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Still stunned over the death of Westside Ministers Coalition Chairman Rev. Lewis Flowers on Dec. 9, 2012, Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) and Michael Bakalis, president of American Quality Schools, said Tuesday that he will be remembered as a "door opener" and an "advocate for the community."
Having known and worked with Rev. Flowers for nearly 20 years, Graham was shocked when her pastor, Rev. Joseph Jones, who heads the Pleasant Ridge Church, announced Flowers' death Sunday from the pulpit.
"Just a couple of weeks ago, Rev. Flowers told me he had been sick. I told him I would be praying for him and asked him how he felt. He looked well but also tired as well," said Graham, recalling her last face-to-face conversation with the popular minister and community activist.
Graham and Bakalis said it was an honor to work with Flowers, who paved the way for numerous community improvements and invaluable new partnerships.
Graham reflected on the time she worked with him on the Plato School project when he was trying to build a community center for Pleasant Ridge Church and sought leases to anchor a building at that church.
"If you didn't know Rev. Flowers, you didn't know the players in the community. He was certainly a major player in Austin," said Graham. "He's gone to be with the Lord. Well done, good and faithful servant. He worked really hard in Austin, and is going to be missed. He was a great community advocate."
Having already initiated plans to dedicate a street sign in honor of Rev. Flowers, Ald. Graham is moving now to make that a reality.
"This was something we had talked about before he had taken ill. A number of people had wanted to honor him and the service he had done with the Westside Ministers Coalition. Little did we know that he would be making his transition so soon," Graham said.
Bakalis met Rev. Flowers 10 years ago. "I was working with Austin High School at the time, and he was also working there in terms of bringing about some changes and reforms, and I had occasion to meet up with him. We struck it up very well from the beginning, and we've been working together ever since," Bakalis said.
Together the two successfully worked on projects involving the Westside Ministers Coalition, especially on one of the small charter schools that went into the Austin High School building, the Austin Business and Entrepreneurialship Academy, a partnership between American Quality Schools and the Westside Ministers Coalition.
They also worked together on the Plato Learning Academy, which has two campuses, one at Harrison and Central for students K-5 and one at Washington and Laramie, for students in grades 6-8.
Flowers was instrumental in these projects, Bakalis said. "Rev. Flowers was very important because he obviously knew the entire Austin community. He was a part of it. I'm from Austin, grew up there and went to Spencer School and Austin High School. We both had a very strong connection to the Austin community. I still go to church in the Austin community at the Greek Orthodox Church on Harrison and Central.
"Rev. Flowers was very instrumental because he knew the community. He knew the political establishment. They knew him very well at the Chicago Board of Education, and they had worked with him on a number of projects, so he was very helpful, not only in opening doors but being an advocate for children and for schools in the Austin community. He was very important," Bakalis said.
"I lost a very, very close friend. I respected him. I liked him. He had a great sense of humor. We used to laugh a great deal together. He would always kid me about not going to church enough. He was just a very good friend. I will miss him.
"He was a man committed to social justice, and I admired him for that," Bakalis added. "He devoted a lot of his time and energy. He didn't get paid for most of the things that he did, but he just did it because he really believed in helping people. I admired him a lot, and I'll miss him a lot. He was a close friend."