John L. McKnight

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Category: Blog

Our Brother Has Passed On

By John McKnight, 2023-01-03

I first met Jody as we were active together in the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Prior to that I think he had a job writing for Time Magazine. We came together at Northwestern University in the early 70's where Jody was working on a PhD while directing a university alliance called the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. There, he had developed a program placing students with activist groups throughout the city. I had just joined Northwestern University where I learned from Jody how to create an activist learning pedagogy. I was able to appoint him to my faculty at the Center for Urban Affairs so that we could work together. 

At the University, we were both surprised to see that research about neighborhoods almost exclusively focused on problem, deficits and needs as though residents didn't exist as problem solvers. The University research was focused on needs and was used by institutions to fix neighborhoods and its problem people. We both thought that there needed to be a focus on the productive work of residents - work that we had both observed in our previous jobs as neighborhood organizers. Therefore, we decided to do a study in lower income neighborhoods documenting the powerful activities of neighbors/citizens. This study lasted 4 years and culminated in our publication of "Building Communities from the Inside Out." It became a nationwide guide for neighborhood organizing and also spread throughout the world. Over 120,000 issues were sold. 

It was during this work that we grew so close together as researchers and friends. It was the result of this work together that inspired us to initiate a movement we called "Asset-Based Community Development."

During that time and throughout our remaining years, Jody was like a brother to me. 

He was an athlete and loved athletics of all kinds. I just watched in amazement. 

Jody was an incredibly thoughtful person. He was not a great "talker." He was a great thinker. 

He constantly looked at the good in people - even though it was sometimes hard to see. 

He saw and understood much that most of us don't see.

He was a tough but soft person - the kind of man you want to hug. 

He was a generous, welcoming person, always saying, "Y'all come." 

He had a beautiful smile and through his final days he suffered with a smile. 

He was a courageous person who fought on for years after his disability began. 

For me, above all, Jody was a best friend, lighting my way and leading so many others towards the light. Whether you knew him or not, he is with you through the creation of ABCD and his presence as a thoughtful visionary, huggable, welcoming man. 

He suffered for so long with magnificent courage supported by his incredible spouse, Ingrid. 

Jody will fight on in our lives and love on in our hearts.


Oh brother, how much we will miss you.

You taught us about kindness and how to be a best friend.

And you will always remind us that a welcome begins with a smile. 

Your friend,


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