Fifty years ago, South Holland was a mostly white, historically Dutch community. In 1990, the population was 86 percent white.¹ Today, Mayor De Graff reports, “We have probably around 72 percent African-Americans here, around 23-24 percent Caucasians, about 3-4 percent Hispanics, and maybe 1-2 percent Asians.”²
To break down the barriers among these diverse groups, Mayor De Graff has promoted CommUNITY dinners. As his website explains, “The main goal of CommUNITY Dinners is to foster positive discussions between people with differences in a relaxed and enjoyable setting. This helps members of the community get to know one another in a positive setting.”³ Several dinners are sponsored throughout the year. “The churches, the business association, and the schools all promote these community dinners,” Mayor De Graff reports. “At these meetings [we have] opportunity to talk about this broader concept of ‘how do we live in a community together? What makes us tick? What makes us special and unique?’”
The mayor also strongly encourages neighborhoods to hold block parties. “We provided resources for that, which include food, fire engines, police, park benches…all in an effort to try and bring people together.”4 He’s found that such social events can jumpstart new friendships between neighbors and catalyze the development of new neighborhood associations.
In a multiethnic community there is risk of prejudice between racial groups, prejudices that can be expressed in housing discrimination. Mayor De Graff works intentionally with the realtors association in order to “keep close tabs on our housing situation.” The association provides the mayor with “stats as to the length of time it [takes] to sell a house, the average prices, and making sure there’s been no abuses or red-lining, or any illegal, unethical activities.”5
In South Holland, Mayor De Graff says proudly, “We have virtually broken down that walls that typically divide people. And the reason is because we make an honest and intentional intent, day in and day out, month in and month out, to address those head on. We are very proactive.”
“South Holland, IL,” Encyclopedia of Chicago <http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1173.html>
²Don De Graff (Village Mayor of South Holland, Ill.), telephone interview by Kelly Givens, March 3, 2011.
³“2010 CommUNITY Dinners,” Village of South Holland, <http://www.southholland.org/index.php?page=Events/commdinners>.
4Don De Graff, telephone interview with Kelly Givens, March 3, 2011.