Remembering our mentor, organizer, life coach, and friend, Keith Freeman

With sad and heavy hearts, we share the news that our friend and colleague Senior Community Organizer Keith Freeman passed away on November 10 after a long illness.

By Grassroots Leaders at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

What words would we use to describe Keith? He was hard-working. He was relentless. He was compassionate, a listener and people person. He was an all-around nice guy. He was a GEM – someone that would always Go the Extra Mile. He not only saw the best in us, but he brought out the best in us.

Most of us met Keith when we were at rock bottom in our experience with homelessness. For some, he met us over the course of an evening where he would share a bit about who he was, the organization he worked for and how we could get involved. 

For others, it was a simple one-on-one meeting. Regardless of how we first met Keith, many things about these initial interactions were consistent. Keith had a warm greeting, a generous and easy smile. Every conversation was about us, not him. He wanted to know who we were, who we wanted to be, and how he could help us get there. He asked questions, knowing that only we had the answers. 

He was focused on not just hearing us, but listening to our story, challenging us, and transforming us into the leaders that he knew we could be. He made each of us feel valued and he empowered us to step into the greatness that exists within each of us. Keith gave and taught us so much. Below are just a few lessons that he taught us:

  1. Stand Up and Stand Out: Face whatever is thrown at you. Let them know where you stand and why. Once you’ve made your stand, make sure you stand out. Standing out isn’t about being the loudest voice in the room, but asking questions and applying the right pressure, in the right way, at the right time.
  2. Stay Focused and Stay Engaged: Our fight will be hard. We will struggle. But there is no victory without a battle. We will have setbacks, but the setbacks will not define who we are.
  3. Never Sell Yourself Short: Always believe in yourself. You have so many talents, and it is up to you to recognize the potential in yourself.
  4. Our Kids Must Be Both Seen and Heard: Our children are our future. We must not only teach and train them to be leaders, but we need to make sure that they have influence, power, and are key decision-makers. The voices of our children are just as important as yours and mine.
  5. Be Strong. You are Resilient: Remain strong and stay the course. None of us can do this alone. Check in on your CCH family. Lean on the people around you when you need it.

Keith pushed all of us to take our experience with homelessness, and wear it as a badge. Challenge assumptions. Push ourselves and everyone around us to be better. Ask tough questions. Get uncomfortable. Have fun. Never stop learning. Grow. 

For us, we will continue to show up. We won’t do this because he is not here, but because he is here. He lives in each of us. He is our angel watching from above and remains with us in the fight to make this world a better place. Keith, we appreciate you for everything that you gave us. You truly were a diamond in the rough, and you are forever with us.

Read more remembrances from CCH staff and leaders here.

Visitation and funeral arrangements have been made for Keith Freeman by his family. All are invited to join family and friends in celebrating his life and memory at Gatling’s Chapel, 10133 S. Halsted St., Chicago.

Friday, November 19
3 – 6pm

Funeral Service
Saturday, November 20
9 – 10:30am

CCH will also arrange an opportunity for the CCH community to gather to remember Keith in the coming weeks.