JOLIET – If Kathleen Bolden – founder of the Warren-Sharpe Community Center in Joliet – were still alive, she’d probably be championing ways to improve health care among the poor.
Kathleen was a resident of Joliet’s south side her entire life and believed in working hard to improve life for her friends and neighbors, according to Kathleen’s daughter, Kay Bolden of Joliet. Kay is the center’s current executive director.
Kay captured her mother’s zeal in a recently released series of essays by family and friends entitled, “She Lives in You: The Kathleen Bolden Story.” Kay will be signing copies of the book April 2 at Lewis University in Romeoville.
“What’s special about her is that she wasn’t born into wealth or privilege. She was just a woman who grew up here,” Kay said. “Every single day, we try to make clear to the kids at the center that each one of us can make a difference. That’s who she was.”
Many of the recollections were as inspiring to Kay as she hopes they will be to the readers.
“So many people told me things she had done for them or things she was involved in and I had no idea she had done them,” Kay said.
Kay wrote her mother’s life story for two reasons. One was to introduce Kathleen’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren and community members to the inspirational “force of nature” who was her mother.
The second was to continue Kathleen’s mission of improving the daily lives of residents on Joliet’s south side. All book proceeds will benefit programs at the Warren-Sharpe Community Center, the main focus of Kathleen’s later years, and one that is now bursting with programs.
These include a low-cost preschool, summer day camp, free after-school programs, counseling, parent support groups, job training and a food pantry, which Kay hopes to eventually support with the installation of a community garden.
“I see growth every year,” Kay said. “The center is a busy place.”
Kathleen, Kay said, was an activist from “way back.” As a black girl growing up in 1940s Joliet, Kathleen experienced plenty of racism and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
Not until she had married Judge Raymond Bolden of Joliet and had three children did Kathleen enroll in Joliet Junior College and then Lewis University in Romeoville, where Kathleen received her bachelor’s degree in sociology.
Kay said her mother was in the first co-ed class of the former all-male institution and became involved in Lewis University’s black student union. Kathleen eventually received her master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Governors State University in University Park. Kathleen then returned to Lewis University to teach, Kay said.
“Now it’s very commonplace for people to go back to school but she was 10 years ahead of her time,” Kay said. “That was just her personality and we tried very hard to portray that in the book.”
By the late 1980s, Kay said, Joliet’s south side was reflecting the area’s economic change. Plants and factories were closing and leaving town, Kay said, and the neighborhood went from “working class Italian” to “poor and black.”
“People tried to get her to move to the west side but she would not do it,” Kay said. “The kids in the neighborhood were turning to gangs and drugs. She felt she needed to stay here and create something for them to live for.”
In 1991, when the rest of the city seemed to have adopted an atmosphere of “zero tolerance” for these young offenders, Kay said, Kathleen acquired a former Warren YMCA building and opened its doors with a strong message to the area’s youth.
That message, Kay said, was this: “Everyone is welcome here. Everyone is safe here. No matter what is going on outside, we will not judge you; we will love you. We will do our best to show you a different way to live your life. We will have people here as an example for you and people here to help you when you are ready.”
The first few years were rough, Kay said, as her mother’s mission of reaching gang kids was not a popular one.
Ironically Kathleen, who possessed such a huge heart for her community, battled a weakened physical heart, a side effect of childhood rheumatic fever, Kay said. Although Kathleen died suddenly in 1994, Kay, still living in the family home on Joliet’s south side, continues her mother’s vision.
Kay wishes her mother could see how kids who once came to the center are now enrolled in college and volunteering their time as tutors. She hopes to expand the tutoring to include a greater emphasis on math and science, especially for the girls.
“We don’t want them trapped in the cycle of poverty,” Kay said. “It’s important for them to see there is a way out.”
If You Go
What: “She Lives in You: The Kathleen Bolden Story”
When: 5 to 8 p.m. April 2
Where: Lewis University, Oremus Fine Arts Center, One University Parkway, Romeoville
Etc: Book launch and reception.
Cost: $14.99 for print. Also available in Kindle and eBook.
To buy: Warren-SharpeCommunityCenter.org. Proceeds benefit Warren-Sharpe Center programs.
RSVP: By March 27.
Contact: Lisa Heizer 815- 836-5545 or email at email@example.com.
Additional contributors to the book include:
• Hon. Raymond Bolden, Joliet: Kathleen’s husband of 38 years, founding board member and current vice president of Warren-Sharpe Community Center
• Attorney A. Scott Bolden, Washington D.C: Kathleen’s son and major donor to Lewis University’s Kathleen Bolden Trailblazer Scholarship Fund.
• Joseph Bolden, East Chicago: Kathleen’s son
• Jeremy Bolden, Joliet: Kahtleen’s grandson
• Betty Byrd, Lockport: Kathleen’s sister and only sibling
• Barbara Williams, Chicago: Kathleen’s cousin
• Lita Holmes, Joliet: Kathleen’s close friend, founding board and current president of the Warren-Sharpe Community Center
• Johnnie Sims, Maryland: childhood and family friend
• Charles Jones, Joliet: family friend, founding and current board member of the Warren-Sharpe Community Center
• Richard Bennett, Geneva: former pastor Sacred Heart Church, founding board president of the Warren-Sharpe Community Center
• Michael Parker, St. Charles: former student and former employee
• Michael Alexander, Portland: former college classmate