It has been 48 years since Dr. King lifted up for us a dream that, one day, Americans would judge each other on the content of their character instead of on the color of their skin. So, how is Forest Park doing? Can we, as a village, say that we have, in fact, become colorblind?
Nineteen students in Joe Pisano’s eighth-grade social studies class recently answered that question with a confident “Yes.” Grabbing the recorder at the beginning of a discussion that lasted the whole period, Taylor Bailey, who is African-American, declared that race is a non-issue at Forest Park Middle School.
Lewis Simpson, who is African-American, and Rory Connor, who is white, said that, in the cafeteria, they eat lunch at tables with kids of other races. Many in the class nodded in agreement and added that, if the kids at their table happened to be all of one race, it was simply because they were all friends.
Hailey Caffie, a student, comes from a multiracial background: her father is black and her mother is Filipino. Caffie said that, sometimes, in a shopping mall for example, her mother is stared at as if she is not normal, although this is not something Hailey experiences at the middle school.
Caffie’s schoolmate Gabby Foster has an African-American father and a white mother. Her father, who works in management, deals with all races in his job and has passed that sophistication on to her. Diversity is part of her daily life.
Caffie and Foster belong to a demographic group who, in the 2010 census, might have self-identified as being of “multiple” races. In all of Forest Park, 307 people – or, 2.2 percent of the population – checked the “multiple” box when it came to race.
It’s not that these eighth-graders are naïve. Ralen Ricardo told the story of going to band camp last summer at Eastern Illinois University and being one of only four black students.
“We got in trouble more than any of the other kids,” she said, implying that the white counselors stereotyped the black students as troublemakers, and that prejudice skewed the counselors’ judgment.
Ricardo’s statement prompted Harlan Kuhr, who is white, to reflect on the subject of stereotypes. Stereotypes, he said, arise when people don’t have contact with folks of other races.
Bob Liddel has worked at the middle school for the last six years as a behavior interventionist. In that role he deals with the kids “who don’t know how to resolve conflicts without fighting” and who “have no emotional control.”
“Their problems have nothing to do with race,” he stated, “and a lot more to do with their parents.”
Liddel, a 59-year-old African American, said that the kids at the middle school have grown up in a different world than baby boomers like him.
He explained: “These kids don’t think about color like we [older people] do. They live in the same neighborhood and walk to school together. They sometimes sleep overnight at each other’s homes. We’ve come a long way from when I was a kid.”
Eighth-grader Rory Connor, who is white, affirmed this. Pisano’s class, of which Connor is a member, had just finished a unit on race in America. When the class was asked about how they felt when learning, for example, about Jim Crow laws in the South, Connor said that he understood how they worked. He then paused and added, “But I can’t understand why anyone would want to live that way.”
Dr. Andre Hines is an African-American who has lived in Forest Park for 12 years. She is the CEO of Circle Family Health Care on Chicago’s West Side. And, she has a unique perspective on where the village is at, in terms of race relations.
Recently returned home from several years of work in rural Alaska, Hines confirmed Harlan Kuhr’s contention that stereotypes arise when people don’t have contact with folks who are different.
Hines said: “While in Alaska I lived among whites, Native Eskimos and Native Indians who had never lived among black people. What an experience! These were otherwise good people but their impression of blacks was what they had seen on television – and it wasn’t good. One person actually told me that her daughter was
acting black and that she was very upset by it. What she meant was that her daughter was doing drugs and being promiscuous.”
Hines thinks the race-relations cup can be seen as either half full, or half empty.
“One of the reasons I have been attracted to Forest Park is because I can actually see diverse groups living together every day,” she said.
But, after recalling her experience in Alaska, she added: “I truly understand that a lot of work needs to be done before Dr. King’s dream has come true.”
Rory Hoskins is also African-American, and he moved here in 1999. He sits on the village board as commissioner of accounts and finance, and he is a faculty member at Loyola University in Chicago. This father of three district 91 students cites the diversity in Forest Park schools, and the presence of people of color in many village institutions and associations as evidence that the cup is at least half full.
He neatly summarized what almost everyone who was interviewed for this article was saying, in terms of what still needs to be done: “Is there work to do? Sure. There is quite a bit of self-segregating in terms of how we socialize in Forest Park, particularly among adults. I think that if we took more time to get to know each other, we’d find more commonalities than differences. This is mostly a generational issue, and
progress is being made here too.”