Black History Feature:

Acknowledging Our Ancestors...

© 2019 by Samuel Mills


SAM'S INTRO: I was wondering who might begin our Black History Month "Ancestor" series, when he walked in...and THIS Chicago-based brother, I knew very well. He had the bespectacled, very intelligent appearance of a college professor, full of knowledge to share with anyone, especially young people of color, and it was obvious that he placed a high premium on education! The down-to-earth attitude of this community activist and civil servant relaxed me immediately...and thus we began our interview:

"I was born on September 22, 1950 in Chicago's Altgeld Gardens

on the far southside. My family and I moved frequently as a child, and I attended 11 different Chicago public schools over the course of my 13 years in the CPS system. After receiving my Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy, with honors from Roosevelt University in 1974, I was quickly promoted from stock clerk to assistant manager at Kroch's and Brentano's Book Stores, where I had been employed since 1969."

"During my 24-year career with the Chicago bookstore chain, I rose to the position of Senior Vice President of Operations. I helped build and manage the company but parted ways with the other executives when they turned on the employees, denying them their hard earned pensions. Motivated by these injustices, I led, financed and won a class-action lawsuit that restored pensions to wrongfully terminated employees. After leaving Kroch's & Brentano's, I worked in the Office of Budget and Management for the City of Chicago and became Assistant Budget Director within six months. In the Budget Office, I led the Quick-Pay task force that took action to make sure that all vendors (especially minority owned enterprises) doing business with the City of Chicago were paid in a timely and proper fashion."

"In 1995 I joined the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) transition team with Paul Vallas. During my five-year tenure I served as Deputy Chief of Staff, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Chief of Staff. I helped CPS achieve the highest number of contracts in Chicago history with businesses owned by Blacks, Latinos, and women. As the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, I managed a team that secured millions of dollars in grant funds for new construction and renovation projects, as well as innovative educational initiatives."

"During my tenure at the Chicago Public Schools, I became acutely aware of the racial academic achievement gap, both in Chicago and nationwide, and eventually decided to enter the non-profit sector in order to address this problem. In 1996, I founded The Black Star Project. In 1999, I became the CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). During my dynamic stewardship of the CHA, I negotiated a $1.6 billion deal with the federal government to transform public housing in Chicago with a focus on residents' quality of life. Following this concept, I worked to improve the living conditions in public housing for the youth residents, and I even made certain that all children received gifts of books around the holiday season. I designed an award-winning summer school program from which 92% of failed 8th-grade participants made sufficient summer progress to be promoted to high school. The average success rate for the same population citywide hovered around 63%."

"In 2000, I moved to the Office of the Mayor for the City of Chicago, where I served as Chief of Education. There I implemented the first citywide parent empowerment conference."

"After serving as President and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago for one year, I decided in 2002 to devote myself full time to The Black Star Project. As the Executive Director of The Black Star Project, I become a national leader advocating for community involvement in education and the importance of parental development to ensure that children are properly educated; and my popular rallying cry was 'Educate or Die!'

"I received numerous awards and much recognition for my community achievements, including being named as one of Chicago Defender's "50 Men of Excellence" and receiving the coveted the Cook County State Attorney's Community Empowerment Award. I made my transition on November 4, 2018 from cancer at the age of 68." - ---WHO AM I?