Community activist Deverra Beverly passes away at 79
December 31, 2013
Deverra Beverly.

By Susan S. Stevens

Deverra Beverly, a lifelong resident of the Addams-Brooks-Loomis-Abbott (ABLA) Homes who championed the public housing community, died Nov. 9 at age 79 from cancer.

Ms. Beverly served as president of the ABLA Homes’ local advisory council for several decades. The widowed mother of six watched the demolition of most of ABLA Homes’ buildings, and she continuously campaigned for good replacement housing for its tenants.

As Roosevelt Square, a mixed-income community, began growing on the land vacated by ABLA, she continued to look out for ABLA’s low-income tenants who were promised one-third of the new units.

“She had a personal connection, but she also was looking forward to change and was open to change for the betterment of the community as a whole,” said her granddaughter, Keni Van Zant. “She wanted to improve the quality of life of residents in public housing. That was her mission.”

Van Zant has her own connection to ABLA as she works in Atlanta for H.J. Russell & Co., the firm that manages ABLA properties for the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA).

CHA officials expect Roosevelt Square to resume construction in 2014 with two 60-unit apartment buildings, with 25 units for public housing residents among the first buildings to go up.

Tim Veenstra, CHA senior vice president in charge of mixed-income and public housing, recalled Ms. Beverly as a “staunch negotiator” for public housing residents. Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Ms. Beverly to the CHA board of commissioners in 2009. A statement from the CHA said “She held numerous resident leadership positions, including president of ABLA Homes’ Local Advisory Council, vice-chair of the Central Advisory Council (CAC) from 2002 to 2008, interim CAC chair from 2008 to 2009, and treasurer in 2009.”

She worked for the City’s Department of Human Services for 30 years, “stressing that great accomplishments require teamwork, relationship building, and open communication,” the CHA statement said. “On behalf of the entire agency, CHA would like to send its sincerest condolences to her family and friends. Commissioner Beverly will be missed.”

Oscar O. D’Angelo, as one of the founders of the University Village Association (UVA), spent years at meetings with Ms. Beverly on the UVA board while she stood up for CHA residents. “Deverra Beverly and I worked together constructively during difficult racial times,” D’Angelo said. “She never lost sight of the main issue and worked diligently to achieve it. We shall all miss her.”

“It will be hard for anyone to follow in her footsteps,” said Sheila Reid, a friend of Ms. Beverly’s. “She was a good leader.”

Ms. Beverly envisioned a National Public Housing Museum at ABLA as early as 1997. In 2007, she was named its founding chair, vowing to lead public housing residents across Chicago in sharing their ideas for the museum and telling their personal stories for its archives. She donated a chair that had belonged to her father to the museum.

Although the rehabbing of the former Jane Addams Homes apartment building at 1322-24 W. Taylor Street that will be the museum has not begun yet, those involved expect Ms. Beverly’s dream to be realized eventually. Todd Palmer, the museum’s interim executive director, said, “We are anticipating that we will be able to make some announcement, if not before the end of the year, then shortly thereafter.”

Architectural drawings for the site are finished. A potential developer and partner in Roosevelt Square earlier this year proposed moving the museum to the south side of Taylor. That is cost-prohibitive, said the Rev. Keith L. Magee, founding director of the museum, who gave the eulogy at Ms. Beverly’s funeral.

“Wouldn’t you think that now more than ever we need to maintain what she started and was giving this last part of her life for?” he asked.

Rev. Magee said the latest plan is for developers to use the first floor of the building for retail space, confining the museum to the second and third floors. All it will take to get the project moving forward “is for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to declare he wants it done,” Rev. Magee added. Ms. Beverly is survived by six children, Kenneth, Eugene, Christine, Levert, William, and Darryl; 12 grandchildren, Keni, Shondria, Tamika, Jeremy, Gwen, Lamont, Daryl, Yolanda, Shevonne, Lavert Jr., Salina, and Lakendra; and numerous great-grandchildren. Her husband, William Pickens, daughter Christine Beverly, and grandson Keith Rawls preceded her in death.

Visitation was Nov. 15 at House of Branch, 3125 W. Roosevelt Rd. Home-going services were Nov. 16 at New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington Blvd. Interment was in Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park.