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President's Letter: Racial Equity and the Forest Preserves of Cook County

Last week, the Forest Preserves shared a statement in response to the most recent events in a legacy of systemic and individual racism in our country. As an agency in the most diverse county in Illinois, we work hard to welcome everyone into the preserves. But we recognize that people of color often feel unsafe and unwelcome in natural outdoor places. The Forest Preserves acknowledges that we did far too little for far too long to correct this.

After an officer in our police force failed to protect a young woman during a racist incident two years ago, we immediately understood we had more work to do. We want to give some insight into what that has meant in your Forest Preserves of Cook County.

Building on an existing commitment to equity, we had tough conversations with staff and with community leaders and developed a plan to move forward. As first step, we partnered on a new annual rally in the preserves to celebrate diversity, hosted by the Northwest Side Coalition Against Racism and Hate, and convened a summit of Cook County, Forest Preserves and community leaders around policy and training reforms.

In 2018, we launched a Racial Equity, Diversity & Inclusion committee to begin addressing internal structural issues. Their work to date has focused on our community engagement efforts, training opportunities and human resources processes to find ways to increase equity in these areas. We are working to strengthen our relationships to communities and increase efforts to connect with and bring in more visitors from a diversity of communities.

Through myriad programs and trainings, we work hard to help people feel inspired and confident while exploring the outdoors. A consultant has begun implicit bias training for every Forest Preserves employee, starting with our police department. And all this work is informed by a 2019 Cultural Awareness Forum for staff, held with the Department of Justice and the Chicago Commission on Human Relations.

We recognize that we don’t have all the answers and we don’t cite these initiatives and programs as an indication that our work is done, or our goals have been met. Many are ongoing, and we are open and interested in other opportunities as well. But one thing remains certain: We are committed to continuously working towards equity and a world where every person truly feels welcome and safe in nature and in the Forest Preserves of Cook County.


Toni Preckwinkle, President

Arnold Randall, General Superintendent