February 1, 2024
Every year, the last days of January into early February mark two important milestones in my personal and professional life:
January 27 is my birthday – I turned 58 this year.
And today is the anniversary of when I started working at Champaign County Health Care Consumers (CCHCC). Today marks my 27th year of working at CCHCC!
I cannot ever think of my birthday, or my CCHCC anniversary, without thinking about our recently departed beloved friend and leader, Rev. James B. Holiman.
Not only did Jim and I share the same birthdate (just 31 years apart!), but Jim helped lead me to CCHCC, where he eventually joined the organization as a member of the Board of Directors.
Jim passed away on November 26, 2023, at the age of 88. And we’ve all been missing him, grieving him, and celebrating his life and his works, and the profound gifts he gave us.
Rev. James B. Holiman led an incredible life. I am inadequate to the task of properly memorializing such a truly great person, but I can share his obituary with you further below, and also tell you a little bit about what he meant to me, personally, and to CCHCC as a whole.
It is my hope that you will consider honoring Rev. James B. Holiman with a financial contribution to CCHCC. It has always been Jim Holiman’s wish (and mine) that CCHCC continues its important work and that it can be financially solid for years to come.
To that end, if you would help me honor Jim Holiman by making a special contribution to his (and my) beloved CCHCC, I would be most appreciative! You can make a contribution here: SUPPORT CCHCC!
Obituary for Rev. James B. Holiman
You can read Jim’s obituary here.
Rev. James B. Holiman and CCHCC
From a very personal perspective, I can tell you that even as I’m missing Jim and trying to conceive of a world without him, I have a very special sense of gratitude and wonder this year as I realize my good fortune at having crossed paths with him (and his lovely wife, Deloris) – it is quite literally because of being introduced to Jim that I ended up at CCHCC.
I came to Champaign-Urbana for graduate school at UIUC in 1991. I arrived here fresh from my undergraduate studies in Baltimore, where I had been a campus activist and organizer. I so looked forward to finding opportunities for activism in C-U and building community that way.
Everyone I talked to told me that I should go check out the Illinois Disciples Foundation (IDF), a campus ministry with a mission of peace with justice and a long history of activism and community organizing. They all told me I should “go talk to Jim Holiman”. A reverend who was leading an organization – a campus ministry! – dedicated to social justice activism? I was skeptical, to say the least. But it turned out to be the right move. It led me to a “home” at IDF, and then at CCHCC, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I met Jim Holiman 31 years ago, and my life, thankfully, has never been the same.
I first met Jim at a party at someone’s home. Jim was an impressive figure. While he was down to earth, laid back, easily approachable, and easily amused, you had a sense that there was some profound gravitas to the man. He had a sort of joyful quality to him, a twinkle in his eye, and a joke or funny comment always at the ready. He was welcoming and warm. He was enigmatic – you really had to try to decipher his meaning at times, but he often had important commentary that one should pay attention to.
He liked to tell stories. Sometimes you didn’t know if they were quite true or if they were embellished. But they were always fun to hear. And it turns out that a lot of them were actually true, minus a detail here and there, which Jim’s wife Deloris would correct. Every now and then, Jim would tell a tale so outlandish, it was nearly impossible to believe. But then Deloris would say, “Jim you know that’s not true…” and you would wait to learn that the whole thing was a joke – until Deloris would continue her comment and say something like, “… that didn’t happen in 1967; it was 1968.” And that’s how you would learn that the improbable tale was actually largely true, minus a detail here and there. It kept you on your feet.
It also turns out that, if you didn’t bother to dig deeper or learn Jim’s history, you wouldn’t know what a truly great person – a truly effective person – he was. He didn’t brag. But he drew parallels, through story-telling, between a current social justice struggle and one from the past, and that is some of how we learned Jim’s history.
Jim encouraged me to join the IDF Board of Directors. I had never served on a Board and I was nervous. Jim was lighthearted about it and probably amused by my seriousness at the whole thing. Soon, I was part of an amazing group of people dedicated to social justice.
And soon after, I met Jim’s wife, Deloris. They treated me like family, and so, we became “chosen” family. I wasn’t the only one – Jim and Deloris have acquired many “family members” over the years, with their warmth and generosity and their giving spirit. We always exchanged our happy birthdays with one another.
Jim taught us about the Social Gospel and Liberation Theology and all manner of faith-based social justice struggles. And he was a great historian. We learned so much from him.
It was through serving on the IDF Board that I learned of CCHCC, and, with Jim’s encouragement, got involved as a representative of the IDF to CCHCC’s campaign to establish a county-wide public health department (1995-1996). During my time as a volunteer on the CCHCC Friends of Public Health campaign, representing the IDF, I fell in love with CCHCC and with community organizing in Champaign County. We were creating health policy from the ground up, and I was hooked! Soon after, in 1997, I joined the staff of CCHCC as a community organizer for the public health campaign. Then, in 1999, I became the Executive Director.
Jim retires from IDF and joins the CCHCC Board of Directors
In 1999, Jim was set to retire from the Illinois Disciples Foundation after 35 years of being the leader there. CCHCC recognized Jim Holiman with the Lifetime Achievement Award at our Annual Awards Dinner in 1999. You can read the text of the award speech further below.
As soon as Jim retired, we talked him into joining the CCHCC Board of Directors.
I loved working with Jim.
Jim was always joyful and up for an adventure. Sometimes, a little too eager for an adventure! In fact, there were times when I had to rein him in a little bit, especially when he got in the company of another mischievous CCHCC Board Member and great leader, Lester Pritchard.
They especially misbehaved – or tried to – at certain protests that we held, and when in the company of other mischievous volunteers/activists, such as Jim Bean and Ron Eaker. The four of these – Jim Holiman, Lester Pritchard, Jim Bean, and Ron Eaker – would propose to me that we should “take the building” when we were protesting at a health care provider’s facility. One time, they even got inside the building and I had to get them out of the foyer quickly! They had such fun! And they kept me so busy!
One of the things that I loved best about Jim Holiman is that he always seemed to be in a good mood. He seemed to delight in being with others, and when he walked into a room, he seemed excited for whatever fun was going to happen (or that he was going to make happen) – even if just the “fun” of being at a Board Meeting. He amused himself and others with his irreverent comments. And oftentimes, his comments were right on point, deep, and instructive. You had to pay attention.
I hope you will join me in honoring our great and beloved Rev. James B. Holiman with a financial contribution to help sustain CCHCC. You can make a contribution here.
Thank you for your support! If you would like to read the text of the speech for Jim Holiman’s CCHCC Lifetime Achievement Award from 1999, you can see it below.
Champaign County Health Care Consumers
Claudia & Jim
Speech from Jim Holiman’s Lifetime Achievement Award from CCHCC:
The Lifetime Achievement Award is given to individuals who distinguish themselves in public service and in the struggle for social justice. This year, the Champaign County Health Care Consumers Board of Directors would like to honor Rev. James Buchanan Holiman with this award.
Jim is the Executive Director and Campus Minister of the Illinois Disciples Foundation, a peace with justice campus ministry. He has served as the IDF’s Executive Director for 36 years, and will retire this year.
From engaging in the civil rights struggle, fighting against the Vietnam War, providing public sanctuary to Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees, organizing against the Gulf War, and struggling against the U of I’s racist mascot, Jim has been instrumental in pushing the IDF to the forefront of peace with justice campus ministry. Whether he is speaking at rallies, providing security at demonstrations, or sitting through hours and hours of meetings, Jim has shown his commitment to social change and the understanding of the work involved in making social change happen.
Jim Holiman’s understanding of the power of movements and the need for unity in struggle have made him and the Illinois Disciples Foundation great friends and supporters of the struggles of the Champaign County Health Care Consumers. Most recently, we saw this commitment as Jim Holiman spoke out in support of the Medicare 100 and Plus Programs at a press conference of religious leaders.
The Lifetime Achievement Award is by no means the culmination of a lifetime of good works. It is just an opportunity for us to stop for a brief moment, and recognize you and your good work, and wish you strength and solidarity for the struggles ahead in the years to come.
Jim, the CCHCC Board of Directors gives you this award tonight in recognition of your strength, vision and commitment to social justice, and your leadership of the Illinois Disciples Foundation.