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Tempers Flare Over Social Justice Issues, Rewriting Of Diversity Statement In Oak Park

OAK PARK, Ill. (CBS) -- A Board of Trustees meeting in Oak Park erupted in charged emotions and angry exchanges this week, all over race relations in the western suburbs.

It happened at a Board of Trustees meeting in Oak Park. CBS 2's Vince Gerasole went there to find out how racial tensions led to the frustration.

The avenues, parks, and people of Oak Park have had a reputation, for diversity and tolerance.

"Oak Park buys into diversity, equity, and inclusion," said Trustee Dan Moroney.

"Oak Park has a place for everybody," said Trustee Susan Buchanan.

But a Monday night a discussion on rewriting the village's diversity statement got heated over some specific words. Those words were: "We work to break down systems of oppression."

"I hesitate to send the message to our police department that they are a system of oppression," Moroney said in the meeting.

Moroney clearly frustrated Buchanan.

"You have been white from birth! Why are you arguing, what is a system of oppression? You have never experienced one!" Buchanan said.

She raised her voice as she continued, at times to applause.

"You have not spent a day with dark brown skin and tried to walk through this society!" she said.

With a few days' perspective, Buchanan stepped back her tone as she spoke with CBS 2.

"I probably showed more emotion than I should have," she said.

But Buchanan stands by her message.

"I strongly believe that there is a time when white people, including myself, should stand back," she said.

Moroney gave us perspective too.

"People of goodwill can have differences of opinion," he said. "I don't think it's OK to silence voices when at the heart, there is tremendous agreement."

But all this is happening where the Oak Park Board of Trustees admittedly is lacking in minority representation.

"The reality is it's a diverse community, until you ask it to be diverse," said community activist Melanie McQueen.

McQueen serves on many Oak Park diversity boards.

"I think it unfair for people who are looking for equality to not give that opportunity of equality," she said.

McQueen said in working for needed change, the village needs everyone to come together.

"We want it to be awesome for everyone – not for just one race," she said.

The diversity statement still includes the phrase "systems of oppression, but goes on to define them as including biases such as racism, sexism, and homophobia.

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