Together at the bridge

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Forest Park Against Racism.

It's all in the name. And in the urgency. And in the opportunity.

In 15 days a small group of determined Forest Parkers created this group and, together with support from many sources, mounted a Juneteenth event — Meet Us at the Bridge — that was equal parts uplift and soul shattering.

Friday evening, on the sun-baked Circle Avenue bridge, more than 1,000 people gathered with hope and anger to listen to this Black-led group lay out, with eloquence and fierceness, the many ways Forest Park fails on race. Has failed historically. Is failing today. Will most certainly fail tomorrow if genuine change is not intentionally demanded and made.

This is not Forest Parkers Against Racism. It is Forest Park Against Racism. The entity of Forest Park, the entirety of Forest Park that is being called out for our systemic racism. This is not Forest Park considering the possibility that there is racism within us, ordering up a study, planning a new street party to bring us together in a superficial way. It is a declaration that Forest Park, like every American community, is steeped in racism.

And the way past it, if there is a way past, is through it. It is the hard work of being fully uncomfortable, of being challenged as white people in owning up to our racism, to our perpetual privilege in this society.

Ken Snyder, one of the founders of this group and the only white founder, took the microphone well into the 75-minute event Friday and said, "I want to talk to the white people. This is on us. We have to be honest. We live in a system that puts us at the front of the line. … We have been given a historic opportunity."

This historic opportunity, borne of the murder of George Floyd by a white cop in Minneapolis just weeks ago, was seen in the strong words of Ayanna Brown, a Forest Parker, professor at Elmhurst University, a founder of this group and the mother of two young people, who also spoke powerfully on Friday. Brown was uncompromising. "I am an angry Black woman," she said as she articulated the many reasons for her anger. "I'm not only angry. I'm actually really pissed off!"

The opportunity was also seen in the full-on blending of races and ages on that bridge Friday. Hundreds of white people. White people beginning to see, to imperfectly see, the righteous anger we have sown over centuries, the racism and the privilege we have baked into every crevice, into every system.

But today something is up. Something profound is stirring, shifting. And it gives us this moment.

There is the old Leonard Cohen song, "Anthem," with this lyric, "Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, there is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

George Floyd and the hundred-plus other names that lined the bridge on Friday, the hundred-plus other black men and women who died at the hands of police, have with their very lives opened a sliver of light that we need to push hard through.

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