Well into his golden years, Bennie Meeks was far from settling for retirement.
Meeks remained a community activist and organizer in Austin well into his 70s. A long-time resident, he was never meek about standing up for the betterment of the Austin community, his friends recall.
“He was a fighter to get rid of those drugs,” says Mary Peery, who co-founded the Austin Green Team with Meeks in 1992.
Peery said there will be a brick with Meeks’ name on it ready to be placed in the organization’s memorial garden come May.
Meeks, 80, died on Feb. 21, at Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park. He’s survived by his wife, Bertha (nee Ferguson) Meeks, and his children. His funeral took place Feb. 28, at St. Martin de Porres Church, 5112 W. Washington.
After serving in the U.S. Army between 1956 and 1962, Mr. Meeks worked at Western Electric before retiring after 25 years. He spent his elder years working with West Side groups, including the South Austin Coalition Community Council and 15th District CAPS.
“Mr. Meeks was very dedicated and hardworking for the community of Austin, and the CAPS program itself,” says Barbara West, 15th District commander. “He worked as a block club president for years. Mr. Meeks was also one of the founding members of the Austin Green Team that helps to beautify and keep our community clean. The only things I have to offer about him are praises, and that he will be sorely missed.”
Bennie Meeks, Jr. was born on Jan. 5, 1934 in Lexington, Miss. Remembered by some as a prizefighter in his early years, Mr. Meeks put his gloves back on during his retirement years to fight for Austin. He was a longtime member and leader with SACCC.
During the late 1980s and early ’90s, Mr. Meeks spearheaded community partnerships with the Chicago Police Department and Austin’s 15th District police.
That collaboration led to numerous policy initiatives, including the Nuisance Abatement Program, an effort to enable the seizing of drug houses. He also helped spur a campaign to make vehicle temporary stickers more traceable for witnesses to crime, as well as law for enforcement. In addition, he helped establish citizen leaders as facilitators to chair police beat meetings.
“He was a facilitator on Beat 1532 [since 1993], and he was very active in terms of the community, in terms of participating and organizing community events,” West says.
In 1990, Mr. Meeks helped craft school zone laws that severely penalized offenders for dealing and manufacturing drugs within 100 ft. of a school. He was also one of 30 people from across the country honored for their community work by President George H.W. Bush at a White House ceremony. While there, Mr. Meeks was also honored for his work on the Justice Department’s Crime Prevention Council. The Nuisance Abatement Program grew out of that partnership.
Meeks moved to Austin in 1967, prior to the riots following Dr. King’s assassination that devastated the West Side.
“I actually moved to the Austin community the year before the riots because there were so many jobs here at the time,” Meeks told Austin Weekly News in 2008.
“I saw fires everywhere,” Meeks’ recalled of that April 4, day in 1968. “I saw the National Guard put the community on lockdown, and I saw military jeeps driving down my block. People were definitely afraid. I had some co-workers ask to ride with me instead of driving, but that day, I did not drive. I can remember seeing the clouds of smoke as I rode the bus down Madison.”
A year after co-founding the Austin Green Team, Mr. Meeks worked with the 15th District on the city’s prototype community policing program which later became CAPS (Community Alternative Strategy). At CAPS’s anniversary ceremony in 2000, Mayor Richard M. Daley recognized Meeks for his involvement with the program. In 2006, Mr. Meeks was inducted into Chicago’s Senior Citizen Hall of Fame.
But the Austin Green Team remained a joyful focus of Meeks’. On May 17, Meeks will join many other deceased Austin leaders in the organization’s Brick Memorial Garden at Washington and Laramie.
“He’s gone now, but he did his part and more, says Peery. “Mr. Meeks worked with everybody. There were so many police there [at his funeral service], I couldn’t even count them. There’s just not going to be another man like him.”