When Gary, Ind,. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson takes over as president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Urban League in January, she will be reunited with her former Director of Communications Chelsea Whittington.
The pair worked together from 2012 to 2015 when Whittington resigned to join the Chicago Urban League as Director of External Affairs. In March, she left the Urban League to run, full-time, her public relations firm, C Whitt PR, but remains working for the Urban League as a communications consultant.
“I would like to thank Interim President and CEO Barbara Lumpkin and the Chicago Urban League team for allowing me to continue to work for an organization that I love and adore,” said Whittington.
However, leaving her Gary post should not have came as a surprise to those who knew her, explained Whittington.
“My commitment to the mayor was to serve during her first term to establish the Communications Department for the city of Gary, and then resume my career as a communications professional in the private sector,” said Whittington. “It is always an honor to work with Mayor Freeman-Wilson. She continues to be a great mentor and friend. Her leadership style is one that allows the team to engage, grow and be creative.”
For Freeman-Wilson it will be a bittersweet reunion as well.
“Chelsea and I had a good working relationship when she worked for me and I expect that chemistry to continue at the Chicago Urban League,” Freeman-Wilson told the Chicago Defender.
After first being elected in 2011 Freeman-Wilson lost her bid for a third term in May when Indiana Assessor Jerome Prince narrowly defeated her. She was the first woman to serve as mayor of Gary and the first black woman to serve as a mayor in the state of Indiana. She also held posts as the Indiana Attorney General and the director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.
Now the Harvard Law School alumna said she is ready to move on to the next chapter in her life and that does not include politics.
“I chose the Chicago Urban League, an iconic organization with tremendous legacy in Chicago and within the African American community, as my next mission in life largely due to their mission in helping people, which I will call my ‘sweet spot’ as a public service individual,” explained Freeman-Wilson. “I’ve always been mission driven and besides who wouldn’t want to work with an organization dedicated to helping so many people in the third largest city in the country.”
The Urban League’s board of directors said it’s confident it chose the right person to lead the organization. “Karen Freeman-Wilson has a depth of leadership experience and a demonstrated passion for issues of equality and social justice that are central to the mission of the Chicago Urban League,” said Board Chairman Eric 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.”
Another thing Freeman-Wilson said she is excited about is the opportunity to work with Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “One of the things that made the Urban League job attractive is having an opportunity to forge a working relationship with Mayor Lightfoot,” said Freeman-Wilson, a wife and mother of four adult children. “Her message of creating opportunities for all Chicagoans is something I advocated for the city of Gary (Ind.).”
And once her term expires December 31, Freeman-Wilson said she is retiring from politics, so Chicagoans do not have to worry about her running for mayor in the Windy City.
“The one thing they do not have to worry about is me running for mayor or any elected office in Chicago,” contends Freeman-Wilson. “After nearly 30 years of politics I am retiring, but I do plan on continuing my service work but in a different capacity.”
The Urban League operates many programs including youth programs and Freeman-Wilson said she is looking forward to creating more opportunities for Chicago youth as an alternative to being on the street and ending up a gun violence victim or offender.
“It is vital that we provide opportunities for youth and keep them busy as well as engaged in their community,” added Freeman-Wilson. “The Urban League is committed to helping youth and that’s just one more thing that makes working for the Urban League so attractive.”
For now, Freeman-Wilson said she plans to commute to Chicago daily from Gary since the two cities are so close geographically.
Driving herself to work will come as no surprise to Whittington. “As mayor, she had a driver but unbeknownst to many, she loves to drive,” said Whittington. “Also [something else people may not know about the mayor], several early mornings during the week, she goes to Gary’s fitness center and shoots 100 (basketball) shots as part of her workout routine.”
So, keep your eyes peeled, Chicago, for where Freeman-Wilson might end up shooting hoops.