Students at Oak Park and River Forest High School expect changes after a series of racist and anti-Semitic incidents — and look to adults in their community to back up their efforts, students said at a rally Sunday.
In the wake of these events, more than 200 people gathered Sunday outside of the school for a Unite Against Hate March through downtown Oak Park.
Students led the marchers, which stretched several blocks. “Whose school? Our school!” the students and their supporters chanted.
“A lot of us are angry, and a lot of us are hurt, and a lot of us our scared,” OPFR senior Michela Anderson said. “I just want to say that I look around [at the rally] and I don’t see the hate I’ve seen at this school. I feel nothing but love.”
Race relations at Oak Park were examined at length in “America to Me,” a Starz documentary looking at the relatively liberal, diverse community’s persistent gap in educational outcomes between black and white students.
One of the protagonists of the documentary, teacher and activist Anthony Clark, was targeted in one of the racist vandalism incidents.
Clark encouraged the adults at the rally Sunday to listen to the students’ concerns.
“We failed our youth. We’re here today because as adults we have failed young people,” Clark said. “The conversations of hate did not start in the Oval Office. They started in our living rooms.”
OPRF Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said at the rally that the school district was working toward several long-term goals urged by students and faculty, including increased hiring of minority teachers and race-conscious components of the curriculum.
A student advisory committee representing the racial and religious diversity of the school will be formed by Thanksgiving, Pruitt-Adams said.
“We just heard that, right?” Clark said after Pruitt-Adams finished speaking, addressing the adults attending the march. “It’s going to be our responsibility to make sure the administration is held accountable.”
In an email to OPRF parents just before the rally, Pruitt-Adams said the school would have an increased police presence this week. Pruitt-Adams declined to provide further details about the school’s investigation Sunday but said the person responsible could face serious consequences.
Oak Park Police are also investigating. Police said Friday that they had identified a person who “may be responsible” for sharing the image of the swastika.