From left, Alan Anderson, Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, Alderman Delores Holmes, and Dino Robinson at the June 21 speaker event at Northwestern.  Photo by Genie Lemieux, Evanston Photographic Studios

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Northwestern University hosted an Evanston Community Speaker event on June 21 to honor Alderman Delores Holmes for her service and dedication to the Evanston community and to hear her discuss her life, vision, and work here. She served as Executive Director of Family Focus for more than 25 years and at present is alderman of the City’s Fifth Ward.

Questioned by Northwestern University Press Production Manager Dino Robinson in a wide-ranging interview on stage, Ms. 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.

Ms. Holmes 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. She also said, “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.”

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.”

 “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,” said Alan Anderson, Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations for Northwestern.

Ms. 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.”

Ms. 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, Ms. Holmes said, “The vision I had was this: We want to make parents understand –  good, bad or indifferent –  you are the first teachers of your children.” Ms. Holmes also said, “We need to talk about race. … 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. …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.”