There have been major changes that will bring millions of new dollars to our schools and social justice initiatives seeking to right past wrongs by investing in under-served communities and over-targeted people.

As the spring session wrapped up and people weighed in on the breadth and depth of our historic accomplishments, I’d like to think that I had something to do with them.

You see, 2019 had barely begun when I was officially instated as the first African-American woman to hold the title and office of Senate Majority Leader.

To be honest, I was unsure what the position fully entailed, and after we adjourned for the summer I was more lost than ever as to what I had done in my new role. I was more tired than I had ever been and couldn’t figure out what I had to show for it.

I kept hearing my name mentioned as my colleagues and Gov. Pritzker thanked people for their work on legislation, but I still hadn’t taken the time to process it all.

It was at a bill signing that I finally came up for air. I was listening to young undocumented students giving their accounts as to how legislation that qualifies them for state assistance would be life changing, and for the first time since I became Majority Leader, I was overcome with emotion.

Those students reminded me of being a first generation college student who managed to pay off student loans just in time to acquire my child’s debt, and that I would do all of my twenty years in this office all over again just to make sure that even one student was able to break the generational curse that is poverty.

I left the event before the bills were even signed because I wasn’t sure anyone would understand why I was in tears. 

When I started to revisit memories of challenging conversations with colleagues working on proposals that matter to them, I was deeply humbled to be in a position where I could guide and support their legislative goals. 

When historians look back on the 2019 legislative session, they will see a lot of big dreams, big ideas and big plans. They will see the results of people coming together to solve problems and provide opportunities. They will see the results of recognizing reality and joining forces to make our neighborhoods better for everyone who lives in them.

This can happen when preparation meets opportunity.

What we were able to accomplish was a culmination of years’ worth of work and negotiations that required some experience to navigate. None of our accomplishments simply just materialized. People have worked for years to get to this point, and I’m thankful for Governor JB Pritzker who didn’t say ‘no’ to any idea.

I am grateful for the opportunity to put two decades of experience to the test at a time when it was imperative to show the people of Illinois what a government that wants to work can really do. 

Now, I can’t wait to see what we will do next.

Kimberly Lightford is the Illinois Senate Majority Leader representing the 4th District, which includes Austin