Lifetime Forest Park resident Bob Cox has written a new book titled “Curious Proviso,” in which he attempts to set the record on Proviso East High School’s history.
“My goal is to get rid of the negative perception and take a look at what the reality is now,” he said.
Cox said he finished the manuscript in April, and signed an agreement with the New York-based Beacon Publishing Group in June. He said he is currently designing the book cover with a Forest Park-based graphic designer, and aims to have the book on shelves by the end of the year. “Curious Proviso” will appear in paperback, ebook and audio forms.
Cox’s intention in writing is to share “the good, the bad, and the ugly” about his 50 year long relationship with the school. Cox graduated from the school in 1972, served as a D209 board member from 2007 to 2011 and now works as a substitute teacher there.
In his book, Cox seems to believe that when he went to school at Proviso East there was still the possibility that the school could actually be a stable integrated institution. At that time, the school was about one-third black, Brown v. Board of Education had set the precedent that separate could never be equal, and there were enough white people still living in Proviso Township to maintain racial balance. . .if they would stay.
Cox gives several reasons for Proviso East not being racially integrated today. One was the narrative people were telling themselves and each other about what was happening at their high school.
“The public undertone concerned with public safety and seemingly unprovoked violence was predominantly racially motivated because the social fabric of the times was unraveling,” he writes. “The general community and keepers of popular opinion seemed to be content in settling for the most convenient answers, including indifference and complacency, not ideal grounds for problem solving.”
What bothers the author of “Curious Proviso” is that none of the creators of the negative urban legend seemed to actually set foot in the school to see what was really going on, including the Forest Park Review. Cox doesn’t deny that Proviso East has had its share of problems during the last 50 years, but he argues that how people spin the meaning of events makes a difference.
For example, the fight which took place outside the school in 1968, after which 200 students were suspended, was framed as a “riot.” Cox acknowledged that there was a racial element involved but that “this was also about adolescent tribal rites of passage” which “agitated public perception and then morphed it into an urban legend and became a tipping point for Proviso East.”
What the urban legend neglected to mention, he notes, is that when the Proviso East basketball team won the state championship five months later it brought “an entire community together.” Instead of focusing on the glass being half full, Cox argues, residents of Proviso Township including Forest Park allowed racial fears, mutual distrust, economic disinvestment, changing neighborhoods, public resentment, overt racism and scapegoating minorities “to erode Proviso East High School as a viable public institution.”
One of the objectives the Proviso East graduate had in writing “Curious Proviso” is to replace the negative urban legend with a more realistic and therefore positive narrative which includes, the work of Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, who served as D209 Superintendent between 2008 and 2015. He names her as a bright spot who began the transformation of Proviso East that is going on today.
He views the election in 2015 of Forest Park residents Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner and later the election of four more 209 Together candidates to the D209 school board as signs that the transformation begun by Collins-Hart will continue.