Dorothy Headd (Photo from Environmental Justice Evanston)

As a beloved crossing guard at the corner of Grant Street and Prairie Avenue, Evanston’s Dorothy Headd worked hard to ensure the safety of families as they walked to and from Kingsley Elementary School each day.

But she went beyond that, too, said Kingsley parent Elizabeth Newton, speaking at the April 12 City Council meeting where Ms. Headd, or “Miss Dorothy” as she is affectionately called, was recognized with an honorary street sign in her name.

“She made a point to learn something about each child, every child’s name,” Ms. Newton told Council members. “She memorized every child’s name who walked through her crosswalk, and [she] wore a contagious smile. She made sure she got a smile from everyone she met, too. She made every child feel they belonged at Kingsley Elementary School. 

“She was more than a crossing guard,” continued Ms. Newton. “She was viewed as a grandmother that they [the children] were fortunate enough to see five days a week whether it was sunny or raining or snowing.”

At the April 12 City Council meeting, held virtually because of social distancing constraints, members of the Kingsley as well as the environmental justice and church communities spoke in support of a street-naming in the longtime resident’s honor.

It was no contest.

Council members voted 8-0, designating a portion of Prairie Avenue between Grant Street and Colfax Street with the honorary street name sign, “Miss Dorothy Headd Way,” acknowledging Miss Headd’s contributions in multiple roles.

On the environmental front, Ms. Headd and her husband Sam were “both highly valued members of our environmental justice committee working hard to help community members get relief from environmental injustices,” said Rick Nelson, a member of the Environmental Justice Subcommittee, which operates under the City Environmental Board.

“Dorothy’s efforts ranged from speaking about our personal environmental justice experiences at a presentation to organizing our committee’s involvement at Streets Alive to simply being a strong reliable presence at our monthly meetings. 

“She always gave us her unvarnished opinion on the issues being discussed and was greatly respected by everyone on the committee,” he said, noting that she was designated as an honorary member of the Committee after stepping down, “and even today when we ask if there is something she can do to support our continuing work, she is always there to lend a continuing hand.”

Prior to her involvement on the Committee, he said, “Dorothy was a key member of Evanston Neighbors United,” he noted, “a group that worked hard fighting against the waste transfer station [Advanced Disposal at 1711 Church St.] in Evanston, because it was adversely affecting her neighborhood, the children attending the high school, and the larger community. She knew that the transfer station had been operating next door to a historic Black neighborhood for years – knew how unfair that was and fought hard to change the situation.”

Tanya Noble, an Evanston police officer and active in community issues, picked up on that point in her remarks. She said she has known Ms. Headd since the early 2000s. “In 2012, Miss Dorothy and Sam joined a small group of us community members, Evanston Neighbors United, and began the difficult discussions about the environmental justice concerns in the Fifth Ward,” she said. “I fondly recall how the seemingly mild-mannered Dorothy stood courageous and always spoke the truth when we faced opposition to our cause.”

The Rev. Michael Nabors spoke about her work as an active member of Second Baptist Church. “She’s been a very dedicated member of our Ladies Auxiliary that does an awful lot, but more than anything they [the members] have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships for young people going through Evanston Township High School.”

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, active in environmental issues before joining the Council, said she was “really delighted when [Kingsley] parents approached her with a request to recognize Ms. Headd with an honorary street name sign, “because I already knew and admired Dorothy, working with her on drafting the environmental justice ordinance for Evanston.

“I joined the Environmental Justice Committee in 2014,” she said, “but Dorothy, of course, had already been working for environmental justice for many years – working, in particular, as we heard tonight, to mitigate the negative impacts of the waste transfer station and the impact on the neighborhoods around there.”

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, singled out Ms. Headd for her consistency. “And always present,” he said about her involvement on issues.

And Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, said when she heard about the nomination, she connected it with Ms. Headd’s stellar service as a crossing guard, and did not know her environmental contributions were being taken into account too.

“And I thought, ‘How appropriate,’ because of her attention to environmental justice in the ward. It is an area that our ward has not followed as closely as we should collectively. But Miss Headd, in our absence, has done that, has protected us and fought for us and educated us and educated me. And because of Miss Headd we have paid a lot closer attention to it.”

After the vote, Mayor Stephen Hagerty extended congratulations to Ms. Headd, who said when she first received a call from Ald. Revelle to notify her about the honor, her first thought was, “Why is she calling me?”

For the flood of praise and recognition, she expressed thanks – and surprise. “I’m sorry, I’m just a down-to-earth person,” she said. “I don’t try to be any more than I am.”

As for the crossing guard job that she took after her husband died and from which she retired in 2020, she said, “It’s the best thing that could have happened to me, because the kids were so giving and they just wanted to be loved.”

“They wanted to be respected, and they respected me, and I respected them. This is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in my life, and it came at a time when I really truly needed it.”

Officials have not set a date for the installment of the honorary street sign. “We’re looking forward to the ceremony in a few months, once the signs are printed and we’re ready to put them up,” said Mayor Hagerty, again extending congratulations.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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