LOGAN SQUARE — During her many years as a community organizer, Tami Love always asked her colleagues a question when they were discussing a program or a planned action: “How are we building power?”
“If we couldn’t answer … then she would say, ‘We don’t have time for that.’ She was so focused on: How are we building power for our people?” said Juliet De Jesus Alejandre, executive director of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.
After 25 years of empowering neighborhood families and public housing residents in the Logan Square area, and inspiring many others to do the same, Love died Sunday after a long battle with cancer. She was 57.
Colleagues, friends and relatives remember her as a tireless advocate and a warm and sincere person who “could keep the room laughing and lively for hours.”
“No one could read a room like Tami could,” organization leaders wrote in an online fundraiser launched to support Love’s three children.
De Jesus Alejandre met Love in 2006 when she joined Logan Square Neighborhood Association staff. At the time, Love was helping Lathrop Homes residents organize in the face of redevelopment and fighting to replace lost public housing. For decades, Lathrop Homes was the largest public housing complex on the North Side, but it has since been redeveloped into a mixed-income community.
From marching with Lathrop Homes residents to mentoring parents in Logan Square, Love “had a heart for anybody,” De Jesus Alejandre said.
“You could feel the love coming from her, her wisdom,” she said. “She would be talking to groups of Black and Brown women from all over the city and she would make them feel like they were the queens of their communities and they had the right and responsibility to transform” their neighborhoods.
Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), who was a community organizer with Logan Square Neighborhood Association before becoming alderman, said Love was “such a wonderful person, so full of light and life, and always unafraid to fight for and alongside the poor” in a tribute on Facebook.
“I remember summer 2008 when Tami and I were went to represent [the association] at the National Alliance of HUD Tenants conference,” he said. “As someone who was minimally employed and didn’t feel like I had much to offer, she was so encouraging and supportive. Always made me feel like more of a leader than I thought I was, which honestly is great for developing actual leadership.”
Laquita Simmons said Love is one of the main reasons she is a parent mentor coordinator at McAuliffe Elementary School.
The Logan Square Neighborhood Association program trains parents and places them in classrooms to help students falling behind their classmates.
One day on the job, Simmons said she was overcome with emotion and Love told her, “There’s days where you feel like you might want to give up, that this is too much, but that’s when I need for you to stick it out and to fight the hardest. I promise you it’s going to be worth it in the end.”
“She was not lying when she said those words to me. Three months later, I became coordinator at McAuliffe Elementary,” Simmons said.
‘She Was All In’
Love grew up in the Bronzeville area and didn’t move to Logan Square until her early 20s, said her daughter, Brandie Johnson. She moved there as a single mother of three young kids, struggling to make ends meet, Johnson said.
As a young adult, Love worked as a beautician at a salon and had modeling gigs here and there. It wasn’t until 1995, when Love was in her early 30s, that she started getting involved with her kids’ school, Funston Elementary School, and became one of Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s first parent mentors.
From there, Love gathered feedback from hundreds of people in and around the school and helped launch the Community Learning Center at Funston, her colleagues said in the fundraiser. Love was able to make lasting connections with Logan Square parents even as a Black woman in a predominately Latino community, De Jesus Alejandre said.
“She got attached to the community,” Johnson said. “When she was working at Funston, that was her foot in the door. They embraced her and supported her. She was really into the culture and community.”
At one point, Love left Logan Square Neighborhood Association to work for an organization called Community Organizing and Family Issues, where she also worked to strengthen local schools through parent-led organizing.
Love returned to Logan Square Neighborhood Association years later with a new focus: Lathrop Homes.
As the Chicago Housing Authority wavered with what to do with the property, she and other organizers fought to keep residents in their homes and preserve public housing on the North Side.
“It became very clear the CHA was intentionally depopulating Lathrop Homes. A family would move out and that unit would be sealed up and stay vacant,” said John McDermott, former housing and land use director at Logan Square Neighborhood Association. McDermott and Love worked together for a dozen years.
“In the midst of that confusing, dispiriting situation, Tami was this amazing source of energy for the residents. She was very real,” McDermott said. “She listened to people and started where they were, but she was this dependable person they could go to and talk to, and she had no patience for PR, no patience for fakery.”
Love eventually made her way back to the organization’s parent mentor program she helped get off the ground in the mid-’90s. She fought for state funding and trained parents across the state “to make sure the values and heart of the work was replicated with fidelity,” her colleagues wrote in the fundraiser.
Even a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis didn’t stop Love from fighting for the community. Johnson said her mom was still attending virtual meetings and checking in with colleagues until “she couldn’t anymore” over the past year.
“She spoke for the people who didn’t have a voice,” Johnson said. “She always been that strong voice. So she chose to make it count. She loved doing it. She was all in.”
To donate to Love’s family, go here.
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