In honor of Fair Housing Month in April, friends and neighbors of Open Communities gathered for the “Know Your Neighbors” event to tell stories that spanned continents and encompassed experiences both heart-wrenching and hopeful. With help from renowned storyteller Susan O’Halloran of Evanston, people living in the northern suburbs told of the challenges they face as persons with disabilities or as refugees, yet emphasized the significant contributions they make to their communities.
Like participants in past Open Communities storytelling events, those who spoke reminded everyone who attended of the benefits of living in diverse communities. According to Open Communities’ Director of Fair Housing, Viki Rivkin, who orchestrated the event held at the Wilmette Public Library, “Storytelling is a way to show there is diversity in the northern suburbs. I’m proud of the diversity of my block in Wilmette and this is the norm for lots of places; there are so many extraordinary stories to share – some of them painful and some uplifting, but all reminders that our communities are stronger when we take time to listen to one another.”
These north suburban stories – told by persons with disabilities and recent refugees – definitely plucked at our heart strings. Matthew LaChappelle, of Evanston, showed his video “Just like Everyone Else,” which depicts how he has been embraced by his community, where he participates in school, sports, family life and work, regardless of his disability. “It only took one person to say, ‘Yeah, join in!’” he said.
Nura Aly’s desire to go to the mountains of Colorado and find her freedom was recorded for the audience to witness. The young woman from Evanston said of her wheelchair, “These small wheels allow me to be free, but they also deny me my freedom.” Nura is active and does not let her disability hold her back. “My sense of freedom infects the group”. Her story and suggestions about how to create more accessible spaces left the audience wanting to know more the possibilities for additional accessibility in their communities.
Hasan Mavric, who now lives near Northbrook, fled his home of Sarajevo because he could no longer live in a war zone. A Muslim, Hasan pretended to be Catholic when he came to a Catholic village on his way to the coast of Croatia. This made him think, “I’m trying to act Catholic, but what is that? How is that different from how I look or act because I have a Muslim name?” His point to the audience was that perhaps people and cultures aren’t that different. We all want to be safe and secure, with food, heat and shelter.
After his arrival to the U.S., his struggle with religious identity led him to join the American Islamic Center. He began working on an interfaith outreach effort between the Village Presbyterian Church of Northbrook and the American Islamic Center. They’ve now been sharing activities and Muslim-Christian dialogue for the past 6 years.
Hasan’s story not only captivated the crowd, he illustrated the extent to which one man can make a difference. If he can help foster understanding between the many different types of people coexisting in the northern suburbs, so can we. – See more at:
Telling stories is an important way to illustrate who we really are and why the sum of our diverse parts makes a whole and welcoming community. We need to keep telling these stories and opening dialogues so we can continue to learn how we can be good neighbors and allies.
We urge you, our friends and supporters, to share your stories with us. Do you have a story to tell? Stories, photos and videos will be posted on our website! Contact our Outreach Coordinator, Jes, to share! (847) 501-5760 ext. 502 or firstname.lastname@example.org
April 2014 was our nation’s 46th anniversary celebrating President Johnson’s signature against discrimination. Fair Housing Month marks adoption of the federal Fair Housing Act, legislation that prevents discrimination in housing based on race, color, sex, national origin, or religion. It was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on April 11, 1968.
Nura Aly with Sue O’Halloran