As we remember our beloved President Emerita Karen GJ Lewis, NBCT, on her birthday today, we reflect on the accomplishments that are cornerstones of her legacy. For more than a decade, our union fought for an elected school board and to reclaim the right to advocate for our students in contract negotiations. Karen understood that laws are influenced by movements, and empowered rank-and-file educators, families and communities to organize around legislative and political initiatives rooted in democracy.
With the full restoration of bargaining rights for Chicago public school educators, signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in April, and the passage of HB2908 last month, which gives Chicago public school students and families an elected representative school board, Karen’s work is bearing fruit. The removal of the Academy of Urban School Leadership turnaround school network from Chicago Public Schools is another example of Karen’s prescient vision in recognizing that stripping the rights of the people — parents, labor, Black educators — will not deliver the schools our students deserve, but decades of disinvestment and neglect.
But we are righting that ship. The social justice unionism that Karen instilled as president of the Chicago Teachers Union now serves as a nationwide model, and has not only restored our rights, but emboldened parents and communities to advocate for their children. She was our leader, our fighter and our friend.
“I encourage each of you to channel your energy into a collective power that moves our union forward and guarantees the wins we’ve secured,” she told us upon her retirement in 2018. “The campaigns we have started will continue until every child has every resource to be successful.”
We still hear her voice, and still stand on her shoulders every day in honoring her legacy.