Forest Park has long been missing an organization willing to voice the concerns of its sizeable low-income and minority communities. Official Forest Park has long been slow to recognize the benefits of hearing that voice. Now, for attempting to fill that void, we commend the recent efforts of the Forest Park Restorative Institute (FPRI). Still, though we sympathize with their cause, the approach they seem to be taking is concerning.
Forest Park is a town known for its collaborative spirit. Governing bodies, businesses, not-for-profits and other key players are often able to put politics aside and work together in ways not commonly seen in today’s world. Instead of becoming a part of this spirit, it seems, these much-needed activists have chosen to take a combative, even adversarial approach, throwing around lawsuits and accusations without first attempting to resolve matters cordially.
We would be the first to acknowledge that talking about issues of race and class is extraordinarily difficult and that white leaders everywhere too often retreat to defensive positions. But instead of opening up dialogue and promoting awareness of overlooked and underrepresented segment of Forest Park, overly confrontational positions may end up increasing class-based hostilities by unnecessarily forcing those they could be working with into defensive roles.
FPRI members have voiced their concerns at numerous village meetings, and each time Review reporters have watched as numerous staff members and other individuals have reached out to them, handing them business cards and inviting their input.
For reasons only they know, they have passed on these offers, instead showing up at the next meeting and baselessly accusing officials of purposefully ignoring them. Perhaps they feel that they will draw more attention to themselves this way, or maybe their experiences in other areas have taught them that an anti-establishment position is the only way to get things done.
The FPRI has a point in noting that, in the midst of the fervor surrounding downtown development, the village’s growing high-income sector has received more attention than its residents at the other end of the spectrum.
Local officials certainly benefit from having somebody there to keep them on their toes on these issues, and we hope the FPRI will continue doing so. But they must also realize that they are among the first to fight this battle. For whatever reason, there has historically been a lack of activism from poor and minority residents in Forest Park, and officials are understandably caught off guard when accused of suppressing efforts to include these perspectives in the past. Though more certainly could have been done to reach out over the years, government cannot listen to voices that are not speaking.
This debate is too important to be mishandled, and we are concerned that recent actions will set progress back rather than moving it forward. We encourage the FPRI and other like minded individuals to at least make an honest effort towards collaboration themselves before accusing others of being unwilling to work together.