GARY — Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has been tapped to be the new president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, her administration announced Tuesday.
Freeman-Wilson will assume the helm of the Urban League on Jan. 1, when incoming Democratic Mayor Jerome Prince takes over. Prince challenged her in the May primary and won.
"I think it was the perfect way to continue to serve the public as I've done all my professional life, from my work with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission to our efforts to entrepreneurship within the city, and with housing and youth development. It seemed it was the perfect segway for me and I think (the Urban League) thought the same," she told The Times.
The Gary native was the first woman to serve as mayor of Gary and the first African-American female mayor in the state of Indiana. Before becoming mayor in 2012, she served as Lake County prosecutor, a city court judge in Gary, and Indiana attorney general.
In a news release, Freeman-Wilson said she was humbled by the opportunity to build on the legacy of Barbara A. Lumpkin, interim CEO at the League, and her predecessors "who have been amazing community advocates for justice, housing, employment and business development."
"I look forward to working with the board of directors 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,” she said.
The League's Board Chairman Eric S. Smith said 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.”
”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,” he said.
Freeman-Wilson received a bachelor's degree in 1982 and a law degree in 1985 from Harvard. After that, she began work as a county deputy prosecutor and later defended criminal defendants as a public defender. She became Gary city judge in 1994 and Indiana attorney general in 2000.
Ebony magazine named her one of the country's 50 leaders of the future for the black community. The designation came one year after then-Gov. Evan Bayh named her director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, the first of many positions involving social and racial equality.
Freeman-Wilson said her volunteerism locally and advocacy work at the state and national stage helped prepare her for this role.
"Through those roles, I understand that, at the end of all of our work, is people. The focus has to be on improving people's quality of life," she said.
Freeman-Wilson said she hopes the Urban League can be a strong partner in Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office as a champion of social justice issues for the African American community.
As a lifelong Gary resident, Freeman-Wilson said she hasn't figured out her living situation yet. Asked if she intends to run for political office again, Freeman-Wilson said she has no interest in that.
"I know people say 'Never say never,' but I have no intentions of running," she said.
She said there's much to do before she leaves office.
Spectacle Entertainment is expected to break ground with Hard Rock Casino in the fall and the renovated Hudson Campbell facility will be complete, she said. Phase 2 of the Lake Street construction project is underway and expected to be complete in November. 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, she said.