Civil Rights Activist and Photographer Bernie Kleina will receive the Law Center for Better Housing (LCBH) 2023 Barbara Grau Outstanding Housing Advocate Award on Oct. 19 for his career-long commitment to advancing housing justice.
Kleina marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights activists in Chicago and Selma, Ala. in the 1960s. During the marches, Kleina, an amateur photographer, took the first color portraits of King in existence, which remain in circulation in museums across the U.S. King’s emphasis on fair housing during the Chicago Freedom Movement encouraged Kleina to pursue a career in housing.
Kleina served as HOPE Fair Housing Center’s first executive director for 40 years. In that role, Kleina fought against discriminatory housing practices to ensure all DuPage County residents had a decent place to call home. In 1971, he filed the first “Exclusionary Housing” lawsuit against DuPage County. He went on to conduct more than 2,000 Rental, Sales and Lending Tests to uncover discriminatory housing and lending practices. Since 1986, Kleina and his co-producer, Susan Keleher Kleina, have produced more than 25 films on fair and affordable housing, poverty, and healthcare. Kleina also received the Mildred and Richard Loving Civil Rights Award and the Freedom Flame Award from the National Voting Rights Museum.
Today, he serves on the Board of Directors for the National Fair Housing Alliance, DuPage Legal Assistance Foundation, and Housing Choice Partners of Illinois.
His work in fair housing garnered mixed reviews from the public. Some view Kleina as one of the most respected fair housing advocates in the country. Others believed his work was controversial, dubbing him the “most disliked man in DuPage County.”
“I was once called ‘the most disliked man in DuPage County.’ If believing everyone deserves housing justice, regardless of their race, gender, or class, gets me that title, I’ll wear it with pride,” the Wheaton resident said.
LCBH will honor Kleina on Oct. 19 at Buddy Guy’s Legends from 5:30-8:30 p.m. The Barbara Grau Outstanding Housing Advocate Award commemorates LCBH’s first full-time Staff Attorney, Barbara Grau, who committed her life to protecting the rights of low- and moderate-income renters. Learn more and purchase tickets here: https://bit.ly/2023lcbhfallbenefit