Thursday, May 1, 2014

Peter Yarrow Headlines 20 Year Celebration of Homeless Children's Education Rights

[May 1, 2014, Naperville, IL] Michael’s the engineer. Shantrice is the doctor. Justin’s a chef. Twenty years ago they, along with their mother Tyeast Boatwright, were homeless. On May 8 at Copley Theater in Aurora, just up the road from Hesed House, the former incinerator turned center for ministry where they lived, a celebration will take place.

Back in August 1993, Ms. Boatwright’s three children were denied their right to stay in Indian Prairie District 204 schools they attended before becoming homeless. That conflict, settled against the family in court, led to 1994 passage of the Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act, the first state legislation in the nation to clarify the civil rights of homeless students. During months of court appearances and legislative hearings, Ms. Boatwright spoke up for her children, keeping them out of the massive media coverage.

Diane Nilan, president and founder of the national Naperville-based nonprofit HEAR US, hoped to reconnect with this family for years as she traversed the country in her small motorhome raising awareness of homeless children and youth. On the road since 2005, the former shelter director at Hesed House has made several acclaimed documentaries used to enlighten and inspire audiences about the plight and promise of homeless families and youth. 

After failing to locate Ms. Boatwright, she turned to the HEAR US board for help, and they succeeded. In several conversations with her last month, the two got caught up on the past 20 years. Among other topics, the success of Boatwright's three children delighted Nilan. Sadly, the family will not be able to attend the May 8 event.

The Illinois law, nicknamed “Charlie’s Bill” for the bill’s poster child, 4-year-old Charles depicted in
photojournalist Pat Van Doren’s compelling photo, provided the major substance for enhancing the federal legislation, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act of 2001. Now-retired Congresswoman Judy Biggert (IL-13, R) championed the legislation in Washington. She is co-chair of the May 8 event.

Nilan hopes that families staying at Hesed House in 1993 and beyond will attend the event. The camaraderie during the court fight and subsequent legislative advocacy campaign provided an empowering undercurrent for their shelter stay. “These families benefited by the courageous action of Ms. Boatwright and her children, and by the enlightened action of the Illinois legislature,” Nilan said. She points out that millions of homeless students have also benefited by this little-heralded civil rights legislation.

HEAR US will honor The Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Professor Laura Vazquez, Northern Illinois University documentary maker, for their efforts on behalf of homeless children/youth educational rights.

The event begins at 6:30 and is open to the public. Suggested donation is $10 to benefit HEAR US. Area chefs Francois and Betsy Sanchez, longtime supporters of Nilan’s efforts, are providing substantial hors d oeuvres for the event. A cash bar will be available. HEAR US books and videos will be available for purchase.  More information available at

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