Black History Month Featured Evanstonians
It’s Black History Month! Each week in February, the City will highlight a Black Evanstonian who’s made an impact in the local community.
Alexis Harris-Dyer may be young, but she’s already making history. Born and raised in Evanston, her family’s home for 90 years, Alexis has been passionate about community service since she was a child, frequently joining her family to clean parks, volunteer at local shelters, and host parties for families at the YWCA.
In addition to her passion for community service, Alexis has been a part of the City’s theatre scene since the 5th grade, receiving encouragement from the late Mayor Morton along the way. She's starred in productions at Mudlark Theatre, ETHS and Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre (FJT), and was the keynote speaker at the City’s 2017 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Celebration.
Alexis has received numerous awards for her community service and leadership, including nine UNITY scholarships and a community service award from the NAACP. She is a 2018 Chessman Club Scholar, the first female recipient of the Dajae Coleman Foundation Achievement Award, a High Distinction Graduate from ETHS, National Honor Society Member, and an Honorable Mention in the Visual Arts Category for the League of Women Voters Constitution Contest.
Currently, Alexis attends Illinois State University, where she studies acting, volunteers at community kitchens, and was recently cast in Violet, scheduled to premiere April 22-27.
William “Bill” Logan has been an Evanston resident and a pioneer his whole life. In his time as a student at Evanston Township High School (ETHS), Bill became the first Black football captain, first Black winner of the Myerson award for football excellence, first Black homeroom president, and the first Black senior class vice president. After he graduated, Bill attended one year at Western Illinois University on a football scholarship before being drafted into the Air Force.
Upon returning from the Korean War, Bill joined the Evanston Police Department (EPD). After several years on the force and with inspiration from serving as a bodyguard for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his visit to Evanston, Bill returned to school to receive his bachelor’s in public administration and went on to graduate from the FBI’s National Academy.
After graduating, Bill returned to the EPD where he worked for 30 years, during which he became the EPD’s first Black lieutenant, captain, deputy chief and chief of police. In his time at the EPD, Bill was a champion for innovative practices, including creating the City’s first Gang Crimes unit and Citizen Research Advisory Committee, promoting the first female officer, championing a designated prosecutor for Evanston, and introducing community policing.
In 1987, Bill retired to become director of safety and security at ETHS, where he characteristically launched himself into his work, creating the school’s first crisis plan, hotline, annual in-service training, and visitor sign-in system.
Outside of work, Bill has co-founded numerous organizations, including the Chessmen Club of the North Shore, Inc., the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), and the Fellowship of African American Men (FAAM). He also established volunteer organizations, including Mothers Against Gangs. Bill has served on the board of the Rotary Club, Evanston Community Foundation, Evanston Parks, Recreation and Community Services, and the Levy Center Foundation.
Bill’s dedication to the service and protection of others has not gone unnoticed. He has received numerous recognitions, including a citation by President George W. Bush at the 25th anniversary of NOBLE, the “Those Who Excel” award from the State Board of Education, and the Life Service award from Family Focus.
Geraldine (Gerri) Sizemore describes Evanston as "generous, compassionate [and] friendly," and those words could easily describe her. An Evanston resident for more than 50 years, Gerri has spent her time serving the community. Notably, in 1962, Gerri became the first African American to be hired as a High Low Foods grocery checker in the North Shore and subsequently trained many other checkers. In 1966, she began working for the United States Postal Service (USPS), where she worked for 37 years.
Aside from her time at USPS, Gerri has actively served the Evanston community through her extensive volunteerism, including currently as treasurer of the Foster Senior Club, Second Vice President of the Evanston (North Shore) Branch NAACP and as the Auxiliary President of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Technical Sergeant William B. Snell Post 7186. In addition, Gerri is on the board of the Forrest E. Powell Foundation, the Levy Senior Center Foundation and the Warren "Billy" Cherry Scholarship Fund. She is also an honorary board member at the Shorefront Legacy Center and a trustee at her church, Ebenezer A.M.E. Gerri has formerly served on the board at North Shore Village and at the Evanston Youth Job Center.
Over her rich life, Gerri has received numerous awards, including from the USPS, the 2015 Aging Well Award, the 2011 Outstanding Volunteers Award, the Vision Keeper Award, a community service award from the Chessman Club of the North Shore, Family Focus Evanston "Those who Make a Difference Award," the Forrest E. Powell Work Ethic Award, the Trailblazer Award and the Evanston Youth Job Center Volunteer Award. In her free time, Gerri loves to travel, catch up on the news and spend time with her family.
Hecky Powell was serving the Evanston community long before he began serving some of the nation’s best barbecue (“It’s the sauce!”). Before opening his restaurant at the corner of Emerson Street and Green Bay Road, Hecky served as executive director of Neighbors at Work, a community economic development association in Evanston. He later incorporated his passion for community service into his business plan at Hecky’s Barbecue, which has long provided local teens with jobs while providing visitors near and far with delicious barbecue.
In 1994, Hecky created the Forrest E. Powell Foundation in honor of his father to carry on the values of family, community, and spirituality. The Powell Foundation offers scholarships to local students, and its most recent endeavor, the Work Ethic Program, partners with local businesses to provide apprenticeships and mentoring to ETHS students interested in careers in technology and the trades.
Hecky is a recipient of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce Small Business Award, the Northeastern Illinois University Community Service Award, and the Northwestern University Black Alumni Association Award. In 2014, the corner of Green Bay and Emerson received the honorary designation of Hecky Powell Way.