2014 Recipient

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Where presented : 
NLADA Annual Conference
Recipient(s) name: 
Ethel Sylvester
Recipient title: 
Board Member
Recipient organization: 
Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation
Recipient organization city: 
East St. Louis
Recipient organization state: 
Reason for selection of recipient(s): 

Ethel Sylvester (standing in photo) and her twin sister, Edna Mayes, were born in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1928. Both have spent most of their adult lives advocating for the rights of the poor in East St. Louis, particularly for the rights of public housing tenants. Ethel moved to the Samuel Gompers Homes of the East St. Louis Housing Authority in 1960 and raised her five children there. For over 50 years, she has been a public housing activist. She has served as President of the
Gompers Tenant Council for close to 30 years and was at one time also on the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.

She worked closely with Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance on the filing of the class action in 1985 that resulted in HUD, for the first time, taking control of a housing authority that was failing its residents. This led to the replacement or gut rehabilitation of almost all public housing units in the city. She and her sister, widely known in East St. Louis as “the twins,” have continued to advocate for the preservation of those gains and for the rights of tenants ever since.

Ethel has been a leader in many other community struggles, including the successful effort to preserve a community hospital. Ethel and Edna also devoted many years as volunteers for the Senior Companion and Hospice programs.
Ethel has also been a great champion of justice for the poor. Elected to Land of Lincoln’s Board of Directors in 1981 by the Advisory Council of which she was already a faithful member, she has served almost continuously as a board member for 35 years. During that time, she has attended almost every meeting and has been a champion for empowerment of clients and for the highest quality legal services.