Published in the Spring 2008 issue of SSA Magazine

When Reverend Kenneth B. Smith, Sr., passed away in January, Chicago lost one of its finest citizens and I lost a mentor and a friend. I think everyone who works to help distressed communities and individuals has someone like Ken in their history—someone who shined a light on both why it's so important to work for a better world and how it can be done.

I first met Ken in the early 1980s, through Leadership Greater Chicago, a program that brings together local leaders from many walks of life to study the challenges facing the region. At the time Ken was working for the program's sponsor, the Chicago Community Trust. I was impressed by how easily Ken navigated the interplay with men and women from diverse backgrounds, races, and professions. I admired Ken's ease at crossing barriers and working with people of every type.

After Leadership Greater Chicago, I followed Ken around for the next 25 years. I joined the board of the YM CA of Metropolitan Chicago, where Ken was a board member. My introduction to the important work so necessary to support those less advantaged happened at the Y, one of the Chicago area's largest social service providers. Then it was on to the Chicago Board of Education, where Ken had been the first African-American president and I spent five years as its chief administrative officer. And of course, Ken was chair of the Visiting Committee here at SSA, a position I am now honored to fill.

The common thread is that the Y, the Chicago Public Schools, and SSA are all institutions with long histories of commitment to improving the lives of Chicagoans. Ken set an extraordinary example by providing leadership and support to those organizations, improving their significant impact on the social challenges faced by our community.

As I take a moment to reflect on Ken's impact on me and others, it occurs to me that while each of these organizations does important work in the social arena, SSA is perhaps the most important. Not only does its talented faculty do the research that helps us understand the problems and provide potential solutions, it also prepares the next generation of leaders, administrators, educators, organizers, and policymakers who will do this critical work.

On behalf of myself, the SSA community, and all the other organizations you touched with your leadership and commitment to the work, thank you Ken.

Sincerely,
David Vitale
Chair of SSA's Visiting Committee