Dr. Mahalia Hines: Not the Common Mom

DrHinesCommonpic1Behind every great child, there is a strong adult in their life that has influenced their development. The role switches as we grow from being the one to admire that adult figure to becoming the one that is admired.
No one understands the impact of that role better than Dr. Mahalia Hines. A former teacher and principal who taught in the Chicago Public School system for over 35 years, her experience is deep, and her knowledge is priceless. As a current member of the Chicago Board of Education, she has seen many challenges over the last four years. But through the storm, there have been a great deal of pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.
One of her proudest accomplishments is being the proud mother of recording artist and actor, Lonnie “Rashid” Lynn – better know to the public as Common.
Born in South Haven, Michigan as a child, after moving around, Hines relocated from D.C. with her family at the age of 8 years old to Chicago. She’s always considered Chicago to be her home. She earned her college degree, majoring in Marketing with a minor in English. Her dream was to work in the advertising and marketing business, but in the 1960’s, there were very few women of color in the male-dominated field. One day she was approached to fill in as a substitute teacher at Cooper Elementary on the West Side of Chicago.
“I’ll never forget. It was on the West Side–mostly Hispanic students in the kindergarten class,” she recalls. “There were only two students that spoke English and I didn’t speak any Spanish. That’s just how bad we needed teachers back then. I realized that I loved teaching. My other minor was English, so I ended up asking for a transfer and ended up at Stagg Elementary School. It was brand new at the time. That was my real first teaching experience.”
In those years, the public school system began to change as Brown vs. Board of Education ruling had set the decree for most major cities to integrate the schools with both Black students and teachers in predominately white public schools.
“They transferred of us into schools where there weren’t many African-American teachers,” she said. “Because I had a minor in English, I ended up at Morgan Park High School. I integrated Morgan Park High School—there were five Black teachers. It’s really ironic because one of the people who went into it with me was Charles Alexander. He ended up being the principal there years later. That was my first experience with racism. I had been down South but I had never experience it until I began to teach at Morgan Park High School.”

Transitioning from teaching to becoming a principal, Hines thinks the system has changed a great deal since her start since the late 1960’s.commoncdcover
“That was the era of ‘Black Pride,’” she said. “We felt so committed to the kids in the Black schools. I often say, I know we were making major difference. Then I looked up and they split us. I don’t know if it was for the good or intentionally to take us out of those schools. I still think back then, it was much better. I think it was better, because it was much more respect for teachers at that time and for education.”
During this time, she noticed that her son had become a very prolific writer in school but had no idea about rap music. She has always taught him the importance of education and reading, and as a child television was mostly watched on the weekends.

As he signed with Relativity Records, and moved on to MCA eventually arrived at the Universal Music Group system, Common’s stardom continued to rise. It was important to give back to his community, so they formed the Common Ground Foundation.
She explained, “He said he wanted to have a foundation to really start to give back. It wasn’t really thought out at that time. We knew that we wanted to give back to kids. At the time, we didn’t have a lot of financial support, but we had people that would help. We started out small doing workshops in schools and things, using some of the people that could do them. I don’t think we had vision for it, we just knew we wanted to help.”
Since it’s inception over 15 years ago, Common Ground Foundation has raised over hundreds of thousands of dollars to assist organizations in the Chicago area. In the last five years, they have taken a hands- on approach to working closely with students.
Commonbooksigning“One year, the Kanye West Foundation awarded kids for good attendance. He asked me if I could attend and come out. I went to the Chicago Theatre and I remembered seeing all of the kids coming in and how excited they were [and] how excited I felt just being around them,” Hines said. “I went back to Rashid and said, ‘I got it. We don’t know the kids. This is what we need to do–we need to focus on a small group.’”

“Because of my educational background, I want to take kids out of 8th grade and keep them all the way into their junior year of high school. We partnered with organizations like Chicago Scholars Foundation and the Chicago Urban League,” she explained. Soon after, they decided to mentor high school students until they went to college.
Mentoring principals has been a priority since her days as one. Over the years, she noticed that the culture has changed where educators had become fearful of sharing ideas and new techniques. She decided to share her concern with then mayoral candidate, Rahm Emanuel who was running in his first term in the Chicago mayoral election in 2010. Through mutual acquaintances, a meeting was arranged to share her ideas with the soon-to-be mayor.

“I wanted to be on the educational transitional team so maybe I can share some of the things that I know and let them know what’s going on,” she said. “For some reason, I thought that Rahm would be the one. I knew that I could at least get a meeting with him.”
With the help of friends in the educational system, she put together a curriculum program that invited 3,000 high school students from both the West and South sides to discuss ideas on education empowerment in both the federal and local government at the UIC Forum. A few months after Mayor Emanuel was elected, he appointed her to the Chicago Board of Education in May of 2011.
Still wearing her hat as the CEO of Think Common, they decided to scale back on their annual gala style fundraiser to produce an event that would collaborate with other like-minded nonprofits. Last September, AAHH Music Festival headlined friends of Common that included fellow Chicago musical partner and friend, Kanye West along with Jennifer Hudson, Lupe Fiasco, MC Lyte and other notable celebrities.Aaah Fest
While Hines stepped back from the day-to-day operations, Tamara Brown, executive director of Common Ground Foundation stepped in to manage more responsibilities for the company. Dr. Hines said she feels more comfortable in her role as mom, grand mom, wife and mentor. Being married for almost 36 years to her husband, Ralph Hines, they try to spend time in their Florida home in the winter months. Every summer she has looks forward to spending time with her granddaughter who will be attending Howard University in the fall.
What was to be 18 months as a part of the Chicago Board of Education has turned into four years. In the midst of all the controversy and challenges, she will continue another term on the board, because her work is never done. The experience gives her insight on how to reach other educational instructors nationally and internationally.
“I’ll continue my work with coaching principals,” she said. “I like working in the schools throughout the United States. I have somebody in Houston and the Delta region as well as someone in Brazil. That is the biggest way I can impact the greatest number of kids.”

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