I add my own tribute to Jean as a civil rights leader.
Jean R. Cleland never shied away from controversy, from doing what was right, what was "open-minded and enlightened" -- "what Jesus would want me to be doing," she recently said to me -- ever since her childhood in Cincinnati where she befriended African Americans at an interracial high school.
Jean was my moral compass at Open Communities for the last twenty years. It was my greatest privilege to work with her when she was on the Board of Directors, especially when she brokered a community meeting between motel residents threatened with displacement and the Village Board of Morton Grove, ending in handshakes and humility. Jean was about justice and fairness first and foremost.
Jean was a founder of Open Communities in 1972, then called the North Shore Interfaith Housing Council. Before this, she was an integral part of the grassroots North Shore Summer Project which aimed to integrate the housing market against rampant discrimination against "Negroes, Jews, and Orientals." She and her husband were early fair housing testers and actively assisted African Americans to move to Wilmette and neighboring suburbs.
Jean chaired the Wilmette Housing Commission when the Village created it in 1980 and was instrumental in getting Gates Manor, the suburb's first low-income rental building, built in Wilmette, on land owned by her church at the time, First Congregational U.C.C. Her husband, who died a few years ago, was the equally wonderful Bob Cleland, a founder of the North Suburban Peace Initiative and active in so many causes including fair housing.
Jean and Bob were about, and embodied, welcome. Whether it was as a large family with six children, as next-door neighbors, as community, interfaith and church leaders, or as people who would shelter families during the Sanctuary Movement, they were clear, grounded, and warm. Both of them lived the credo, "To those whom much is given, much is expected."
Open Communities and I will miss Jean Cleland, the finest human being I have known, and an example to all who seek inspiration from people of faith or high moral principle in the difficult but most deeply essential cause of racial and economic justice.
Executive Director, Open Communities