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Northwestern Honors Ald. Delores Holmes

Longtime local leader discusses her life and service to the Evanston community

  • More than 120 guests convene at Norris Center to hear Fifth Ward alderman
  • Holmes: ‘What I say to the next generation is: Get involved’
  • President Morton Schapiro speaks, calls Evanston a ‘magnificent city’
  • Anderson: ‘Evanston, Northwestern storied institutions with a rich shared history’

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University hosted an Evanston Community Speaker Event Tuesday to honor Fifth Ward Ald. Delores A. Holmes for her service and dedication to the Evanston community and to hear Holmes discuss her life, vision and work here.

Questioned by Northwestern University Press Production Manager Dino Robinson in a lively, wide-ranging interview on stage, Holmes talked about growing up in Evanston, overcoming discrimination, fighting to desegregate schools and working for Family Promise, an Evanston organization that helps families with young children facing hardship or homelessness.

She was particularly gracious in praising the Northwestern students who for many years had “crossed Ridge” Avenue to the west side of Evanston to help do volunteer work in her community.

“What happens in Evanston — you live here, you work here — it happens to you,” Holmes told an audience of more than 120 guests gathered at Norris University Center June 21. “None of us can just fix it. We have to fix it together. We have to own it.”

President Morton Schapiro greeted guests at the start of the program and discussed how fond he has become of the people, community and civic officials of the city of Evanston since he became the University’s president, calling it a “magnificent city.”

Alan Anderson, executive director of neighborhood and community relations at Northwestern, thanked the guests, including senior Northwestern staff and Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, former Mayor Lorraine Morton, Evanston aldermen and city officials.

“Evanston and Northwestern are both storied institutions with a rich shared history,” Anderson wrote later in thanking attendees. “Alderman Holmes' reflections and vision for the future of the Fifth Ward, Evanston, and its partnership with Northwestern help lay the foundation for the collaborations ahead.

“Northwestern University is committed to becoming a national model for how a major research university engages with the city in which it resides,” he added. “We equally commit to building strong, transparent and strategic partnerships that enhance the impact of both University and Evanston community initiatives.” 

During the event, Robinson questioned Holmes in a conversational manner, mindful of the history of Evanston and the alderman’s prominent place in it. Robinson is founder and director of Shorefront, a highly respected organization that collects, preserves and educates the public about black history on Chicago’s North Shore.

Holmes spoke of the discrimination she experienced as a young woman looking for a job in Evanston and later, how she helped lead a boycott that shut down District 65 as part of the effort to desegregate Evanston schools and help all young people get their education.

“We lost the [school board] election, but we won the war,” she recalled. “Those experiences taught me a lot. We knew what our kids needed. I learned to form relationships and open communication. I learned how to do that. You have to sit down and work it out. You just have to do that.”

Holmes also talked about how she was hired and her important work at Family Focus, including offering vital help to unwed teen mothers and their families.

Underscoring the importance of educating children, Holmes explained, “The vision I had was this: We want to make parents understand -- good, bad or indifferent -- you are the first teachers of your children.”

Holmes talked frankly and movingly of the racial divide that still exists in Evanston. “We need to talk about race,” she said. “We have two Evanstons, and we always have. We all have to feel good about who we are, and we can get along. I feel very comfortable in this brown skin.

“Everybody can’t do everything,” she added. “We all have to stay in our lane, as I like to say. Evanston can’t do it all, and Northwestern University can’t do it all.”

Holmes singled out the Northwestern students who have traveled across Ridge Avenue and come to volunteer on the West Side over the years, and she had praise for President Schapiro for coming to her Fifth Ward early in his tenure in Evanston.

“I can’t tell you what it meant to us to have the president of Northwestern cross Ridge and join us on his first trip,” Holmes said.

Holmes always invites community members to her Fifth Ward meetings, held monthly on the third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St. in Evanston.

Holmes has lived in Evanston since she was 3 years old and attended Evanston Public Schools. She is a widow with three children and seven grandchildren. She joked about the Harley motorcycle belonging to her late husband that she still has in her garage, and she loves to keep.

She is currently a member of the Mount Zion MB Church, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She is a former member of the Arts Council and Chamber of Commerce. She also served as the president for the District #65 Haven PTA and director of Family Focus-Evanston.

Holmes received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Northeastern University and her Master’s of Education degree from National Louis University.

Northwestern’s office of neighborhood and community relations connects people and organizations to University resources to build a stronger, more unified Evanston. Learn more about its work visiting the Neighborhood and Community Relations Website.

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