Black History Maker – Lionel Jean-Baptiste, Kent Alum
was inaugurated as Second Ward alderman three weeks after winning a
landslide election with 84 percent of the vote. With the oath of office
he became the first Haitian elected to public office in Illinois and the
only new face on the nine-member City Council.
He was born
the day before Christmas in 1949 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Jean-Baptiste's
parents worked in a hotel that catered to American tourists. Eventually,
through their connections there, they managed to come to the United
States as domestic workers. Two-year-old Lionel stayed behind with other
family members, but emigrated later.
changed when his parents, always in search of better jobs, moved the
family to Evanston to be near his aunt and uncle who were already living
there. At Evanston Township High School, in addition to soccer and
student council, Jean-Baptiste arranged house visits between black and
white students, lobbied for African-American history classes and
protested the Vietnam War.
school, Jean-Baptiste attended Princeton University, where he studied
political science because he was interested in activism. After
graduation, he taught in Bedford-Stuyvesant, an impoverished community in
New York City. He worked in New York's housing department and taught at
New Rochelle Community College. And when he became a lawyer, it was
because he saw law as a powerful tool to address issues concerning rights
bridges just might be Jean-Baptiste's job description as alderman. A
self-described good negotiator, Jean-Baptiste has the chance to intervene
in several municipal relationships, including that between the city and
Northwestern, and the neighborhoods and downtown.
Jean-Baptiste, his next four years as alderman are just the next stage of
To read more about other Black History Makers, visit www.thehistorymakers.com.