Dolores Shaw left her mark on public education in Philadelphia
Dolores Denise Shaw spent her life fighting for a more just Philadelphia, leading City Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez to call her the “moral conscience of the city.”
The longtime community leader died April 3 at age 64.
As a mother and grandmother, she focused on improving her neighborhood schools, as well as educational opportunities of all kinds.
In the early 1990s, she began working as an advocate to improve her children’s neighborhood elementary school, McClure. She became a citywide public education reform leader through her involvement with the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project (EPOP), a faith-based and neighborhood institutional effort.
Along with parents and other community folks, she led organizing efforts to win new reading programs and school libraries, safety plans around the schools, playgrounds, a new Willard Elementary School, and the creation of Youth United for Change.
She was also one of the founders of Philadelphia for Early Childhood Education (PECE), garnering city support for expanding its quality and ability.
“Public education was her passion, and she knew what needed to be done,” said Tomas Hanna, a former Philadelphia principal and deputy superintendent. “She was not only an advocate, but a teacher. It was clear we all worked for her. She made it easy, though never comfortable, because she was so clear regarding needs and expectations. We are all better and stronger for having known and worked with Dolores.”
Her passing “is absolutely a huge loss.”
Education wasn’t the only object of her passion and commitment. Her other community organizing work included safety, community reinvestment, abandoned cars, blight, and affordable housing. She and EPOP challenged the merger of First Union and CoreStates Bank in 1998-99, winning an agreement to keep bank branches open in low-income neighborhoods and to develop a mortgage program replacing some of the predatory lending in Philadelphia.
She lived life with spirit and a passion for community and social change.
“Her spirituality and her faith were always an important part of her life,” said her pastor, the Rev. Christopher Neilson.
She was a devoted reader of the Notebook.
Born in Brooklyn on Dec. 1, 1955, Shaw moved to Philadelphia as a toddler and eventually settled in Hunting Park. She was a graduate of Philadelphia High School for Girls.
She had three children, Thaddeus, Daniel, and Samantha who died at age 28 on Feb. 24 of this year.
Besides her sons, she is survived by grandchildren Adrian, Josh, Jamaal, and Jaamir, and her brother Joe.
Due to the corona pandemic, a memorial service will be held at a later date.
Steve Honeyman is a longtime Philadelphia community organizer and activist who worked closely with Dolores Shaw. He is the founder of In the Public Interest Consulting.