Walk with me - to the heart of Oak Park, Illinois, a community like no other, yet like all others, where the unique meets the universal. Welcome to our town, a dynamic, ever-evolving entity. The unifying thread is community - discovering it in the day-to-day, the face-to-face, the moments of beauty, the longing to be better than we were, striving to be better than we are, and, as Thornton Wilder wrote in his play, Our Town, prizing the smallest details and events of daily life. Our Town Oak Park aims for that same "rainbow's end" capturing the experience of being alive - in one middle-sized, middle-class, Midwest town at the beginning of the 21st century.
True community is more than individuals living next to one another. It is the alchemy that takes place when we interact and become better individuals for doing so. Oak Park is an ongoing experiment to see if a mere collection of individuals can be diverse yet whole, to the benefit of everyone. And if one community can accomplish this, then all can.
"We" are not some static set piece, some staged play, some museum diorama. You and I are part of a greater whole yet to come. We're not there yet, but we're getting there, moment by moment. My hope is that you'll find many such moments in this book.
This has been both a personal and collective journey. Oak Park has worked hard over the past 70 years to foster community. Not some blissful utopia. Moving toward true community is hard work, but worth the struggle. We're pointing the way because we need as many inclusive, equity-aspiring, ever-evolving, good-governing, welcoming communities as possible.
My walk has lasted 32 years. Returning to Oak Park, covering the town for the local newspaper, I got to know people I probably never would have met otherwise. Everyone, I soon learned, has a story and everyone's story is worth telling. Cumulatively, those stories tell who we are - in our living, loving, and dying.
And ever so slowly, I discovered a place of deep belonging.
I found my way back home.