Liz, Gail & Gordon never met. But they were “Champions for Justice” that impacted my life and vocation.
Elizabeth Hollander was the first woman to serve as commissioner of planning for the city of Chicago, appointed by Mayor Harold Washington in 1983. I had the privilege to work with her when I became the CEO of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations (CANDO) in 1984.
I’m not sure what year in the 1990s, I first met Gail Burks. But we served together as board directors of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC] for over 20 years. Having both served terms as board chairs, we became close colleagues for economic justice through countless NCRC meetings and appointments with federal officials.
I only met Gordon Harper last May when I became CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) & the Ecumenical Institute. I was scheduled to talk with him the day after we received the call that he had completed his life at the age of 79. I missed that opportunity for another partaking of his wisdom.
According to his obit, Gordon was an activist for justice at a very early age, when in high school he petitioned his neighbors in Neenah, WI to recall Sen. Joseph McCarthy. I’m sure Gordon would have some comments worthy of the Pope on the current Presidential Campaign.
In the early ‘70s, Gordon and his family moved to Chicago to join the staff of the Ecumenical Institute full-time and, as he wrote, “to leave the academic world and change the world.” Over the next quarter century, Gordon combined his passions for teaching, facilitating, and making a positive global change to go on assignments to assist local communities to develop their own plans for the future. Gordon and his family lived all over the Asian world – e.g., India, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan.
Most recently living in Seattle, Gordon worked with ICA’s Archives Team through Google Hangouts and week-long Sojourns in Chicago. He was a ToP (Technology of Participation) trainer of trainers in facilitation skills and strategic planning methods. He was honored with a video tribute at ToP’s 25th anniversary gathering that I had the privilege to attend.
Gail Burks passed way too early at the age of 54 after a brief illness that many of us were not aware of. Originally from North Carolina, she graduated from Arizona State University and ASU Law School. Gail served as the President/CEO for Nevada Fair Housing until last year when she retired after 20+ years of service.
I can attest to her description as “a unique, humble, kindred spirit.” I also witnessed her passion and advocacy against discrimination and predatory lending. I’m sure there will be many tears when she is remembered at NCRC’s 25th Anniversary conference on March 17th in DC. I’ll especially miss her laugh.
Liz Hollander died at the age of 75 last October in Providence, RI, where she had moved to in the late 1990s. A memorial service was held earlier this month here at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library.
Five years ago, I had the opportunity to lunch with Liz when I attended my Providence College 40th reunion. We discussed her role as the executive director of DePaul’s Egan Office for Urban Education & Community Partnerships, working with the university and the community to address critical urban problems, help alleviate poverty and promote social justice in Chicago. Liz went on to be the executive director of Campus Compact, a national coalition of nearly 1,100 colleges and universities committed to enabling campuses to develop students’ citizenship skills and forge effective community partnerships. That conversation remains very relevant to ICA’s Service Learning efforts today.
Among speakers at Liz’s service was former Chicago Tribune writer John McCarron. He noted that she brought a concern for social justice to her work. When the City Council Wars prevented Mayor Washington from taxing downtown development to create new funds for community development, Planning Commissioner Hollander pursued voluntary “linked development” agreements. CANDO and our members were beneficiaries when she had developers work with us to create the first Neighborhood Retail Fair in 1986. McCarron described Liz’s approach to reviewing development proposals as “milk the good deals for all they’re worth but kill the bad deals.”
In an irony of history, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced this month his proposed Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus to charge downtown developers extra for density bonuses to generate funds for projects in Chicago’s economically depressed neighborhoods. Sure sounds like a Linked Development Tax that could have been imposed 30 years ago for community development.
I’m sure Liz would milk today’s opportunities for even more. Gail would question whether the City isn’t failing its HUD mandated affirmative obligation to promote fair housing if all it’s doing is further segregating communities by not requiring affordable housing downtown. Gordon would remind us to act since “These are the times; we are the People.”
Three “Champions for Justice” I have known, who inspire me to keep striving for justice. Let us give thanks for their lives of service.