Audrey Sekendur, a junior at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts studying Mathematics and Africana Studies, is the summer intern at Open Communities. She takes special interest in community building and urban planning.
NPR recently released a piece in honor of the 60th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, which deemed segregated schooling unconstitutional. NPR cited Michelle Obama’s speech in Topeka, Kansas, the town where the case originated. She explains, “Now, laws may no longer separate us based on our skin color, but nothing in the Constitution says we have to eat together in the lunch room, or live together in the same neighborhoods. There is no court case against believing in certain stereotypes or thinking that certain kinds of hateful jokes or comments are funny. So the answers to many of our challenges today can’t necessarily be found in our laws. These changes also need to take place in our hearts, and in our minds.” According to the First Lady, legislative changes necessary for desegregation have already taken hold, but laws will not perform the task of integration on their own. Legislative reform is an important first step and must be maintained throughout the journey to integration, but we cannot be fooled into thinking it is the only ingredient for lasting, real change.
Legislation and the open-mindedness of community members to foster tolerance and inclusivity depend on each other. No matter what the ordinance says, an open community is not possible without the support of its members, and an ordinance that advocates for affordable or accessible housing is unlikely to form or succeed without such support. Open Communities has long understood this complex relationship. In fact, social historian Lerone Bennett Jr. who spoke to students participating in the North Shore Summer Project (Open Communities’ predecessor) in 1965 explained in his speech that, “The real missionary area in America is not Harlem, but White Plains; not the South Side but the North Side and the North Shore… It is there, in the heart of the white liberal camp, that the final battle must be fought… White liberals cannot convert anyone in America until they convert themselves.”
In my short time here, it became apparent to me that Open Communities is in the process of making a beautiful transition to appeal to both the implementation of laws that protect people, and the opening of minds, hearts, and ultimately the communities of the North Shore. The organization is staying loyal to its existing programs that address immediate issues like offering free advice to those facing foreclosure, advocating for protected classes under fair housing laws, providing guidance to landlords and tenants, Homesharing, immigrant integration, and more. The incorporation of projects like, “We Are the North Shore,” and involvement in programs like Eating Locally, Acting Globally, the Parent Mentor Program in Skokie, and various storytelling events are a reflection of this transition.
I feel that my place as an intern is to contribute to the shift in attitude about affordable housing in the suburbs. A pen pal program between new and old residents of the 16 communities that Open Communities serves seems like an appropriate way for me to address social injustice by encouraging people with differences to welcome and learn about each other. I imagine this project will include a guide for pen pals that includes suggested prompts and appropriate topics of discussion that can be posted on the Open Communities website. This also might include the creation of a blog that takes submissions of successful or treasured letters with permission of the author.
I am looking forward to the coming weeks and learning more about the current issues in fair housing and community building!
If you are interested in taking part in the pilot pen pal program, please contact:
Jes Scheinpflug at email@example.com or call (847) 501-5760 ext. 502
Open Communities serves Deerfield, Evanston, Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Highwood, Kenilworth, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Niles, Northbrook, Northfield, Park Ridge, Skokie, Wilmette & Winnetka