It was a remarkable evening Monday at the Eagles Hall on Hannah Avenue. Three nascent progressive groups called a town hall to discuss Forest Park’s response to the rights of immigrants in our community. They turned out a crowd to listen and debate an issue that is both complex and stunningly clear: We need to protect and embrace our neighbors.

Even before the meeting began, veterans of years of public meetings in town noted how few people in the room they knew. That was part of the magic of the evening. Call it close knit or call it inbred, but Forest Park, like many towns, has been run forever by a small group of inter-connected, mostly dedicated people.

And so, on a night where the topic was passage of a Welcoming Resolution focused on a segment of our neighbors, it was invigorating to see so many new faces, to take a measure of the progressive energy beginning to course through the village.

To their great credit, Mayor Anthony Calderone and Police Chief Tom Aftanas joined the five-member panel taking thoughtful, sometimes pointed questions from the audience. In addition to the two village officials, there was Claudia Medina, a member of the Proviso Township High School board; Mony Ruiz-Velasco, director of PASO, an activist group working to gain passage of similar proposals in west suburban towns and schools; and Kate Webster, chair of the year-old Diversity Commission in Forest Park.

Calderone got a rousing cheer when he said that Forest Park would pass a welcoming resolution. While the subject has been percolating for a few months now and the topic has come once past the village council, Calderone’s declaration was welcome news to the audience.

However, in a happy display of how democracy should work, additional questions were raised about what sort of revisions the unseen second version of the resolution would contain. Not wanting to go into details, Calderone described the changes currently being worked through with the village attorney as “mostly wordsmithing.”

But in a moment of truth for the still-untested Diversity Commission, its chair, Kate Webster, graciously but directly challenged the mayor saying, “It’s more than wordsmithing.” She said her understanding is that sections of the original proposal which relate to how recommendations ought to be integrated into police policy were being removed. While lauding “a great process,” Webster also invited herself to meet Calderone for more direct conversations.

Let’s have more of this, Forest Park: More open discussion, face-to-face, in wonderful and positive exchanges among a range of people who clearly care about our town. The mayor and police chief showed themselves to be sincere and open. An exchange between Mony-Velasco and Aftanas over the nuance of the current law felt like genuine dialogue that might shift an interpretation. The organizers and moderators balanced on the edge between their activism and their desire for a fair hearing. State Rep. Chris Welch spoke with passion about his efforts on this subject in Springfield. 

This was a night to be proud to be a Forest Parker. 

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