CTU Organizer Lashawn Wallace thought she wanted to be a teacher. She had been accepted into the Grow Your Own program at Chicago State University and was working full-time as a teacher assistant at Dett Elementary School. She loved the kids and loved being a member of the tight-knit school community.
But the delegate at her school kept inviting her to union meetings, encouraging her to get more involved in the CTU. It took three years, but one night, she found herself in the visitors section of the House of Delegates meeting.
“I watched all the arguing and passionate deliberations and was impressed with how all the delegates and teachers were coming together and making decisions,” she recalled.
She was hooked.
At the next meeting, she volunteered to join a union team heading to McAllen, Texas, to help organize a small teachers local there. “It was my first organizing gig and my first ever plane ride,” she said. “It was a big adventure for me and I loved it.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Wallace knows her way around CPS and considers herself a PSRP for life. She attended Beidler Elementary School, graduated from Marshall High School and worked as a teacher assistant at Dett and Nash Elementary Schools and Taft High School.
After Taft, in February 2020, she joined the CTU Organizing Department on what she said was “the best day of her life.”
Wallace claims a number of firsts in her career. She was one of the first students in Grow Your Own. She met Barack Obama at an IFT conference before he became president. And she was one of the first PSRPs to join the CTU’s first ever Summer Organizing Institute, established under Karen Lewis, whom she credits with understanding the importance of organizing.
“That’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in CTU over the years,” she said. “Karen understood the importance of getting out and talking to our members and to people in the community.”
Her favorite part of the job is getting out into the field and helping members. Early in the pandemic, she helped organize members and parents at Barton Elementary, which had no running water, while kindergartners had to walk over to the building annex to use the bathroom.
After Barton members held a press conference calling out Mayor Lightfoot for the horrible conditions inside the school building, CPS was out that same week doing repairs. “That felt good,” she said. “It’s sad to say, but the only way to get the mayor to do the right thing is to shame her.”
Wallace also loves seeing the response she gets when she dons her CTU apparel. Earlier this week, she and fellow organizer Teri Rudd headed out to Joliet to support Amazon workers who had walked off the job.
“They embraced us and welcomed us,” she said. “They were so happy to see the CTU red.”
In her free time, Wallace sings in her church choir. She’s always loved music and played violin in her high school orchestra. She also loves to binge on old western movies. But organizing is her first love.
Wallace’s two children graduated from Al Raby High School, where former CEO Janice Jackson served as principal. She knew Jackson and had a good relationship with her, never expecting she’d be sitting at a bargaining table across from the former principal to advocate for better pay and job security for our PSRPs.
What did she think of Jackson as CEO?
“When you have a boss like Lori Lightfoot,” she said. “Well, let’s just say, when you swim with sharks you gotta act like a shark.” Fortunately for CTU members, organizers like Wallace know how to weather hostile waters, no matter how many sharks they encounter.