About a month ago 700 people showed up at a Black Lives Matter rally in Oak Park. Rev. Shawn Schreiner, the rector of Grace Episcopal Church, started the whole thing off with an email on Monday, word got passed around quickly and six days later a big crowd showed up to protest white cops killing black unarmed males and the failure of grand juries to indict the officers.

Why didn’t a similar event happen in Forest Park?

In some ways Forest Park and Oak Park are similar. In 2012, 77 percent of Forest Parkers voted and 80 percent of them cast their ballot for President Obama. In Oak Park the turnout was 79.8 percent and 82.5 percent voted for Obama. The African American portion of the population: Forest Park 32 percent, Oak Park 21.7 percent. The percentage of people living below the poverty level is about the same: Forest Park 7.4 percent and Oak Park 8.4 percent.

Here are some of the differences.

Interfaith Cooperation. Forest Park used to have an active ministerium. The clergy would meet monthly, and a big event each year was the ecumenical Thanksgiving service. Not anymore. Oak Park’s Community of Congregations is very active.

The Larger View. I asked a pastor in Maywood to describe the relationship between Forest Park and Maywood. He replied, “There is none.” In contrast, Oak Parkers frequently cross Austin Blvd. and participate in many programs in the Austin Neighborhood.

The High School. Proviso East High School right now frustrates the development of community leaders in Forest Park. When I was in the parish, we had a lot of bright energized young leaders leave us when the ages of their kids reached 13 or 14, just at the time when those parents were ready to assume great responsibility. OPRF High School keeps residents in Oak Park for a long time. 

What do you make of that? In many ways we can say that Forest Parkers are just as liberal as our neighbors to the east of Harlem. We can boast that we have a larger black population percentage-wise than Oak Park which boasts that they are so tolerant, plus we seem to have a basically color blind way of dealing with our neighbors, i.e. I don’t care what your color or sexual orientation is; if you are a good neighbor, we’ll get along fine.

I think part of what I call “the problem” is lack of leadership. Right now, my sense of the religious leadership in town is that they are focused on their own congregations, either because they are just starting out and need a lot of attention or because they are old and have been losing membership for decades.

Lack of an interfaith organization. Oak Park went from an email on Monday to 700 people in Scoville Park on Sunday in large part because they have a functioning interfaith organization with a strong communication network.

Lack of opinionated people. That’s not necessarily a negative. The Wednesday Journal typically has something like six to eight letters to the editor every week. Oak Parkers love to express their opinions. The Review often will have none. I think that is in large part due to the different levels of education in the two towns. The more education people have, it seems to me, the more opinions they have and the more they need to tell everyone about them. Blue collar folks talk about their families and sports. Ph.D.’s discuss the books they are reading, politics and their latest trip to Asia. People in this town seem to have less of need to “demonstrate” what they think and how they feel.

Size of the community. Forest Park is about one-third the size of Oak Park. Maybe we just don’t have the critical mass necessary. 

I guess there’s still time for a rally here in Forest Park, but maybe we’ll have to wait until the temperature warms up.

What do you think? Why didn’t a Black Lives Matter rally happen in Constitution Court? If you want to be un-Forest-Parkish, express your opinion in the comments section of www.forestparkreview.com.

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