Very sad to hear that James Deanes, one of my longtime legendary educational activist friends of over 35 years died today. It really breaks my heart when I think now that he had to die looking at how the most historic educational legislative victories he helped to anchor and win have all but all be erased from history that we are now lifting up under new names. As a youth activist I worked with James Deanes with his group Parent Community Council (PCC) when he was chosen by former Mayor Harold Washington to lead the Mayors Education Summit that finally led to the major education victories that finally got the community some power of the local schools when the legislation passed that created The Local School Councils whose leaders had to be elected at the polls just like any other elected official that laid the foundation of what this current move is now for the movement for an elected school board. We actually WON the fight for local control with the Local School Council and we let former Mayor Daley rewrite the legislation and totally dismantled the Local School Councils!!
Then I worked with James Deanes further after we were both elected by the people as Local School Council members, then we were both elected by another elected body called The Sub District Council's that Mayor Washington's legislation created where we approved major educational policies for the various local districts across the city. Then after that second election with the city-wide Sub-District Council we were elected one more time by The citywide sub district leaders to the powerful positions of Commissioners of a new governing body that Washington's legislation created called The Chicago School Board Nominating Commission where these commissioners had the power to create the members of The Chicago Board Of Education where Washington wanted to ensure that the community had direct input into who the Board members would be and could be held accountable. Mayor Daley hated the fact that this new law that empowered the community kept him from being able to just hand pick board members that did not get approval from the community. Mayor Daley kept his promise to get rid of the Local School Council's, The Sub District Council, and The School Board Nominating Commission that helped us elevate two Black School Board Presidents and Board that had to come from the people, but again, our leaders did not block Mayor Daleys goal to rewrite the legislation and after years and years of work and major educational empowerment victories for the late Mayor Harold Washington and chaired by James Deanes was erased from history!! A real insult to the educational legacy of James Deanes that over 20 years of collective work we are back to the campaign to start all over trying to get legislation to get school board members elected as if the price had not already been paid and won. But James Deanes was the absolute champion and before the Commission was erased I enjoyed Deanes support when I filled a vacancy of Vice Chairman of The Nominating Commission.
Maybe the hard part of the educational activism of James Deanes and others that far too many of the activists after a while became employed by The Chicago Public Schools system in various positions and looked like the system swallowed up our once active community based educational leaders, for after so many of them got into the system, the grassroots organizations many of them led all but faded away for no new leadership sustained them. But even in the system, James Deanes would still use his roles to try and keep many of our civic education projects going in the schools with the student leaders. He was in the system but STILL one of our Champions that you could always call on, but those pressures to stay community connected inside the system was wearing him down after a while.
Deanes retired from CPS last year but remained active in community and school issues, including the closing of nearly 50 schools last year. Our community owes a great deal of gratitude for the life and legacy of James Deanes. It was an honor for me to have worked with him for over 35 years, from my childhood to adult. We learned so much from each other from our intergenerational work together for the educational empowerment of our people. As I look back to some our last conversations we did talk about how it was truly hard to believe that all of our years and fight to win the educational and political victories how our community did not see just how former Mayor Daley wiped out all of those years of struggle and accomplishments from our victories, almost like today that they never existed.
Thank God for the life, legacy and example of my friend James Deanes and thanks so much for investing so much of your mind and spirit in my life! Great memories of our struggle together. People will remember you as a school official for thats all they know but there are those who will lift you up and educate others on the educational activist GIANT that you were and your role in history!
Chairman & COO National Black Wall Street Chicago
(Rev. Willie T. Barrow Consumer Education and Consumer Action Project)
Founder/Lead Organizer, Illinois Voter Restoration Civic Education Project
Chief of Staff to National Chairman, National Black Wall Street USA
"And The Ordinary People Said" News Blog, www.chicagonow.com
Chairman, Community Reinvestment Organizing Project
Listed in 2012 Edition Who' Who In Black Chicago
4655 South King Drive, Suite 203
Chicago, Illinois 60653
(Office) 773-268-6900 or direct 773-392-0165
The Rev. Al Sharpton calls Mark Allen "one of Chicago's legendary political activists and one of the best organizers of his generation"