February 8, 2021 8:13 pm

The Network for Public Education Mourns the Loss of Karen Lewis

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Friends of public education have lost a true friend and hero with the passing of the Chicago Teachers Union’s leader, Karen Lewis. 

Our President Diane Ravitch was her admirer and dear friend. This morning she wrote on her blog.

“It is with immense sadness that I share with you the news that the brilliant, charismatic Karen Lewis has died. As the Chicago Teachers Union leader, she led the union to strike for “the schools our children deserve.” She understood that the union had to organize families and communities, not just their members. She fearlessly confronted the powerful. She was considering a run against Rahm Emanuel for mayor of Chicago when she learned she had an aggressive brain tumor. 

Karen and her devoted husband John were dear personal friends. I saw them when I was in Chicago a year ago. 

All of us who care about children and their schools will miss her dynamic leadership. 

Every time teachers strike for better education for children, they should remember this tireless, inspiring woman, our friend, Karen Lewis.”

To watch a video of Diane and Karen in conversation at the 2015 NPE Conference in Chicago, click the image below.

Network for Public Education Action board member Jitu Brown is the leader of Journey for Justice, a grassroots organization dedicated to racial and education justice. A Chicago resident, he put his own life on the line when he led the hunger strike to keep a neighborhood high school open.   

Upon hearing of Karen’s passing, Jitu said, Karen was brilliant, visionary and despite her Ivy League education, grounded in a core Black politic that demanded we are treated with dignity and respect. She had courage, soul and swag! Make no mistake, she was an electrical force for justice that reignited the labor movement. She will be missed but never forgotten.”

Below is a wonderful picture of Diane and Karen that Karen tweeted from our Chicago Conference in 2015. Even though she was quite ill, she was there at our conference to cheer us on.

Karen was a remarkable woman and an early supporter of the Network for Public Education. Although we are relieved that she is now beyond suffering and at peace, we are deeply saddened by the loss of this faithful friend of public education. 

Our deep condolences go out to Karen’s family, who generously shared her with the world. Karen was a model of courage, dignity, and integrity for all of us.