Photo of Dr. Conrad Worrill

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Conrad Walter Worrill, who taught at Northeastern Illinois University for more than 40 years and whose activism has been at the forefront of social and racial justice, African-centered education, African liberation and self-determination for people of African descent, died on June 3 after battling several major illnesses. He was 78 years old.

He is survived by his wife, Arlina Worrill, and his daughters, Femi Skanes, Sobenna Worrill, Michelle Worrill and Kimberley Aisha King. Funeral plans are pending, and Northeastern will find a way to honor his legacy in the near future.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to Dr. Worrill's friends, family and the countless people who have been inspired by his leadership and community activism,” Northeastern Illinois University President Gloria J. Gibson said. “He had a welcoming, pleasant smile, and he challenged me to be the best that I can be. Dr. Worrill was an amazing, multi-talented humanitarian, and I will miss him.”

Worrill was born in Pasadena, Calif., in 1941. Worrill told The HistoryMakers that his mother, Anna Bell, was the first African American to sing in the Pasadena Philharmonic Orchestra. Walter, his father, was a college-educated YMCA manager. Worrill’s family moved to Chicago when he was 9 years old. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1962 and served in Okinawa, Japan. 

Upon his return to the U.S., Worrill attended George Williams College where he earned his B.S. in Applied Behavioral Science in 1968. He went on to earn his M.A. in Social Service Administration in 1971 from the University of Chicago. Worrill earned his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1973. 

Worrill joined the faculty of Northeastern’s Department of Inner City Studies in 1976. Over the years, he taught many students in the Inner City Studies (now Urban Community Studies) program and served as the program’s department chair and academic coordinator. He served as the director of Northeastern’s Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS) in Bronzeville, which he helped establish with Drs. Jacob H. Carruthers and Anderson Thompson. The trio also started an Annual Study Tour at Northeastern. In 1977, under the leadership of Carruthers, the Center took more than 40 students to countries in Africa for 21 days. Proceeding trips had students from CCICS travel to other countries in the African Diaspora to learn about the impact of African people on civilizations over the world. 

Worrill was extremely proud of the work he did at Northeastern, specifically with the Carruthers Center, which he called “an academic goldmine.”

Thousands of students have earned their master’s degrees from Northeastern’s Inner City Studies program, including former Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. 

“I’ve had an opportunity to see how an off-campus community enterprise that started out of a funded program from the Office of Education became an institutionalized part of Northeastern Illinois University,” Worrill said at the time of his retirement. “There’s a foundation that can be built upon and expanded from what’s already been laid.”

Current CCICS Director and Interim Dean of the Daniel L. Goodwin College of Education Andrea Evans greatly admired Worrill’s work and praised the legacy he leaves behind.

“Dr. Conrad Worrill was a giant on the front lines of the fight for the humanity of and justice for Black people,” Evans said. “His impact and his reach extended to places around the world, but it was his work in Chicago, at the Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, where he helped to educate and transform the lives of countless students and community members with his words and by his deeds. At this moment in time, as the world grapples with the issues of racial injustice, Dr. Worrill’s life and his work loom large as a blueprint for the fight for social and racial equality.  He leaves a significant and meaningful legacy at NEIU, at the Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies where he spent his 40 year career, in Chicago and beyond.”

Worrill’s research and writings have advanced causes in educational restructuring, human rights, reparations, and political and economic empowerment for the Black community for more than half a century. When Worrill retired in 2016, he was named Professor Emeritus. Prior to joining Northeastern, Worrill was the coordinator for Urban Programs and Assistant Professor Institute for Environmental Awareness at George Williams College. 

Worrill served in leadership roles in numerous organizations including National Black United Front and the Black United Fund of Illinois. He also was active with the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) and was a special consultant for the 1995 Million Man March. In 1983, Worrill helped organize to elect Chicago’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington, and co-founded the Task Force for Black Political Empowerment. He traveled to Geneva, Switzerland in 1997 with a delegation to formally charge the U.S. government with genocide and human rights violations before the Commission on Human Rights. He also presented the petition to the United Nations and, in 2001, led a 400-member delegation to the U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. 

Worrill was also the host of WVON’s “On Target” and a key figure in the Great Black Music Project, which sponsors the Jazzy Mondays series at CCICS. 

During his retirement, Worrill continued to push for an indoor track facility to be built on the South Side of Chicago. Worrill, who was an athlete in his youth and comes from a family of track runners, fought for the Gately Park Indoor Track and Field Facility for 35 years. The facility, which is scheduled to open soon, is slated to house track and field programs as well as volleyball, After School Matters programs, and other sports during track’s off-season.

Tributes to Worrill have poured in since his passing, including from prominent figures such as Chance the Rapper and Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. 

The HistoryMakers interviews with Worrill can be accessed through the Chicago Public Library or with a membership to The HistoryMakers.