Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis standing at a lectern

Friday, January 22, 2016

“Be a change agent.”

Northeastern Illinois University alumna and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (M.A. ’93 Inner City Studies) issued the challenge as she delivered the keynote speech during the University’s “The Meaning of Social Justice” tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 21.

“It is quite fitting that I have been asked to talk to you about my favorite topic: social justice,” Lewis began. “In celebrating the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is also fitting that we ask ourselves the reflective question: What does social justice mean to me?”

After addressing a receptive Auditorium audience of about 300 people, Lewis fielded questions from students and staff before speaking to the media representatives in attendance.

Lewis said that, for the Chicago Teachers Union, social justice means the constant pursuit of racial and economic democracy, standing up for the disinherited and making some people very uncomfortable.

A former high school chemistry teacher in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system, Lewis recalled uniting with fellow educators to affect change.

“Our leadership was born out of the need for reforms,” she said. “We were angry and frustrated but united in our belief that inaction and silence was just as bad as being complicit in our own demise.”

“The Meaning of Social Justice” was presented by the African, African American Resource Center, part of the Angelina Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs. It also featured a dance performance by Northeastern student Tevin Rice.

See the full video of the speech below.