About Gail Schechter

Gail Schechter is a pioneer in adapting grassroots organizing strategies that have typically been employed in disadvantaged neighborhoods to neighborhoods of all types. Whether individuals have needs of their own or moral needs on behalf of others, together theirs is a united voice for social justice.

Gail has a foot in diverse worlds, having been born and raised in Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods of New York City, and since 1990, raising her own family and working side by side with neighbors in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

Gail has been a leader in tenant and community organizing, fair and affordable housing advocacy, discrimination investigation, public school funding reform, and public policy research and development since 1984. She is also a widely recognized "thought leader" in conceiving of and implementing creative grassroots strategies for fostering inclusive, just and diverse communities, most recently through Open Communities' The Justice Project: The March Continues.

Gail shares her skills and experiences widely as a practitioner and supporter of grassroots initiatives of all kinds as a grantwriter and capacity building consultant. She is also a trainer with the Addie Wyatt Center for Nonviolence Training, a program she co-founded in August 2016 to teach and mentor Chicago-area high school students and youth outreach workers on the principles and practices of Kingian Nonviolence.

Most recently, Gail served as Director of Innovation and Impact for All Chicago Making Homelessness History, where she built internal staff capacity to provide training, research, and policy advocacy, and to forge cross-systems collaborations.

From 1993 to 2016, she served as Executive Director of Open Communities, the north suburban Chicago area’s premier housing, economic and social justice organization. She not only increased the agency's size four-fold but she took the organization, which was conceived as a faith- and community-based organization during the civil rights movement, into policy areas beyond its original housing focus. At the same time, she reinvigorated Open Communities' core capacity as the central suburban grassroots organizing and mobilizing force against racism and other forms of bigotry and in support of the Beloved Community, harking back to its founding as the 1965 North Shore Summer Project. The thousands of progressive residents and religious leaders of the Summer Project attracted over 10,000 people to Winnetka for an open housing rally with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as its electrifying keynote speaker and were instrumental in ending local policies of racial discrimination.

Gail got her start as a tenant organizer and quickly ascended to Director of Organizing for a Brooklyn not-for-profit group now called St. Nicks Alliance. She organized tenants in scores of buildings and the creation of Crimewatch, a multiracial community patrol. When she moved to the Chicago area, she worked for the Center for Neighborhood Technology to train and provide grants to grassroots groups in Chicago, Houston, Denver, Atlanta and Northwest Indiana through the Fund for Neighborhood Economies and co-founded what became the Chicago Mutual Housing Network to facilitate co-op housing.

In 2012, she was appointed by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to fill the “affordable housing advocate” seat on the newly constituted State Housing Appeals Board, the enforcement body for the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act, legislation which she supported when it was drafted in 2003, and continues to serve in this role.. She also provides education, outreach, and advocacy for mixed-income communities.

She also serves on the Board of Directors of Chicago Area Peace Action and is a member of the core leadership team of United We Learn, a grassroots north suburban-based campaign for education justice in Illinois that she helped to organize in 2008. In the past, she has served on the Board of Directors of Housing Action Illinois (where she was also the Chicago-area co-chair) and the Woodstock Institute.

She has taught graduate courses in public policy and civic engagement for Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies. She is also an accomplished organizational developer, writer, and curriculum designer and trainer. She is a trained strategic planning facilitator through the Institute of Cultural Affairs. Most recently, she authored the definitive history of the North Shore Summer Project and its evolution to Open Communities for The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Activism in the North (University of Kentucky Press), released in April 2016.

She is the recipient of numerous awards for her social justice advocacy including:

  • Faith In Action Award, St. Paul AME Church, Glencoe (King Day, 2016)
  • Community Service Award, Evanston-North Shore NAACP (2013)
  • Rayna and Marvin Miller Housing Justice Award, Open Communities (2013)
  • BridgeBuilder Award, Justice & Peace Committee of the Chicago Province of the Society of the Divine Word (2005)
  • Humanitarian of the Year, North Shore-Barrington Association of Realtors (2004)
  • Community Service Award, Evanston-North Shore NAACP (2003)
  • Champion of the Public Interest, Business and Professional People in the Public Interest (BPI) at their Annual Law Day Dinner, May 1, 2001
  • Golden Trowel Award, Housing Action Illinois, for her community organizing campaigns for fair and affordable housing in Morton Grove (1999) and Wilmette (2002)

In 2016, she successfully completed Technology of Participation (TOP) strategic planning facilitation training from the Institute for Cultural Affairs in Chicago. In June 2017, due to her experience with the Addie Wyatt Center, she gained the highest certification as a Level III Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation Trainer,  a year after she successfully complete the Summer Nonviolence Instituteat the University of Rhode Island, Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies, founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s associate, Dr. Bernard LaFayette. 

Ms. Schechter holds a B.A. with Honors in History from Oberlin College and an M.A. in Urban and Environmental Policy from Tufts University. She lives in Skokie, IL.

More detail is available on her LinkedIn page.