The mantra most often heard from a chamber of commerce is “Shop Local.” And while we are big fans of supporting local businesses, we also know the value of not being bound by artificial borders, of defining community as something more than the narrowest lines on a map.

That’s why it was exciting last week to see Forest Park’s Chamber play a lead role, and serve as host, as five contiguous chambers gathered just off Madison Street for what in the shared parlance of any chamber is a BAH — Business after Hours.

Well represented were businesses and organizations from chambers in Forest Park, Oak Park-River Forest, Elmwood Park-Melrose Park, Berwyn and the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side.

And while, as we noted, these are contiguous communities, they have not, heretofore, represented a natural flow. Heck, you sometimes see daggers being stared between Oak Park and Forest Park, communities that have shared a marketplace for a century. So how to bridge the firmer, more fearful divide across Roosevelt Road to Berwyn or the biggest, often-unspoken wall of Austin Boulevard between a black West Side and its predominantly white near-suburban neighbors?

We’d say that simply in the gathering, the sharing of a story about the challenge of doing business in each of these communities, the recognition and admiration of the entrepreneurial spirit evident in any Chamber confab represents bridge-building and boundary erasing.

In Forest Park, as in Oak Park, we’ve allowed ourselves to be hemmed in by artificial boundaries, and we’ve let low-grade fears divide us. Right now, Forest Park is doing some exceptional border-busting with the shared mission to fix a high school district in Proviso. Continuing that approach in linking communities of business is another positive step.

So good for these chamber leaders who brought business people together. Let’s look for more such opportunities. What about the Maywood Chamber of Commerce?

Explain admissions

Speaking of the Proviso Township high schools, we also report today that the newly energized school board there is asking for a tutorial on just how admission decisions are made for the district’s selective enrollment school in Forest Park, the Proviso Math and Science Academy.

Acknowledging that if board members don’t understand the criteria for admission, the general public likely doesn’t either, both new and holdover board members acknowledged that in the politically-charged atmosphere that has ruled this district until now, parents have reason to suspect that admission goes to the favored. “I have people tell me, ‘It’s gotta be a fix,'” said Brian Cross, a longtime member of the board.

That’s a suspicion we’d share though we don’t know for certain. But on a board determined to show transparency, there would be few places better to start than to simply explain the process of getting into the district’s special school. We’re sure parents can understand, as was suggested last week, that the number of applications and the relative test scores shift the process a bit from year to year. 

We’ll settle for just knowing there is a fair process.

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