Lionel Jean-Baptiste honored with new street name for aldermanic, judicial career

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Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Councilmembers and residents reflected on Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste’s career in community activism, city government and the county court system. The judge and former alderperson was recognized with an honorary street renaming.

Ilana Arougheti, Senior Staffer

The city recognized former 2nd Ward alderperson Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste with an honorary street renaming last week for his decades of public service. 

The portion of McDaniel Avenue between Crain Street and Dempster Street, where Jean-Baptiste has long resided, will be renamed Honorable Lionel Jean-Baptiste Way. After City Council voted unanimously to rename the street, the council gave Jean-Baptiste a standing ovation. He recently received an honorary key to the city in May.

Jean-Baptiste thanked his family and the community for their ongoing support and spoke about why he continues to work in public service. 

“To whom much is given, much is expected,” Jean-Baptiste said. “In giving, you receive so much more.” 

Ald. Peter Braithewaite (2nd), Jean-Baptiste’s successor on the council, submitted the nomination to the city after an initial one by Jean-Baptiste’s niece, Gabrielle Jean-Paul Walker.

At the meeting, Braithewaite reflected on Jean-Baptiste’s council career and his earlier work in local branches of the NAACP, where he advocated for mentorship and guidance programs for Black and brown youth. Braithwaite referred to Jean-Baptiste as a father figure in the community and as a role model for future Black leaders. 

“You walk up straight in this community and you teach all of us Black men to walk up straight,” Braithwaite said. “Not only do you lead by example for us, but you serve as a Black leader here in our town for those of us who have come behind you, as well as many other ones who stand behind the dais.” 

Jean-Baptiste served three terms as 2nd Ward alderperson before his appointment to the Cook County Circuit Court in 2011. He was the first Haitian-American to be sworn in as judge by the Illinois Supreme Court. While on City Council, he was instrumental in establishing Evanston’s Minority-Owned, Women-Owned and Evanston Business Enterprises Development Committee, as well as the city’s youth services outreach team, according to Braithwaite. 

Jean-Baptiste helped lay the foundation for Evanston’s reparations program two decades ago by advocating a resolution to study reparations in the city. Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) reflected on sitting on the council with Jean-Baptiste during early votes surrounding the reparations plan. 

Wynne echoed Braithewaite in noting that the judge and his family have always been articulate advocates for improvements to youth and city services.

“It was then-Alderman Jean-Baptiste who kept pushing this council and pushing our city staff about, ‘What about the kids who fall through the cracks?’” Wynne said. 

Lucie Lature Sims, one of Jean-Baptiste’s six sisters, said her brother’s reputation is one of “selflessness, mentorship, relationship building and resistance to injustice.” 

Sims said she and her sisters were inspired by their brother’s student activism at Evanston Township High School and later at Princeton University, where he studied political science and African American history. 

“Not only was he the protective older brother as we grew up, but he was also our mentor and teacher,” Sims said. “He made sure we knew our history. He taught us to love ourselves and our people, near and far. He taught us to celebrate our Haitian culture, and this Evanston community we call home.”

The city plans to hold a larger event this spring to celebrate Jean-Baptiste’s career and achievements.

“We all have our stories of Judge Lionel,” said former 5th Ward Ald. Robin Rue Simmons, who led the implementation of the reparations plan. “I can say I have seen him contribute in an incredible way, particularly in how he has supported emerging leaders and invested in crises that we deal with.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ilana_arougheti

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