MORGAN PARK — Racist graffiti that surfaced last month in Morgan Park proved to be the spark that led to an intense discussion of racism and neighborhood diversity on Tuesday evening.
The Beverly Area Planning Association hosted the forum in the wake of racist graffiti that was spray-painted on several cars, garages and buildings over a two-day span beginning late Sept. 19.
About 50 people attended the open meeting. As those in the association's community room at 11109 S. Longwood Drive introduced themselves, many shared their experiences with racism in Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood.
Some said they attended the open meeting after hearing about the graffiti and being fed up with subtle, prejudiced comments shared at neighborhood bonfires or block parties.
For others, the graffiti brought them back to a time when racism on Southwest Side and throughout the country was more overt.
Willie Scott, 80, of suburban Blue Island was born in Birmingham, Ala. He attended the community meeting in neighboring Morgan Park as a concerned citizen.
"I rode in the back of the bus. I drank from 'colored' water fountains," Scott said.
He stressed education as a way to combat racist behavior and pitied those who have "hatred in their heart."
Audrey Peeples has lived in Beverly for 40 years. She believes black families have a very different experience living in the neighborhood compared to white families.
Peeples sensed this disparity when her children were young and she opted to send them to schools on the North Side rather than the local public or parochial schools. She said changing the atmosphere in the neighborhood will require reaching out to people who are unwilling to change.
"For me, the wrong people are here tonight," Peeples said.
Education was suggested by many attending the meeting as a way to prevent future racist incidents. Some advocated for developing a curriculum or short program that could be shared among the area's public and private schools.
Others recommended an event meant to celebrate the diversity within Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood. A parade or party could potentially bring many groups within the neighborhoods together, creating a shared, positive experience.
Other suggested yard signs or T-shirts promoting the area as a place that's welcome to everyone. This could possibly unite residents and businesses in the fight against bigotry, several attendees said.
Despite the universal outcry against the racist graffiti, there was also a strong appreciation for Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood. Julius Noble of Morgan Park was perhaps the most relevant proponent.
Noble was among the six families who were victimized by the racist graffiti. He's lived in his home on Esmond Street since 1986, raising three children there. Noble has no plans to move or hold a grudge.
"I will not let this make me angry with anyone else in my community," Noble said.
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