In 1989, four women – Barbara Muhammed, Ernestine Tilghman, Ella Thompson and Yvonne Carrington – filed a lawsuit against the Chester Housing Authority for deplorable conditions under which many residents lived. That suit, later known as Velez v. Cisneros, resulted in the CHA being taken over by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
When HUD failed to make needed changes, they turned the CHA over to federal court judge Norma L. Shapiro.Shapiro, who took charge of the CHA in 1994, released it from court receivership in 2015. A year later, she died.But the women who filed the lawsuit and the employees of the CHA that worked for her, wanted to honor her memory. Last Wednesday, they re-dedicated the CHA's offices to Judge Shapiro and also unveiled a plaque honoring Muhammed, Tilghman, Thompson and Carrington.
CHA Executive Director Steven Fischer, CHA board Chair Sheila Church, Rabbi Kelilah Miller, of Ohev Shalom, federal court Judge Cynthia M. Rufe and Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, all took the podium to praise Shapiro for her dedication to the CHA and her care for the people she served while on the bench."From housing units no one wanted anymore to clear waiting lists, Shapiro saw the CHA for what it was: an organization vitally needed, left to fall into disrepair," Fischer said during his speech. "She fixed it. She didn't bring in big names for brief fixes. She took her time."Rufe, who worked with Shapiro in the U.S. District Court for Pennsylvania's Eastern District, said she still remains "stunned by [Shapiro's] abilities, but never by her humanity."
"Who would have thought that a lawsuit would spawn this building, this project and all that comes with it?" she asked at the podium.Shapiro's three sons pulled a curtain aside to reveal a white plaque that reads "Norma L. Shapiro Building." Then, Muhammad, Thompson and Carrington, along with family members of the late Tilghman, revealed a second plaque: a bronze rendering of the four women with Barack Obama's famous saying,"We are the change we seek.""This is incredible," Muhammed said, "for us and for Norma. This goes to show what women can do if we (keep) doing the next right thing.""I wasn't expecting this," Carrington added through tears, looking up at the plaque. "I wasn't… you all really outdid yourselves."