Remembering Bobbie Johnson: A Fearless Community Advocate and Partner

by Judy Levey
Executive Director, JCUA

Judy Levey reflects upon her encounters with Bobbie Johnson, a fearless community advocate on Chicago’s south side, who recently passed away.

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Bobbie Johnson z”l

On Saturday, 11/3/12, I attended the memorial service of Bobbie Johnson, a woman I was honored to be able to call my friend.

Bobbie reached out to me in 2009 in my former role as the Director of Community Development at JCUA. Bobbie re-introduced me to the Rosenwald, a historic building in Bronzville on Chicago’s south side, which I was familiar with through my previous work on affordable housing preservation. She taught me about the history of the building, what it was like to live there, why it was so hard to redevelop it, and how she had been devoting more than 20 years of her life to preventing its demolition. Bobbie was not your average activist – although in my experience, “average activist” is an oxymoron. She was truly extraordinary. She was relentless, pushy, funny, determined, and knew how to celebrate life. She was a mother and grandmother, nurse, historian, organizer, program director, social worker, grant writer, teen mentor, and a bible scholar. She was larger than life.

JCUA finalized our zero-interest predevelopment loan to the redevelopment of the Rosenwald building last month. We met the developers, LandWhite, through our relationships with community leaders in Bronzeville, most notably, Bobbie. The project has recently been scaled back in response to some concerns in the community, but will nonetheless produce approximately 230 high quality affordable units in place of a behemoth hulk of an empty building on 47th and Michigan. The details are all lining up, and construction should begin by the summer of 2013.

The contingencies of life will prevent Bobbie from witnessing the finished product – a testament to her dreams and life’s work. However, she will not be forgotten. She lived and breathed the Rosenwald, and when it is at last completed, giving new hope to hundreds of families and to the entire neighborhood, I know that her joyous spirit will be with us.

Yehi Zichra Baruch. May her memory be a blessing.

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