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History

History

Since its first days in 1969, BPI has been at the front lines of social justice in the Chicago region. Founded by visionary corporate leader Gordon Sherman, CEO of the Midas Muffler Company to fight for the public interest “against all inequities,” BPI’s voice has never been muffled.

While our broad mission has allowed BPI to tackle a diverse array of issues over the years, our commitment to systemic change that delivers equity and increases opportunity for Chicago-region families and individuals remains true to the spirit of justice and social responsibility that motivated our founders to create BPI amid the backdrop of the civil rights movement and war in Vietnam.

Under the direction of our first Executive Director, attorney and activist Marshall Patner, BPI gained notice for a number of initiatives, including a media campaign opposing the City’s now unthinkable plan to create a new airport in Lake Michigan. The campaign’s provocative theme—”Don’t Do It in the Lake”— ignited a highly successful effort to defeat the City’s ill-conceived plan.

In 1970, Alex Polikoff joined BPI as Executive Director, bringing with him Gautreaux v. CHA, a civil rights case he had pursued on a pro-bono basis as an ACLU volunteer. Fueled by BPI’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court victory in 1976 Gautreaux became one of the leading civil rights cases of our time, improving life opportunities for thousands of public housing families and continuing to protect the rights of public housing residents around the country today.

Former BPI Board President and current Executive Director Hoy McConnell succeeded Alex in 1999, bringing not only his executive management and leadership acumen honed over a long professional career in advertising, but a deep engagement in BPI’s issues acquired through many years of service as a BPI Board member.

Today, BPI lawyers and policy specialists continue to develop innovative policies and programs, advance effective strategies, litigate impactful issues, catalyze strong coalitions, and help advance progress toward our overarching goal of helping to create a just society.

Guided by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement—“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”—BPI recently adopted a new themeline, “For a Just Society.” Those four words succinctly sum up our history of advocacy and action for social justice—just as they define our future.

Proceeding from the most recent back through BPI history, the milestones listed here provide a roadmap through the many-layered terrain of BPI’s public interest law and policy work over the last 50 years: public and affordable housing, education reform, environmental action, civil rights, political reform issues…the list is long and the scope is broad.

BPI Milestones

  • 2019: BPI and CHA agree to a court-approved settlement of the 53-year-old Gautreaux case, obligating the Chicago Housing Authority to meet all commitments and end the case by July 31, 2024.
  • 2019: BPI publishes “When Chicago’s Ready for Reform, Here’s What It Could Do,” calling on Chicago’s new Mayor to strengthen the oversight powers of Chicago’s inspectors general.
  • 2018: BPI partners with the community-based Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) to introduce an ordinance establishing a new civilian commission for police accountability and oversight in Chicago.
  • 2016: The Illinois Supreme Court rules unanimously for the Independent Inspector General of Cook County, represented by BPI, affirming the IG’s jurisdiction over county offices headed by independently elected officials.
  • 2016: BPI participates on the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability and the release of its report, calling for major structural and operating reforms to policing in Chicago.
  • 2013: BPI receives the MacArthur Foundation’s Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, one of 15 organizations worldwide so honored this year.
  • 2012: BPI and a broad coalition of community partners launches a comprehensive Early Childhood Learning Initiative in CHA’s Altgeld Gardens and the surrounding community.
  • 2003: BPI leads efforts to secure passage of the Illinois Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act (AHPAA), a precedent-setting measure designed to dismantle exclusionary barriers to affordable housing for working families.
  • 1998: BPI launches its annual Chicago School Policy Forum series, bringing advocates, educators, and the business and philanthropic communities together to consider pressing school reform topics.
  • 1983: BPI files a lawsuit against Commonwealth Edison over safety and cost issues in its nuclear power generation programs. Ten years later, this litigation results in a $1.3 billion refund to consumers—the largest such public utility refund ever awarded at the time.
  • 1976: BPI’s Gautreaux victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, establishes the principle that metropolitan-wide remedies are permissible to redress central city housing segregation. The Gautreaux Assisted Housing Program, the nation’s first housing mobility program, is launched.
  • 1971: BPI sues—and eventually wins—to prevent construction of a nuclear power plant in the Indiana Dunes.
  • 1970: BPI becomes home to the historic Gautreaux et al. v. Chicago Housing Authority desegregation case when lead attorney Alexander Polikoff joins BPI as Executive Director
  • 1969: In its first year, BPI’s “Don’t Do It in the Lake” campaign galvanizes public sentiment, and against great odds, helps prevent construction of an airport in Lake Michigan.

 

Recipient of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions

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