When he was 14 years old, Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey was arrested by the Bellwood Police Department, “handcuffed, thrown on the ground, kicked and called the n— word.”
Harvey, 58, became the village’s first African American mayor in 2017. He had previously been the village’s first Black firefighter and its first Black fire chief.
“When I became a firefighter, the police officer who arrested me and kicked me and called me the n— word still worked in the village of Bellwood,” Harvey recalled. “I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Remember me?’”
Harvey’s recollection prompted wild applause from those gathered inside of Broadview Village Hall in Broadview on March 26 for an African American Mayors Roundtable hosted by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s Glen Ellyn chapter.
All four of Proviso Township’s Black mayors attended the event. Broadview Mayor Katrina Thompson, Maywood Mayor Nathaniel George Booker and Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins joined Harvey for the roughly two-hour panel discussion in which the mayors spoke rather candidly about the myriad ways race has affected them as elected officials.
“In Broadview, we have an all-female board of trustees,” said Thompson. “So, not only am I the first Black woman to hold the seat, I’m the first Black woman to have an all-female board of trustees.”
Forest Park played a particularly prominent role in the Saturday afternoon discussion, especially considering that it’s the only suburb in the township that isn’t predominantly African American that is nonetheless helmed by an African American mayor.
“Who would have thought that these communities — Bellwood, Broadview, Maywood and especially Forest Park, and especially Forest Park — would have men and women who look like us in charge?” Harvey said, eliciting more audience reaction as he repeatedly emphasized Forest Park.
Hoskins, Forest Park’s first Black mayor, smiled knowingly at Harvey’s comment, which was weighted with the village’s fraught racial history — a history Hoskins knows all too well.
“Over the years, I’ve heard from lots of people who have told me stories of not feeling welcome in Forest Park,” Hoskins said.
“My family has lived in Forest Park since 1991. I’ve never personally had any issues with law enforcement in Forest Park — except for getting parking tickets,” Hoskins deadpanned. “I’ve paid a lot of parking tickets over the years.”
Hoskins then recalled the “forms of racism, whether overt or micro-aggressions” that he’s experienced over the course of his life, including an impressionable encounter with police in Galveston, Texas, where he grew up.
Hoskins said at 15, he was stopped by a police officer “for doing nothing but jogging and I was about 40 yards away from my family’s home. My father was the first Black mayor in Galveston, the first Black Eagle Scout in Galveston County.
“It was kind of annoying to be stopped in front of my own house. I was doing nothing but jogging, wearing shorts, a shirt and running shoes,” he said. “So when we hear about Ahmaud Arbery, I think about what could have been.”
Hoskins also recalled an experience he had while a young father raising his three children in Forest Park’s school system.
“As a very young parent, when my son was about 6, one of the speech therapists simply dismissed me as if I didn’t count as a father,” Hoskins recalled. “‘Dad you can sit out in the hallway.’ She didn’t really want to engage me.”
But most of Hoskin’s recollections about his life in Forest Park, the village he currently leads, leaned toward the conciliatory, a sensibility that Hoskins has brought to the popular Juneteenth celebrations (Galveston is where the holiday commemorating the liberation of one of the last groups of enslaved people in the country originated).
“I was a soccer coach and I took a team that went from being 0-8 to being 7-0-1 and the only black child on that team was my child,” the mayor recalled, adding that the parents of his daughter’s teammates eventually recruited him to run for village commissioner.
When he won in 2007, Hoskins became the first African American ever elected to any public office in Forest Park. Hoskins said after getting his sea legs on the commission, he felt urged to run for mayor in order to enhance the village’s racial diversity, particularly by appointing more women and minorities to seats of power in the village.
During last week’s roundtable, Mayor Booker seemed to vouchsafe his fellow mayor’s effort to diversify Forest Park.
“A couple of weeks ago, I walked in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade with Mayor Hoskins. I never walked in a Forest Park parade before,” Booker said.
“That was an amazing experience,” he said. “Working with Broadview and Bellwood, we did a Juneteenth walk that ended in Forest Park. The beauty of saying, ‘First Black, first Black, first Black,’ is they’re bringing us along this journey and I’m just proud of the journey they’re taking me on.”