Latoyia Kimbrough

Photo of CTU Attorney Latoyia Kimbrough.

CTU Attorney Latoyia Kimbrough remembers how police in her Englewood neighborhood would harass and frisk her younger brothers for no reason — just because, as the police said, they “fit the description.” As the big sister, she wanted to protect them and fight back, but didn’t know how. 

“I knew this was wrong but I did not have the words to articulate why and prevent it from happening again,” she said. “Then, as captain of the school’s debate team, I saw how you could advocate for your rights using the law and figured out early that was a way I could advocate for my loved ones.” 

Born and raised in the Englewood neighborhood, Kimbrough’s father died suddenly when she was just six years old, leaving her mother a widow with four children. The family was forced to move around a lot, but eventually ended up back in the neighborhood where she followed in her parents’ footsteps, attending and graduating from Englewood High School. There she met CTU President Stacy Davis Gates, who taught history, and Vice President Jackson Potter, who coached her debate team. 

An unattainable dream?

After graduation, she dreamed of going to law school but thought it was out of reach for financial reasons. 

“It seemed like an unattainable dream because I knew my family could barely afford to send me to college let alone law school,” she said. “If it were not for Jackson and another mentor I had in high school pushing me to apply for college and for scholarships, I would have enlisted in the military right after high school because that was the only real way I saw to further my education.” 

A combination of scholarships, grants and student loans allowed her to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from North Central College, becoming the first person in her family to earn a degree. After college, she did enlist in the army, as a combat medic, hoping it would help pay for law school. But she got seriously sick during training and was medically discharged.

With her dream still alive, a few years later, she earned a full ride scholarship to Northern Illinois University’s law school. She finished a semester early, passed the bar exam and, in May 2015, walked across the stage at graduation as an already-licensed attorney. Potter attended her graduation and suggested she apply for a law clerk job with CTU. She did and was ultimately hired as a full time attorney in 2017. 

Tough negotiations

As law clerk and now CTU staff attorney, Kimbrough has lived through — though “survived” might be more accurate — two CTU contract negotiations, which she described as tense affairs, and multiple grievance and discipline hearings.

“In the past, the only word CPS knew how to say was ‘no’,” she said. “We had to fight with them just to get the basics, like textbooks for our students at the beginning of the year.” 

She expects the current round of negotiations to be a lot smoother because the people of Chicago elected an educator as mayor. In fact, she remembers door knocking with Mayor Brandon Johnson when he was a CTU organizer. 

A sea change

“This time around, things do seem more collaborative. Instead of hearing ‘no’ all the time we’re being asked ‘how can we do this’,” she said. “That’s a sea change from years before.”

With the new power dynamics in the city and at CPS, Kimbrough hopes our next contract can transform the school day for educators and their students. Her priorities for bargaining include a nurse in every school, every day, and a real commitment and investment from CPS to revamp the discipline and discharge process. 

Earlier this month, Kimbrough helped guide union delegates through a six-hour meeting after which they approved a sweeping contract proposal that includes those transformative demands.   

Defending members

“With so many nurses being discharged and other employees leaving the district, we really need a more corrective and restorative approach to alleged misconduct and not the punitive and dismissive approach CPS has taken,” she said. 

When she enrolled in law school, remembering the police mistreatment of her brothers, Kimbrough expected to practice criminal law. She clerked for a Cook County Criminal Court judge and worked as extern with the Innocence Project. 

But, as one of three in-house CTU attorneys, she feels she is on the defense side of the table. She defends members who have been wrongly accused of misconduct or whose principals have violated their contractual rights. She is particularly proud of her work defending PSRPs who have been wrongly terminated, securing a favorable outcome in 75 % of the cases and seeing several members rehired. 

“I work every day to make the work of the educators and leaders of our union easier,” she said. “Being around such amazing and dedicated educators, who are work tirelessly to improve the education and lives of the children and families of Chicago, is inspiring and makes the work I do much more fulfilling.”