||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2010)|
|Member of the Illinois Senate
from the 15th district
January 8, 2003 – January 9, 2013
|Preceded by||Bill Shaw|
|Succeeded by||Napoleon Harris|
August 4, 1956 |
James T. Meeks (born August 4, 1956) is a former Democratic member of the Illinois Senate, who represented the 15th district from 2003 to 2013. He is also an active Baptist minister in Chicago and chaired the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. He briefly campaigned for Mayor of Chicago in the 2011 election before dropping out of the race. He has now become a leading figure in the campaign to prevent same-sex marriage in Illinois.
In 1985, Meeks founded Salem Baptist Church of Chicago where the congregation has grown from 200 to more than 20,000 today. The church has two locations devoted to worship; the 'Old' Salem Baptist Church, built between 1912 and 1913 is a former Roman Catholic Church that is one of Chicago's historic Polish Cathedrals designed by Erhard Brielamier & Sons, while the 'New' Salem Baptist Church is known as the House of Hope and was completed in 2005.
Senate/Public Service career
In 2002, Meeks became the first state senator to be elected as an Independent. He won re-election in 2006 as a Democrat. In November 2011, he announced that he would not seek reelection when his current term ended in January 2013.
In 1998, Meeks led a movement to “dry up” Roseland Community by collecting votes to close 26 liquor stores. He also created a mentoring program called “It Takes a Village ” which provides support and assistance to pregnant youth and young mothers.
Meeks was also concerned with issues of housing affordability. He sponsored a bill which would make permanent a 2003 Executive Order that established a task force to develop Annual Comprehensive Housing Plans to address critical housing issues. The bill focuses its attention on vulnerable groups, including those at risk of homelessness and low income people with disabilities.
Another bill Meeks sponsored addresses law enforcement and racial profiling. The bill would allow police departments to apply for grants to purchase cameras for police cars. Meeks believes that cameras in police cars protects everyone involved in a traffic stop, arguing that it provides security for both the driver and the law enforcement officer, and that it may also help reduce instances of racial profiling.
Meeks was the Chairperson of the Housing and Community Affairs Committee and Vice Chairperson of the Commerce and Economic Development Committee. Additionally, he was a member of the Senate Commerce; Appropriations I; Education; Higher Education; and Senate Education Funding Reform Committees.
During his speech supporting the removal of Rod Blagojevich from office, Meeks reprised the governor's now-infamous quote about Barack Obama's Senate seat, saying, "We have this thing called impeachment and it's bleeping golden, and we've used it the right way."
Meeks has been a leading and outspoken figure in the 2013 campaign to prevent marriage equality for same-sex couples in Illinois. 
Education reform advocate
Meeks has become an outspoken advocate for school reform. The June 2006 findings of the Education Trust and Illinois Education Research Council showed that Chicago’s worst schools are getting the worst teachers. Meeks believes that this is a civil rights violation of the students and has demanded that the Illinois Attorney General look into the violation. Meeks and a large group of parents also marched on city hall to meet with Mayor Daley in hopes that he could change the teacher hiring system. Meeks came up with a proposal to solve the teacher inequalities; he says top-notch teachers should be offered a $25,000 signing bonus and an additional $5,000 a year for five years to work in failing schools. The teachers' union has historically been opposed to “hazard pay” because they think all teachers should be paid more.
In fall 2008, he announced a boycott of the Chicago Public Schools, urging his congregants and people from other churches to keep their children home until Chicago inner-city schools received more funding from Springfield. Meeks pointed out that at New Trier High School in Winnetka, thousands of dollars more are spent on each student, compared to Chicago Public Schools where the population is mostly minorities from low-income homes. Over a thousand students met outside New Trier High School in the suburban North Shore to protest. The boycott ended after two days when governor Rod Blagojevich said he would not with Meeks during a boycott.
In 2009 and 2010, Meeks worked to pass opportunity scholarships for children in Chicago's worst-performing public schools. This effort was supported by a bipartisan coalition of legislators and outside groups such as the Illinois Policy Institute.
In November 2010, in an interview on the radio station WVON, Meeks advocated that only African Americans should be qualified for city contracts designated for minorities and women. During the conversation, he stated, "The word 'minority' from our standpoint should mean African American. I don’t think women, Asians and Hispanics should be able to use that title. That’s why our numbers cannot improve — because we use women, Asians and Hispanics who are not people of color, who are not people who have been discriminated against". He later retracted his statement by saying he would only forbid white women if elected mayor. He told television station WFLD, "I don’t believe white women should be considered in that count ….You have white women in the category. They receive contracts. Then, white men receive contracts. Where does that leave everybody else"? The next day, Meeks released a written statement further elucidating his comments. It stressed that "all minority- and women-owned businesses" are entitled to their "fair share" of city contracts.
Meeks and his wife, Jamell, live in Chicago, IL and have four children: Jamie, Janet, Trent (Christina), and Jasmine, and one granddaughter.
- Senate removes Blagojevich from office. Chicago Tribune, 2009-01-29
- Sarah Schulte (2008). "A controversial call was issued by a powerful Chicago minister Sunday.". ABC News. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
- Maudelyne Ihejirika (2008-09-04). "Meeks calls off school boycott". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-09-09.
- Dec 17, 2010 02:32AM (2010-12-17). "Meeks says minority contracts should only go to blacks - Chicago Sun-Times". Suntimes.com. Retrieved 2010-12-25.
- "Meeks apologizes for 'bad choice of words' | abc7chicago.com". Abclocal.go.com. 2010-12-16. Retrieved 2010-12-25.
- "Chicago Mayors Race | James Meeks Tries to 'Clarify' Comments on Women, Hispanics and Asians Not Being 'Minorities'". Myfoxchicago.com. Retrieved 2010-12-25.
- Illinois General Assembly - Senator James Meeks (D) 15th District official IL Senate website
- Project Vote Smart - Senator James T. Meeks (IL) profile
- Follow the Money - James T Meeks
- Illinois State Senate Democrats - Senator James T. Meeks profile
- Salem Baptist Church of Chicago