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With heavy hearts, the South East Chicago Commission (SECC) shares the news that beloved former Board President Shirley J. Newsome peacefully passed away on December 25, 2022.

“Ms. Newsome was a champion of Chicago and its diverse communities of people who needed a strong and persuasive voice. We are losing more than a community leader and an activist. We’ve lost the pure goodness, dignity, and truth desperately needed in our lives.”

Diane Burnham, SECC Executive Director

Newsome was a resident of North Kenwood-Oakland since 1979 and began her community involvement and leadership by organizing the Lake Park-Berkeley-Ellis-Drexel Block Club Association in 1981.

She committed herself to important issues of community development and revitalization: schools, parks, childcare, cultural arts, crime, and safety.

Newsome was a true community organizer. She urged homeowners, especially seniors, to seek safety in numbers, banding together more than 100 residents to speak up for themselves. Newsome participated in the 80 planning meetings that led to the designation of North Kenwood-Oakland as a Conservation Area and served as the Planning Committee Co-Chair. She was later appointed Chairman of the Conservation Community Council.

Newsome defined the standards of expectation and carved the foundation for what is known as civic engagement. She endeavored to ensure that every institution and community interaction was organized, meaningful, and sincere to its purpose while holding all stakeholders accountable.

Newsome joined the SECC Board of Directors in 2006. When former SECC Board President, Valerie Jarrett, vacated the role to serve President Barack Obama at the White House in 2008, Newsome was appointed to lead the Board to oversee the SECC’s efforts in housing, transportation, business development, and retention, neighborhood improvement, and arts and culture. She presided over the Board during key milestones of the organization, including Bob Mason’s retirement after 26 years as Executive Director and the hiring of Wendy Walker Williams in 2010.

“She was an amazing leader.  She was family. Shirley was always a voice of reason and our North Star! We will deeply miss Shirley. And we will ensure that her work and legacy will continue.”

Wendy Walker Williams, Executive Director, Community Partnerships
The University of Chicago

After Toni Preckwinkle vacated her 4th Ward Alderman seat as the elected President of the Cook County Board, Mayor Richard Daley’s appointment of Shirley Newsome to fill the role as alderman was unanimously approved by the City Council on January 13, 2011. Newsome served as an alderman until Preckwinkle’s elected successor began in May 2011.

Newsome’s leadership at the SECC was instrumental during Executive Director changes, the successful development of Special Service Area #61 – Hyde Park, and the organization’s successful transition to an independent nonprofit.

In 2019, Newsome completed her tenure as Board President after eleven years of distinguished service. She became a Board advisor and transitioned the gavel to Elvin Charity to lead the organization’s new regional focus on economic development.

“Shirley was the essential thread in the fabric of our communities. Her service to the Bronzeville, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, Washington Park, and Woodlawn is irreplaceable, and her service and influence throughout Chicago was truly remarkable.”

Elvin Charity, Immediate Past Board President of SECC.

“Shirley was a positive light and a presence whenever she was in the room. She was a leader among leaders but, more importantly, a person who deeply cared about her community and bringing the best out of those she worked with and served.”

Jourdan Sorrell, Board President, SECC

Newsome forged new pathways when a change was necessary and daunting. She held individuals, organizations, and institutions accountable for their promises and commitments. She spoke truth to power with style, grace, and well-earned respect. Chicago will benefit from the magnitude of her contributions well beyond the foreseeable future.

The SECC celebrates the legacy of Shirley J. Newsome. Her work will be carried forward with pride and sincere gratitude. 

Information on services can be found here.

Artwork compliments of QCDC.


Board Director, Oakwood Shores 3750 Senior Apartments

Board Chair, Quad Communities Development Corporation (QCDC)

Board President Emeritus, South East Chicago Commission (SECC)

Commissioner (Vice Chair), City of Chicago Community Development Commission (CDC)