The Forest Park Village Council, Tuesday evening, unanimously approved the addition of the first African American member to the Diversity Commission.
Deborah Starks, who has lived in the community for over a decade, will serve as the commission’s seventh member. The body’s founding ordinance, which Calderone and the council approved in May 2016, calls for seven volunteer community members to serve three-year terms.
During its first few months of existence, the commission, tasked with spreading awareness of diversity and promoting understanding in the village, has operated with six members. It does not have legislative power, serving in an advisory role to Mayor Anthony Calderone and the village council.
“She really had a great story to share,” Calderone said during the council meeting on Oct. 11. “I felt she would be a good addition.”
Starks, who works as a budget analyst for the University of Illinois Chicago, heard about the commission from a friend and decided to join to “to be a voice for my community in the community.”
The commission should represent all Forest Parkers, Starks said, and her addition helps bring “credibility” to the previously all-white commission. While the Waukegan native acknowledged Forest Park’s heterogeneity, she did say public institutions, including the police and fire departments and municipal government, do not fully reflect that diversity and could be more inclusive.
Calderone said he previously reached out to about a half-dozen African American community members about volunteering but could not find anyone interested. The mayor’s office also sent letters to several local African American elected officials, including U.S. Representative Danny Davis and Illinois state Senator Kimberly Lightford, among others.
Calderone stressed that diversity is more than just racial differences, mentioning ethnicity and sexual orientation, as examples. With a few other residents now expressing interest, the mayor also said he may recommend amending the ordinance to allow more community members to serve. For now, he is letting the current commission members get to know one another and develop some goals.
“I want to give them some breathing room,” he said.
Starks, who has not spoken with the rest of the commission, said she has no experience in public service but is optimistic about the prospect.
“As long as the mayor is willing to listen to us, as long as he’s willing to work with us,” Starks said. “I think it’ll be great.”