I’m proud of what was accomplished during my years as state rep
As I end my time in the Illinois General Assembly, I want to thank all the residents of the 67th District and all the individuals in northern Illinois who have gotten to know me and have become supportive of me over the last four and a half years. I am eternally grateful for the chance that I have had to serve our community and our region in our state Capitol. It is, admittedly, bittersweet to leave office during the height of diversity in public office. In 2014, I became the first black woman to represent this entire region in Springfield. During my time in office, you and I have worked together to accomplish some pretty amazing things for our district.
One great feat was the extension of the River’s Edge Historic Tax Credit. This particular credit will allow for the development of downtown Rockford and surrounding areas to continue; this type of investment also helps in removing blight and despair from riverfront cities like Rockford, Aurora, Elgin, Peoria and East St. Louis. It has been responsible for the revitalization of old manufacturing buildings such as the one that the Prairie Street Brewhouse now occupies and the upcoming Amerock Embassy hotel.
In addition to that specific piece of legislation, as vice chair of the Human Services committee, I worked tirelessly to support human services funding and programs in our region and the entire state; in May 2017, I passed the first standalone appropriations bill for funding to domestic violence shelters with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Over 6 million people across the country have viewed my impassioned speech about working class families needing child care subsidies to continue working and complete educational goals. Thousands of advocates joined in the fight to make sure that the child care assistance program was fully restored after devastating changes to the program in 2015. Now, working parents are able to receive child care subsidies while they attend college or other job training programs. Additionally, low-income workers are able to access safe and affordable child care.
In addition to strengthening the child care assistance program, I created the Foster Children’s Bill of Rights to help to protect the most vulnerable children in our state. Each youth in care in Illinois must be informed of their rights; the Bill of Rights is published in four languages.
As the daughter of a veteran, I worked to expand veteran discounts throughout the year and supported the Secretary of State’s driver’s license designated for veterans. In the face of so many instances of police abuse of power, I worked to require law enforcement receive training on uncovering implicit racial bias. Similar training is also now required of educators throughout the state in the hope that we can begin to address the disparities in school discipline and academic outcomes for students of color.
I joined a coalition of women’s reproductive health advocates to create model legislation, the Learning with Dignity Act; this act provides that feminine hygiene products be in the restrooms of our schools, at no cost to the students, just as we provide toilet paper, paper towels and soap.
Before #metoo began to trend, I fought for survivors of sexual assault. And as the movement grew, I introduced legislation to address sexual harassment in Springfield. I became an outspoken advocate for change with my work appearing in Teen Vogue, recognized by Nation Magazine, and the State Innovation Exchange (SIX).
There’s so much more I wish I could share. But I’d like to leave you with three things I learned that are extremely important.
- Be willing to look for and find your voice. Once you find it, don’t allow anyone to take it from you. It is that voice that allows for you to push and advocate for the things that your district needs. And if you’re not a representative or other elected official, it is that voice that helps push forward the polices that you want to see enacted.
- The proverbial aisle is just that, an aisle. You can go speak with individuals on the other side, build consensus, and find ways to work with the other side to find solutions to problems and better our state.
- Time is figurative. Things can move very slowly in Springfield, or they can move quite quickly but the most important thing is to be prepared and ready to take on the opportunity to leverage the opportunities to improve our state when they are presented.
Again, I thank you for the opportunity to serve. I look forward to being in Rockford full time to focus on my family and community organizing. Indeed, it has truly been an honor.