In 1962, John W. Baird attracted the ire of fellow members of the Chicago Real Estate Board, which would later change its name to the Chicago Association of Realtors, when he stood in front of the Chicago City Council and called for an open occupancy law that would bar discrimination in real estate sales due to race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry.
Three years later, Baird, then president of his family real estate brokerage Baird & Warner, resigned from the trade group his great-grandfather had helped found to protest the use of its funds to push for discrimination. Years later, Baird would say that supporting fair housing was simply “the right thing” to do, according to his 2013 obituary.
Now, in honor of Fair Housing Month, Chicago-based Baird & Warner is committing $215,000 to establish the John Baird Scholarship Fund to support law students dedicated to fair housing advocacy, the brokerage announced Thursday in an exclusive to Inman. Baird & Warner has nearly 2,500 broker associates throughout Illinois.
The scholarship will be funded through Baird & Warner’s charitable arm, Good Will Works, and the Stephen W. and Susan M. Baird Foundation, and support students participating in the UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago) Law’s Fair Housing Legal Support Center & Clinic.
The clinic is one of the few law school clinics in the country devoted exclusively to fair housing training and enforcement and provides pro bono legal assistance to private and public organizations seeking to eliminate discriminatory housing practices across the Chicago area, the brokerage said in a press release.
“As an organization steeped in the Chicago communities we serve, Baird & Warner has always sought to be part of the solution,” said Stephen Baird, president and CEO of Baird & Warner and son of John W. Baird, in a statement.
“And given where we are right now as a city and country in the fight for fair housing, the timing felt right for this type of commitment. This is an investment in our collective future as it empowers motivated law students to pursue a career in making housing more equitable, and to ensure everyone has the same access and opportunity to live in the neighborhood they choose to without any barriers.”
In a short 2018 video to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which the National Association of Realtors opposed at its inception and John Baird championed, Baird & Warner highlighted Baird’s fair housing efforts.
“For as long as I can remember, Baird & Warner has always stood on the right side of history in fighting housing discrimination, and I’m proud we can carry on that legacy today — and for generations to come — with the John Baird Scholarship,” Baird added.
Scholarship recipients must be UIC Law students with preference given to students who graduated from high school in Chicago or its surrounding suburbs. The scholarship covers the amount of tuition associated with the five credit hours a student will earn in their first semester of participating in the clinic and range from $6,000 to $7,500, based on whether a student pays in-state or out-of-state tuition.
The annual scholarship, endowed with $215,000, will typically be awarded to one student per year, starting this year. “If there are excess funds that allow the law school to award an additional scholarship every few years, it may award two scholarships in that particular year,” a Baird & Warner spokesperson told Inman via email.
“Thank you, Baird & Warner, for walking your talk,” said Allison Bethel, clinical professor of law and the clinic’s director, in a statement. “There is a lot of talk now about social justice, but not much of this kind of big action to make it happen. This incredibly generous donation will help us break down the walls of segregation and separation and allow us to build bridges to healthier and more inclusive communities.”
In a statement, Lucy Baird, Baird & Warner’s historian and director of community impact and granddaughter of John W. Baird, pointed out that Chicago is still one of the most segregated cities in the country.
“It’s important to use our seat at the table to create change, just as John Baird did in the 1960s, and that’s what we hope this scholarship will do,” she said.
“By supporting a local institution with strong Chicago ties such as the UIC Law Fair Housing Legal Support Center & Clinic, we’re able to encourage future leaders in fair housing for decades to come.”
The scholarship continues Baird & Warner’s track record of charitable works, which last year included donating nearly $300,000 from across its residential brokerage, mortgage and title business lines to the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, an effort that started with an initial donation of $150,000 made in partnership with the Stephen W. and Susan M. Baird Foundation.