Why anti-racism is key to sustainability

By Beronica Puhr

Note: A version of this post first appeared in Wednesday Journal and OakPark.com on August 3, 2021. Read the piece on OakPark.com »

Kids and adults do butterfly craft projects
Community members explored a variety of pollinators, particularly moths and butterflies, through activities, rhymes, and storytime picture books from the library’s Book Bike at the Oak Park Conservatory in June.

2021 is the Year of the Butterfly in Oak Park

Butterflies symbolize hope and renewal, and their existence is vital to the health of our planet. We all need hope and renewal and a healthy planet, so it’s fitting that 2021 is the Year of the Butterfly in Oak Park. 

Many people and organizations have been working to make this initiative happen and thrive, with events and opportunities happening through September. Our planet is for all of us, and achieving true sustainability requires a coalition. 

Our coalition includes the Brooks Earth Action Team, West Cook Wild Ones, Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory, Interfaith Green Network, and Oak Park Public Library. We’re also guided by the Illinois Monarch Project, a coalition of agencies, organizations, and individuals committed to helping monarch butterflies thrive throughout Illinois. 

True sustainability requires a coalition & anti-racism

All these organizations are uniting to bring full awareness to the community and save our pollinators from extinction, to create a sustainable environment. 

True sustainability requires a coalition — and it also requires anti-racism. 

Black and Brown people often live in the communities most impacted by climate change and environmental injustice. The history of redlining in federal housing policies has pushed Black and Brown families into neighborhoods that are mostly asphalted, heated areas, with less access to greener spaces.

Racism and economic inequality often block Black and Brown children and families from accessing resources and learning related to sustainability. For example, the chronic stressors of food insecurity and systemic racism in health care lead to chronic diseases, strained finances, and lack of time to spend on figuring out how to live an environmentally friendly life.

Supporting planet & people

The Oak Park Public Library is committed to antiracism in all our work, including sustainability efforts in the Year of the Butterfly. As a public institution, we aim to be good stewards by supporting the planet and the people through ecological and cultural literacy. 

The library is developing empathy toward “intersectionality” through environmental education and outreach. We are actively and intentionally providing resources, learning, and programming to all people. This includes storytimes, book discussions, free milkweed seed kits, a garden bike tour, and summer reading program challenges.

The library is also a restorative practice organization. We strive to be good stewards of the natural lands of Illinois that have belonged to Native Americans, and restore both the planet and ourselves. 

In May, we added new pollinator gardens outside the Main Library and Maze Branch.

People planting a garden outside the Maze Branch Library
Library staff and volunteers planting a new pollinator garden at Maze Branch in May.

These build on the Community Sensory Garden at Maze, which has been used since 2019 to provide an inclusive space and encourage meaningful intergenerational interactions with individuals about the environment.

The new pollinator gardens also will provide impactful ways to learn about food growth and, eventually, create seed distribution centers accessible to anybody.