Gov. J.B. Pritzker was at Proviso East High School, 803 S. 1st Ave. in Maywood, on March 8 to sign into law the Education and Workforce Equity Act — one of seven landmark pieces of legislation advanced within the last year by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus (ILBC).
The education act, HB 2170, was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (4th), the chairwoman of the ILBC and a Proviso East graduate.
“I find myself in a full-circle moment,” Lightford said during Monday’s signing ceremony, held inside her alma mater’s library. “This is my school. Proviso East. Class of 1986.”
The landmark education legislation comes nearly a year after the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, which prompted a racial reckoning across the country and unified Black lawmakers in Illinois.
In June 2020, about a dozen Black lawmakers stood in front of the Fred Hampton Aquatic Center in Maywood and demanded $1 billion be invested “in every Black community.”
“I’m tired of taking crumbs,” Lightford said at the time, as Gov. Pritzker stood feet away. “Governor, we need a slice!”
Talking through tears, Lightford said her career political career started as a 27-year-old Maywood trustee whose fight to rehab the Fred Hampton Pool got her labeled “the angry black woman, because I was fighting for what was right for my community,” she said last year. “And I have been that angry black woman for 21 years and I’m not going to stop!”
On March 8, in Proviso East’s library, Lightford, through tears of joy, said the signing ceremony “is my moment of peace. My anger is gone because I know this legislation is transformative and filled with hope for our children.”
Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) — a Maywood native, Proviso West alum and the state’s first Black House speaker, who earlier this year succeeded longtime speaker Michael Madigan — said the changes in the bill “move us a little bit closer to equity.”
Welch, who chaired the governor’s Education Success Transition Committee, said many of the changes in the bill were discussed two years ago.
Lightford said there are 23 provisions in the act. According to a summary of the act provided by the ILBC, those provisions include the creation of an Inclusive American History Commission to reform how Black history is taught in schools, the creation of a Whole Child Task Force to address childhood trauma, increased funding for college scholarships for minority students, and expanded access to early childhood interventions, among many others.
“Justice is about so much more than policing, jails and prisons,” said Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton. “Justice is about access to health care, mental health services, economic opportunity and, of course, quality education.”
Rep. Carol Ammons (103rd), who co-sponsored HB 2170 alongside Lightford, said the act “will be studied by others” long after she and other lawmakers who contributed to the bill are gone.
District 209 Board of Education President Rodney Alexander said, “We know that representation matters and this legislation provides opportunities for the right teachers to be in the right classrooms.”
Before signing the bill, Gov. Pritzker said, “Improving education, and especially early childhood education, was a focus of mine before I became governor and it’s my great honor to carry forward that mission as governor. As I see it, our work isn’t done until equity and fairness is a guiding principle at all of our schools.”
To read more on HB 2170, visit: stand.org/illinois/blog/confused-about-black-caucus-education-bill.