An Activist Early in Life
As a high school student in St. Paul, MN, Toni was invited by her high school history teacher to volunteer on her first campaign. The candidate, Katie McWatt, was a community organizer and the first African American woman to run for City Council.
Toni joined other volunteers, knocking doors, stuffing envelopes, and loving every minute of it. Unfortunately Katie didn't win, but working on Katie's campaign inspired Toni to continue working in politics as a college student, and eventually in her professional life.
A Teacher by Profession
Toni started her career as a high school history teacher, teaching in Chicago for 10 years. The skills Toni learned as a teacher helped prepare her for a life in public services. As she says, “you won’t find a much tougher crowd than a group of teenagers.” Skills like explaining complex subjects to different audiences, balancing the requirements of the classroom and the high standards expected of everyone in education, equipped her for the complexities of civil service.
During her time as a teacher she lost a student to gun violence; something far too many mothers, fathers, siblings, friends and teachers have had to face. This event drove her to take a leadership role in the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, where she worked with elected officials to promote legislation around gun reform.
Beginning in Public Service
As Alderman Toni has represented the needs of her community for 20 years, ensuring that the streets were safe, schools were supported and economic development opportunities were realized. She has fought for living wages, public education and against payday lending and gun violence.
During her time in the Harold Washington Administration, she worked in the Department of Economic Development, helping to revitalize business strips and neighborhoods.
A Lifelong Advocate
In 2010 Toni was elected as Cook County Board President; the first African American woman elected to run the 2nd largest county in the nation. As Board President she has overseen one of the nation's largest public health and hospitals systems and, one of the largest criminal justice systems and the largest Forest Preserve system in the country.
Toni is a lifelong advocate for equity and equality, and through her work as County Board President, has successfully expanded access to healthcare for 350,000 people, brought increased fairness to the criminal justice system, championed a regional economic development strategy and expanded employment opportunities for the young people of cook county.