Today begins the August campaign of "Infiltrate Oak Park."
What does that word mean to you? Is it powerful? Does it get your attention?
It should. What it should not do is create fear.
Black and Brown folks spend a lot of time being taken out of context...
On the street
On the job
In our skin
Often we are misunderstood because it is easier for those in power to ignore that which makes us more than they can imagine. We are powerful and we have within us something they don't have and prefer not to understand. We make every effort to participate fully in our nation home, yet we must be on alert to be ready to defend our flesh. We do so to further our existence because it is difficult being brown in white spaces. We are choosy as to where we place our bodies because preserving our spirits and souls often takes precedence over educating those who do not wish to be educated
When you hear a person say "The struggle is real." Believe that, but.......
Don't question that.
If a person says their head hurts, is it your job to convince them otherwise? NO.
If a person says their wooden chair causes them pain, is it your job to suggest they find a softer chair? NO.
If we say we are not happy with the negative effects "urbanization" and gentrification have had on the lives of our people...Your job is to empathize with us and offer comfort through our pain. Do not chastise us for not "pulling up our bootstraps" or because we just could not "get over it." Please remain without judgement or "advice" geared toward stroking your own ego or soothing your privileged sensitivities to a problem that must eventually be addressed .
If we say the neighborhood association is ignoring the voices of the unheard, do you talk over us or explain why we are wrong?
Your role in our battle is to offer empathy, not constructive criticism.
If this is a struggle for you, then know that we're not leaving.
Open heart. Open mind. Closed mouth.
This type of treatment is what causes people of color to steer clear of white spaces. We want to feel like we belong without being singled out as a novelty or something out of place. When we show up on the Wine Train, don't trip. We like to enjoy the same things you do. The color of our skin should not confuse you as to our presence. Where we belong is where we belong, and if that is right next to you at the next Neighborhood Association meeting, then so be it.
An Open Letter to OPNA
As the originator of the phrase “infiltrate oak park,” the concept was born of how alone I often felt in my neighborhood. Walking into establishments and feeling alone and ignored. Having law enforcement request to search my home because they believed I was harboring a fugitive rather than trying not to let my cats out while I spoke with them. How can a person heal their spirit when buying a chai tea becomes an exercise in standing strong in the face of adversity? I felt like Ruby Nell Bridges walking into William Frantz in New Orleans. I was doing it alone, but how taxing is that on a person? Eventually, Ruby required an escort for her safety, no matter how strong she appeared. If there is strength in numbers, that’s what I wanted. Hence, “Infiltrate Oak Park.”
The negative connotations of the word “infiltrate” are more than likely fed by the media’s demonization of a group of marginalized members of society combining to form a larger voice in the hopes they may finally be heard. The use of the word infiltrate has a goal in that marginalized persons must gain access to, permeate, or penetrate places which do not feel safe. Bringing people into places which may initiate uncomfortable conversations about race, class, and opportunity cannot be gentle. Has anyone here ever been involved in or witnessed a gentle drug intervention? Has anyone here ever witnessed an infant brought into the world via cesarean? Has anyone here ever witnessed a person at the end of their life? All of these processes are uncomfortable AND necessary. Should gentle terminology be used? Let’s look at the difference between “We shall overcome, someday.” and “By any means necessary.” The goal was to uplift a marginalized people with a tone that would bring them past centuries of acquiescence to the cultural and systemic norms which have oppressed them and silenced their voices. By uplifting a marginalized people, the space between those margins must become a space shared by folks who may not know how exist together. In order to build structures which keep the construction sound, there must be struggle in the design. Again, it is uncomfortable AND necessary.
Unfortunately, much of the vilification surrounding the upcoming meeting came from members of the OPNA Facebook page, who, without making a valuable choice to ask questions, sounded the alarm of fear out of confusion over simple semantics. When I read the responses regarding the supposition that previously unheard members of this community pledged to come to together in solidarity to a meeting about, and for their community was regarded in a negative way, it made my heart sink. These are our neighbors and how they approached an action they did not understand created a maelstrom of defense and apologetics from OPNA board members geared to assuage the fears of a population ignorant of the plight of the unheard and complacent in addressing real issues in Oak Park.
Much of the consternation surrounding Oak Park’s marginalized community occurs on the Facebook page and is due to a lack of knowledge with regard to those whose voices remain unheard. It is obvious when a person of color makes a salient point, has it gently explained away, only to be immediately co-opted by a non-person of color and run with, that something is amiss. Case in point:
Cops and Coffee. Having Law Enforcement personnel at the OPNA meetings has been absolutely exclusionary with regard to those who don’t feel safe in their presence. Knowing Black men are 3 times more likely to wind up in prison than their white counterparts, how can you expect those persons to come to an OPNA meeting if the police are there? A number of persons of color have suggested limitations to police presence in OPNA meetings, yet they remain and often dominate the conversation of concern and fear of the unknown. That is, until a white person proposed the notion again and it was embraced by many as a wonderful suggestion. How else could we have said it differently, and how does it make an individual feel when their voice is not being heard, especially when we are all speaking the same language? Imagine how much worse that feels when a collective of individuals continue to be unheard? If a person feels an injustice has been perpetrated, they have every right to address it and be heard without derision. Feeling as though making mention of how one feels as an individual and as an unheard group and being ignored is what hurts the most here.
The August 4 meeting is not an invasion by Black Lives Matters; it is a penetration of the margins of the well oiled machine that is the OPNA by the embodiment of years of unheard voices by Oak Park’s marginalized citizens to gain access to information and make suggestions for positive change in our neighborhood. Take the time to listen to what we believe is important in the community we share and allow us to cooperatively create change for the benefit of all.
L. Gracie Phillips
Your Neighbor and OPNA member
So This August 4th, we need the voices of the unheard in Oak Park to come together to collectively express our needs and wants at a meeting that is for everyone. If anyone feels uncomfortable there it won't be us because we will be among our partners in the struggle.
We need Oak Park to SHOW UP AND OCCUPY THIS SPACE this Thursday!!!
Our neighborhood association isn't giving everyone a voice!!!! We haven't been included in decisions and it needs to stop! Some of us have been here all of our lives, and we are being pushed out! SHOW UP!