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Gary mayor to head Chicago Urban League

Freeman-Wilson to begin role in January after finishing mayoral term

By Erick Johnson

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has been named President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, the organization announced Tuesday, August 13. Gary’s first Black female mayor will begin her new job after her term ends on December 31, 2019.

The new position is the latest chapter in Freeman-Wilson’s career after she lost the primary election to incoming Mayor Jerome Prince.

With two degrees from Harvard and a track record as a prominent political leader, Freeman-Wilson remained a competitive job candidate with impressive credentials and qualifications.

“Karen Freeman-Wilson has a depth of leadership experience and a demonstrated passion for the issues of equality and social justice that are central to the mission of the Chicago Urban League,” said Board Chairman Eric S. Smith.

“We are confident that she will be a strong, visionary leader who will continue to advance the organization’s excellent work toward serving the needs of African-American communities and advocating for equity.”

Following her tough loss to Prince in the primary, Freeman-Wilson remained low-key about her future prospects after serving two terms as mayor of Gary.

In June, Freeman-Wilson was seen at a Chicago Urban League event held near the top of Chicago’s AON building near Grant Park. Now she will head one of the oldest and largest branches of the Urban League in the country.

Under her leadership at City Hall, Gary’s economy has shown signs of a comeback.

Companies such as Alliance Steel have committed to relocating to Gary, offering hundreds of jobs to locals. Amazon has been on a hiring spree, holding several job fairs in the city. Recently, Hard Rock International announced plans to build A $400 million casino and entertainment complex adjacent to the Borman Expressway at Burr Street and 29th Avenue.

In addition, the renovated project of the Hudson Campbell recreational facility is almost complete. Phase 2 of the Lake Street project is underway and expected to be complete in November. Finally, a statue of Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher, the first African-American mayor of Gary and one of the first to serve as mayor of a major city will be erected in the fall as well. Work continues, to stabilize the city’s finances.

Freeman-Wilson has served in the public and non-profit sectors most of her professional life. She was the first woman-Black or white- to serve as mayor of Gary and the first African-American woman to serve as mayor in the state of Indiana. She previously held posts as the Indiana Attorney General, the Director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission and the presiding judge of the Gary City Court.

A licensed attorney, she engaged in private practice for 25 years with a focus in municipal finance, government relations, family and criminal law. In 2018, Freeman-Wilson was elected president of the National League of Cities (NLC) at the City Summit in Los Angeles.

Born in Gary, Freeman-Wilson graduated as valedictorian of the storied Roosevelt High School before earning both a bachelors and a law degree from Harvard University.

Located in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood, the Chicago Urban League addresses the social and economic ills of the city’s urban neighborhoods with large Black and Latino populations.

Barbara Lumpkin Urban League
CUL Barbara Lumpkin

Freeman-Wilson is the fourth consecutive Black woman to lead the Chicago Urban League in the organization’s 103-year history. She succeeds Interim President and CEO Barbara Lumpkin, who replaced Shari Runner in 2018 in a stunning shakeup as the Urban League strived to maintain relevance in a changing political and social climate that includes a younger generation of minorities.

Interim President and CEO Barbara A. Lumpkin will continue in her role until the transition. Lumpkin was appointed to the interim position in June 2018. Over the past year, she and the League’s staff took on a number of significant and successful projects, including reviving the organization’s State of Black Chicago report.

Under her leadership, the Lea-gue’s Research and Policy Center also released its widely cited Census report, Money and Power: The Economic and Political Impact of the 2020 Census on Illinois. The organization was also awarded funding from the State of Illinois to lead community outreach efforts to help ensure a complete count in the 2020 Census.

“We are sincerely grateful to Barbara for her contributions toward advancing the League’s longstanding work in connecting people to jobs, affordable housing, educational opportunities and resources to grow their businesses and careers,” Smith said.

Freeman-Wilson added, “I am excited about the opportunity to join the Urban League team. I am humbled by the opportunity to build on the legacy of Barbara A. Lumpkin and her predecessors who have been amazing community advocates for justice, housing, employment and business development.

“I look forward to working with the board and staff of the Chicago Urban League as well as the partners throughout Chicagoland to continue the impact and prestige of this historic organization in the community.”

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