The following is a copy of an article I had published in the July issie of Friends of the Parks newsletter.
By Keith M. Kelley, President/Garfield Park Advisory Council
I joined the Garfield Park Advisory Council (GPAC) in 2009. I was elected President in 2015. The organization had been lead for the past two decades by my charismatic predecessor, Levette Haynes. After only one year in this role, I am in awe of her perseverance! This article is a reflection on how this year has been a “learning process” not only for me, but for our organization.
The Garfield Park Advisory Council is thirty years old; however our organizational capacity is that of a new organization. My main task has been to develop how we observe, report, and advise the Chicago Park District, as well as raise alternative sources of revenue on behalf of our park. This has involved growing our membership to increase our human capital, restructuring our committees, strategically appointing chairs, and positioning the GPAC to fundraise by entering into a fiscal sponsorship relationship with the Chicago Parks Foundation. Getting our PAC to function like “an organization” was our first step to building our capacity.
The second step was figuring out how to get our members to work together! One of our challenges as an organization has been to respect the heritage and contributions of long-standing community residents, while still remaining welcoming to newcomers. We have been experiencing a lot growth in membership this year. Recent changes in neighborhood demographics (or “gentrification” depending on your perspective) have “diversified” our membership. Some members have lived most of their lives in this predominantly Black (African-American) community, while others have arrived more recently. Most of our members “work through differences” rather than simply argue to make their point.
Granted, I did say, “most” of our members. We have a few that vocally take issue with something (even when you agree with them)! This type of behavior can often disrupt meetings and disengage some members from the process. After a couple of “passionate discussions” during meetings I took the advice of a GPAC member, and began to follow Robert’s Rules of Order to maintain decorum. We’re still working on this, but it’s getting better. Our meetings must remain a “safe space” for community members to openly discuss our park.
Lastly, we have had to learn how to make decisions as a council. I recently had a member bring an idea to be for my “approval” of a project. I told them that I liked the idea, but I didn’t have the authority to simply “rubber stamp” their idea. It needed to be discussed and voted on by the council. I reiterated this at our next meeting. We still have much to learn, but I am proud of the Garfield Park Advisory Council’s growth and development so far.