Lightford bio

In January 2019, Kimberly A. Lightford made history when she became the first Black woman to serve as Illinois’ Senate Majority Leader. This 103rd General Assembly marks 25 years of her continued dedication to her career of championing her passion for education and youth development. As the youngest person elected to the Illinois Senate in 1998, Lightford emerged as a leading voice in Illinois on education issues that increase access to an excellent education for every child in Illinois.

As the former Chair of the Senate Education Committee for 22 years as either a sitting member, Vice Chair, or Chair, Lightford passed notable education reform legislation recognized as a national model. This legislation led to the establishment of stronger methods of evaluating teachers and tracking student progress. Lightford started the state’s universal preschool for all program, established no bullying zones on school playgrounds and reformed disciplinary practices that were disproportionately affecting at-risk and minority students, 2016. In 2000, Leader Lightford ensured that students could have access to breakfast at school by requiring the State Board of Education to establish the school breakfast incentive program. In 2001, Leader Lightford increased the MAP grant for full-time undergraduate students and for part-time undergraduate students, providing aid for underprivileged students. Leader Lightford also helped to re-enroll high school dropouts by establishing the Illinois Hope and Opportunity Pathways through Education Program in 2009.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hailed the Senator’s landmark education reform law, Senate Bill 7, as “a national model” which aimed at boosting student performance through accountability for schools, administrators, and teachers. The legislation, approved in 2011, was the most significant education reform in 30 years, with hope to ensure every child in Illinois public schools has a quality teacher. Leader Lightford also sponsored Senate Bill 100, which was created to address the issue of Black students being expelled disproportionally more than their peers. Effective 2016, the bill created a set of criteria that mandates that all other appropriate interventions have been exhausted and that out-of-school suspensions longer than three days, expulsions and disciplinary removals to alternative schools are reserved for situations when a student’s presence is a safety threat or substantial disruption to the learning environment.

In 2017, a measure aimed at reducing teen suicide and the stigma of mental health issues was signed into law. Leader Lightford led the effort that requires social and emotional screenings for children as a part of their school entry examinations to promote life-altering early detection. And, after finding that cursive was becoming lost in younger generations, Leader Lightford brought back a requirement for students to receive cursive writing instruction in elementary school. Understanding the important role recreation centers play in communities, Leader Lightford secured nearly $3 million for the project, which was named the Lightford Recreation Center on Dec. 1, 2018, by the Maywood Park District upon its completion.  In 2021, Lightford spearheaded the first in the nation state-funded network establishing the statewide Phillip Jackson Freedom Schools program.

Prioritizing workers, Lightford passed her first piece of legislation in 1999 that provides worker protection and transitional assistance for persons targeted for layoff. Her support for minority businesses has also led to several legislative changes, starting with another 1999 proposal extending the date of the Business Enterprise Program for Minorities, Females, and Persons with Disabilities Act. Leader Lightford was the lead sponsor in passing legislation that established Illinois’ Equal Pay Act in 2003. Leader Lightford strengthened the act in 2010 by allowing women who have been discriminated against more time to file an action against an employer, and in 2018, Lightford passed the African American Equal Pay Act to help combat the wage gap for African Americans. In 2005 and again in 2010, Leader Lightford fought to reform the Payday Loan industry and is responsible for raising the minimum wage in Illinois three times, including a 2019 measure that gradually increases it to $15 per hour by 2025. In 2023, Leader Lightford sponsored legislation that will guarantees paid leave for all Illinois workers employed by businesses of any size.

Leader Lightford served as the Joint Chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus from January 2015 to January 2021. While serving as Joint Chairman, her vision created, and she led the effort in crafting the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ four-pillar agenda to rid Illinois of systemic racism. Passing of this historic legislation created a more equitable Illinois in; I. Criminal Justice Reform, Violence Reduction and Police Accountability, II. Education and Workforce Development, III. Economic Access, Equity and Opportunity, and IV. Health Care and Human Services. Leader Lightford continued to strengthen Black history in Illinois, by establishing June 19th as a state holiday for Juneteenth National Freedom Day in 2022 and by declaring February 28th as Black Women’s History Day in 2023.

Since 1998, Leader Lightford has represented the 4th Senate District which includes more than a dozen suburban communities in western Cook County and the Austin community area on Chicago’s West Side. Leader Lightford is committed to community pride. Lightford created the Uplift Our Future youth programs: the KAL Saturday University offers free supplemental services in reading, math and writing for middle school students, an annual college fair, back-to-school event and mentoring for 8th grade students. She also hosts an annual Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Hall of Fame Award Celebration, We Adore Our Women Breast Cancer Awareness, and We Love Our Men Prostate Awareness Events.

As a life-long resident of her district, Leader Lightford was born in Chicago, raised in Maywood, and resides in Westchester. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Communications from Western Illinois University and a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Illinois at Springfield. She is a Hunt-Kean Leadership Fellow and Erikson Institute Fellow. She gained extensive management experience working at the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, the Illinois Department of Corrections, and the Illinois Secretary of State.

Leader Lightford serves on thirteen statewide Taskforce and Commissions dedicated to improving education, ending poverty, and enhancing the quality of life for Illinois. During the 103rd Illinois General Assembly, Leader Lightford serves on the following committees: Assignments (Chair), Appropriation Education (Vice-Chair), Higher Education (Vice-Chair), Early Childhood Education, Education and Executive.

Lightford is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and The Chicago Network. She is on the Board of Directors for The Loretto Hospital (Interim Chair), Proviso-Leyden Council for Community Action, Inc., The West Cook County Youth Club, Sustaining Our World, and The State Legislative Leaders Foundation.


List of accolades

  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Distinguished Service Award, June 2021
  • Women Employed – 48th Annual Working Lunch Honoree, May 2021
  • The Loretto Hospital, Elected Official Partner Award, January 2021
  • Austin Childcare Provider Network, October 2020
  • Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer 2nd District Trailblazer, Excellence in Government Award, 2019
  • Eureka Lodge 64, Groundbreaking African American Leader Award, 2019
  • Illinois Democratic Women, Advocacy for Illinois Women Award, 2019
  • Bellwood Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Civic Person of the Year Award, 2019
  • Illinois School Psychologists Association, ISPA Legislator of the Year Award, 2019
  • The Illinois Association for Gifted Children, Champion for Gifted Children Leadership Award, 2019
  • Eugene “Gene” Moore Public Service Award, 2019
  • Illinois Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Legislative Accomplishment in Support of Teacher Preparation, 2018
  • Illinois Farm Bureau, Activator Friend of Agriculture, 2018
  • Voices of Change Award, 2017
  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Excellence in Public Service Award, 2017
  • Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc. Ebony Chapter, Harambee Award, 2017
  • National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter, State Senator of the Year, 2017
  • True Eagle Beauty Foundation, Inc., White Eagle Award, 2016
  • Beauty In / Beauty Out Reflection Award 2015 Outstanding Political Leadership
  • Austin People Action Center Teen Reach Award, 2015
  • National Alliance of Mental Illness Metro Suburban Community Partner of the Year, 2015
  • Illinois Hunger Coalition Paul Simon Public Service Award, 2015
  • Dorothy Brown Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, 2015 An Outstanding Elected Official
  • National Pan-Hellenic Council of Chicago 2015 Soror of the Year, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority,
  • The Construction Industry Service Corporation 2014 Public Body of the Year Award
  • Alternative School Network 2014 Champion for Youth
  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Glen Ellyn Area Alumnae Chapter's 2014 Community Impact Award
  • The Answer Inc., 2014 Legislator of the Year Award
  • Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., Chi Lambda Lambda Chapter 2014 Women of Excellence for Outstanding Service in Politics
  • Top Ladies of Distinction Incorporated West Suburban Chicago Chapter 2013 Orchid Award
  • Boys and Girls Club of West Cook County 2013 Recognition of your Continuous Support of Our Club Members, Staff and Board
  • Distinguished Citizen Award 2013 from Loretto Hospital Foundation
  • The Black Women’s Expo Phenomenal Woman Political Award, 2013
  • Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Tau Alpha Zeta Chapter Outstanding Service Award, 2013
  • Illinois Reading Council Legislator of the Year Award, 2013
  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Champaign-Urbana Alumnae Chapter Public Service Award, 2013
  • Arise Chicago 2012 Faithful Leadership Award
  • Community and Economic Development Association (CEDA) Award for Being an Energy Partner, 2012
  • Progressive Life Giving Word Cathedral Community Love Award, 2012
  • IEA-NEA 2012 Friend of Education Award
  • Illinois AFL-CIO 2012 Outstanding Legislator - ZeKe Giorgi Award
  • Youth Advocate of the Year 2012 Award-M.A.P.S. Organization
  • Illinois Association of Park Districts Outstanding Legislator of the Year Award, 2011
  • Voices for Illinois Children, October 2011
  • Chicago Defender’s 2011 “Women of Excellence” Award
  • Alternative School Network “The Education Champion” Award, 2010
  • Safer Foundation's Carre Visionary Award, December 2010
  • West Side Chapter NAACP Good Government Civic Award, 2010
  • Health Care Council of Illinois Champion of Senior Care Award, 2009
  • Illinois Principals Association 2009 “Friend of Illinois Principals” Award
  • The 2009 West Suburban Journal History Makers Award
  • Rainbow Push Coalition 2007 “Woman of Distinction” Award
  • Voice Of The People Award 2007 Let’s Talk Let’s Test Foundation
  • She Truly Watches Over The Children of North Riverside Award, 2006
  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Joliet Area/South Suburban Chapter Echoes of Excellence Award, 2005
  • Proviso/Leyden N.A.A.C.P. Good Government Civic Award, 2005
  • Leadership in Fatherhood Movement Award, 2003
  • Illinois Banker Association Outstanding Legislator, 2003
  • Freedom Schooner Amistad 2003 Freedom Award
  • Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Legislative Leadership Award, 2002
  • Proviso/Leyden NAACP Good Government Civic Award, 2002
  • South Austin Coalition Community Service Award for Helping Austin Seniors, 2001
  • Loyola Hospital’s “Appreciation for Your Efforts on Behalf of the School Based Health Center,” 2001
  • Chicago Teachers Union “Certificate of Commendation” for Support of Public Education, 2000
  • Habilitative Systems, Inc. “Freeing the Human Spirit” Award, September 2000
  • The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park 2000 Dream Maker Award
  • Westside Holistic Family Services Faith In Action, 2000
  • Western Illinois University Alumni Achievement Award, December 1999