at the close of the article).

Another bridge between Forest Park and Maywood?

The criticism from the African-American community has not been that white Americans are overtly discriminatory. Most black commentators acknowledge with gratitude the millions of dollars pouring into the relief effort and the many volunteers from all races and religions.

The racism they talk about is the kind that doesn’t see a whole group of people right next door. Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man what, 50 years ago? Some things never change.

Another bridge between Forest Park and Maywood?

Last week I received a letter from the Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance Network inviting me to a meeting on Saturday at the new Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy. My first reaction was, “I don’t have any kids in school anymore, and I don’t know any of those pastors. I really don’t have a reason for investing myself in relationships and institutions that don’t affect me.”

And then I thought of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. And I decided that I did not want to repeat Michael Brown’s mistake. I want to walk through the new high school and know what it looks like. I want to shake hands with the pastors of Rock of Ages and St. Eulalia. I want to look in the eyes of the seven members of my congregation that live in Maywood and say, “You’re not invisible. I’ve been where you live. I’ve walked in your new high school. I’ve enjoyed a basketball game at Proviso East. I’ve sat down and talked with you in some of your homes.”

Will it change the world? No. Will it make a difference even? I’m not sure. But it will be one more bridge built over the Desplaines, and something inside me says that is important”both to the village whose zip code is 60153 and to Forest Park.