Lightford bio

Since the beginning of her political career, Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford has been a vocal champion for her strongest passions: promoting quality education, advocating for quality healthcare, and providing support for working families. In January 2019, she made history when she became the first Black woman to serve as Illinois’ Senate Majority Leader.

Lightford became assistant majority leader in 2009 and enhanced her role as an advocate for education reform. Leader Lightford has served on the Senate Education Committee for 22 years as either a sitting member, vice chair, or chair. Her expertise positioned her as the top negotiator on the legislation developed as a part of President Obama’s Race to the Top program, leading to the establishment of stronger methods of evaluating teachers and tracking student progress.

Lightford facilitated laws that put the best teachers in classrooms, provide universal preschool to three- and four-year-olds, and make sure children start school by the age of six. She also greatly increased the safety of schoolchildren by providing specialized bullying prevention curricula and no-bullying school zones. In 2000, Lightford ensured students could have access to breakfast at school by requiring the State Board of Education to establish the school breakfast incentive program. The next year, Lightford increased the MAP grant for full-time undergraduate students and part-time undergraduate students, providing aid for underprivileged students. 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. Senator Lightford also sponsored Senate Bill 100, which was created to address the issue of Black students being expelled disproportionally more than their peers. 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. It took effect in 2016.

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.

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 a number of legislative changes, starting with another 1999 proposal extending the date of the Business Enterprise Program for Minorities, Females, and Persons with Disabilities Act.

Senator Lightford has also made it a top priority to help working families, especially during tough economic times. She is responsible for the 2003 and 2006 laws that gradually increased the minimum wage from $5.15 to $8.25 per hour. Lightford filed additional legislation in 2014 and 2017 to gradually increase the minimum wage, and in 2017, her measure to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour was vetoed by Gov. Rauner. In 2019, she raised the minimum wage for a third time when Gov. Pritzker signed a law that gradually increases it to $15 per hour by 2025. Each increase helped more than 1 million low-income citizens throughout Illinois provide for their families.

In 2005 and again in 2010, Leader Lightford passed laws to protect working families from predatory lending practices with sweeping reforms to Illinois’ payday loan industry. She has also sponsored a measure to establish a Council on Responsible Fatherhood and laws allowing for expungement of criminal records, making it easier for men and women who have paid their debts to society to turn their lives around. Her 2003 law required the State Appellate Defender to establish an expungement program to assist and educate people on obtaining expungements. In 2008, she led a measure that shortened the length of time the State’s Attorney and law enforcement agencies can object to the expungement of Juvenile Court records, which helps juveniles move on from minor convictions sooner.

Lightford has also been a leading voice on women’s issues since her 1998 election made her the youngest African American woman ever elected to the Illinois Senate. One of her earliest measures helped protect women by expanding the Illinois stalking law to include threatening family members. Her Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act, signed in 2001, requires employers to provide unpaid break time for employees to express breast milk for nursing infants. The Lactation Accommodation in Airports Act required spaces for nursing mothers in airports by 2017.  In 2003, she was the lead sponsor of the Equal Pay Act, which bans employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of gender when it comes to salaries. She 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.

Also in 2010, she created the women veterans license plate.

Lightford understands how important access to healthcare is. In 2000, she passed a measure allowing generic drugs rated as equal to brand-name drugs by the federal Food and Drug Administration to be made available for substitution in Illinois, allowing for more affordable options for medication.

In addition to promoting a progressive legislative agenda, Leader Lightford has single-handedly fought for 15 years to rebuild an inner-city not-for-profit hospital in one of the lowest income communities in Chicago. She understands the importance the facility plays in providing quality healthcare and more than 600 jobs to the residents of Austin. Lightford’s dedication helped bring more than $26 million in grants to the facility to replace outdated boilers, build a state-of-the-art emergency department, add a pharmacy, and remodel most bedspaces. In 2009, Loretto Hospital named their emergency department The Kimberly A. Lightford Emergency Department.

Leader Lightford fought for nearly two decades to shepherd funding to a community center operated by the Maywood Park District, understanding the important role recreation centers play for communities. Thanks to her efforts, the center 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.

Leader Lightford has been a positive force for change in her district. She initiated the innovative “Uplift Our Future” program, a Saturday University which provides supplemental educational opportunities for middle schoolers, an annual college fair and back to school event, and a mentoring effort for 8th grade students. She also hosts a yearly event honoring grandparents raising grandchildren and organizes annual awareness events for breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Since 1998, she 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 holds a bachelor’s degree in public communications from Western Illinois University and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Illinois at Springfield. 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’s office.

She serves on the Board of Directors for the Proviso-Leyden Council for Community Action, Inc., Loretto Hospital, and the West Cook County Youth Club. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. In addition to serving as the Chair of the Assignments Committee during the 102st General Assembly, Lightford serves on the following committees: Assignments (chair); Education; Executive; Higher Education; Labor; App-Education; App-Personnel and Procurement; Executive- Cannabis; Executive- Government Operations (sub-chair); Executive- Special Issues (sub-vice-chair).

Senator Lightford also served as the joint chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus from January 2015 to January 2021. While serving as joint chairman, she led the effort in crafting the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ four-pillar agenda to create a more equitable Illinois by passing significant legislation to dismantle systemic racism in criminal justice reform; violence reduction and police accountability; education and workforce development; economic access, equity and opportunity; and health care and human services. A lifelong resident of her district, she resides with her family in Maywood.

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


Majority Perspective

Follow Sen. Lightford


Contact Us

District Office:
High Point Plaza
4415 W. Harrison St.
Suite 550
Hillside, IL 60162
(708) 632-4500 PHONE
(708) 632-4515 FAX

Springfield Office:
309-H Capitol Building
Springfield, IL 62706
(217) 782-8505 PHONE