Joyce Chapman, Lori Lightfoot Chicago Board of Ed appointee, Far South Side community activist, dead at 67

Joyce Ann Chapman, a Far South Side organizer, spent decades pushing for equitable access to education.

She organized  peace rallies, food drives and back-to-school events and served on the Chicago Board of Education and as chair of the Chicago Public Schools’ Far South Community Action Council. She founded the Far South Chicago Coalition and the Pullman Community Development, helped run the Neighborhood Housing Services Board and the Gately Park Advisory Council and was a beat facilitator in the Chicago Police Department’s Calumet District.

“Her civic leadership in these volunteer roles inspired many to speak up and improve our system, especially for our most vulnerable students,” said Pedro Martinez, the Chicago Public Schools’ chief executive officer.

Ms. Chapman, who had hypertension, died in her sleep on Sept. 27, according to her family. She was 67.

“Her words she lived by were to touch the humanity of people and to meet them where they’re at,” said Amina Brooks, one of her daughters. “That was her goal. And what she lived for every day was her community and her family.”

Ms. Chapman was born in February 1956 in Tokyo to Charles and Kuniko Nishimoto Chapman. With her father in the U.S. Army, her family lived in many places when she was young, including Germany, France and Kentucky.

Her family settled in Chicago in 1968, shortly after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. They were the first Black family on their block of East 104th Place in Pullman, which was mainly white at the time.

Her father’s military service and her mother’s Buddhist practices shaped Ms. Chapman and, from a young age, ingrained in her the values of service and building community, Amina Brooks said.

Ms. Chapman, a single mother, passed on her dedication to community service to her daughters Amina, Umi and Ashanti Brooks. They remember her bringing them along as children to community meetings and marches.

“My mom made it clear to us how dedicated she was to her community, and, throughout our lives, we were just immersed in it,” Amina Brooks said.

She worked with her mother for the Far South Chicago Coalition.

“My mom would say to us, ‘Community work may not financially pay you what you feel like you should be paid, but it pays your soul,’ ” Umi Brooks said.

Ms. Chapman’s appointment last year to the Chicago Board of Education was a momentous day for her, having spent years coming before the board to push for better education policies.

“To sit on the other side of the podium, she knew she had a chance to make a difference, and she was proud to be there,” Amina Brooks said.

Though she worked on political campaigns and assisted elected officials over the years, Ms. Chapman never considered running for office. “She would say, ‘That’s not for me. The power is behind the seat, not in the seat,’ ” Ashanti Brooks said. “And that spoke so loudly for me.”

“Joyce gave to everyone and every endeavor with her whole heart,” former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who appointed her to the Board of Ed, posted on social media.

Ms. Chapman left the board this year after Mayor Brandon Johnson was elected.

Besides her three daughters, her survivors include eight grandchildren.

A celebration of life for Ms. Chapman will be held starting at noon Oct. 14 at Chicago State University.

Her daughters said they were always aware of the reverence people have had for their mom, how they would line up to speak with her and seek her guidance after events she attended.

They said they plan to carry on her legacy.

Someone once told Ms. Chapman that she was a pillar of the community. She replied: “My pillars are my girls.”

“People often say to us, ‘You’re Joyce Chapman’s girls.’ And friends will ask if we get tired of being called Joyce’s girls. And I say, ‘No, it is such an honor,’ ” Umi Brooks said. “We are her living, breathing legacy. She was such a big deal. And there is no one like her.”

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