BY KATHY ROUTLIFFE
Sometimes it doesnâ€™t take marches, research, passionate speeches or angry debate to understand the wisdom of opening towns, homes and hearts to all humanity.
Sometimes all you have to do is listen to a story.
Those can be stories like Arif Choudhuryâ€™s memories of growing up the only brown-skinned, Bangladeshi, Muslim boy in Northbrook; memories from Evanstonian Sue Oâ€™Halloran of childhood in a segregated Irish American neighborhood on Chicagoâ€™s south side; tales from retired ad man Lowell Thompson of life in the same city, in a segregated African-American community.
The three, all of them professional storytellers, writers and communicators, shared their histories â€“ some humorous, others poignant â€“ with a packed house of listeners in Wilmette last month.
The stories entertained and educated close to 70 people who gathered at the Wilmette Public Library April 24 for â€œConnecting Neighbors: Stories From the Front Porch,â€ organized as a celebration of National Fair Housing Month by Winnetka-based Open Communities.
Open Communities was previously known as Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs, but changed its name last October, housing director Viki Rivkin said May 14.
Rivkin said the transformation reflected the 41-year-old organizationâ€™s intent to broaden its mission â€“ enhancing open and diverse communities in its 16 North Shore communities â€“ from simply seeking affordable housing to exploring and encouraging all aspects of community.
Last month marked the 45th anniversary of the signing of the national Fair Housing Act, and the ninth year Open Communities marked that milestone. The name change provided impetus for special celebration, Rivkin said.
â€œWe wanted to tie fair housing and neighborhoods together with our new name, by showing the benefits of difference and diversity â€¦ it was entertaining, but it helped us reach out and educate, a reminder of what we can do by listening to each other.â€
Choudhury, a stand-up comic, accountant and filmmaker, is also a long time Open Communities board member. He agreed last week with Rivkin.
â€œWe were thinking it would be very intimate, perhaps 20 or so people, but we had many more people, more than 60,â€ he said, adding that the overriding message of the evening was of successful cooperation, appreciation and interaction among neighbors in the northern suburbs.
Thompson, who has reflected, written and talked about race, racism, and race relations for two decades since leaving the national advertising business, was happily surprised at the turnout.