When CTU members attend a House of Delegates meeting or other event at Jackie Vaughn Hall, CTU Operations Manager Romel Ferguson is the man behind the scenes who makes those events run like clockwork.
Ferguson is responsible for coordinating the three-ring circus of the CTU, managing competing projects from multiple union departments and also citywide events and programs. For example, in May, he helped coordinate the CTU’s celebration of our union brother Brandon Johnson’s inauguration.
Rubbing shoulders with the mayor of Chicago wasn’t exactly on Ferguson’s mind when he joined the CTU staff as an intern 16 years ago. But it certainly is a nice perk, he said, to work with “some of the most brilliant minds in the industry.”
Born on the West Side, Ferguson is Chicago and CPS proud. The eldest of four siblings, he has 45 first cousins. That may help explain his steady, calm demeanor in the face of the last-minute changes and snafus he’s often called on to resolve.
He credits his mother Catrina Ferguson and his grandmother Mindean Ferguson with setting him on a righteous path in life.
“My mom was a single mother, who made great sacrifices for me,” he said. “I will always honor her for it. I come from a large family, and my grandmother played a significant role in keeping us all together.”
Ferguson attended Herzl Elementary School in Lawndale and then moved to Frederick Douglass Middle School in sixth grade. He studied logistics at Wells Community Academy where he enrolled in the Education to Careers program, which placed students in work study.
While he was working in the school’s main office, he met CTU member Jose Jiménez who suggested he intern at the union’s headquarters. He got the internship in 2007 and has been at the CTU ever since, except for a brief three-year hiatus that took him to Houston after his grandmother passed away in 2018.
In 2010, Karen Lewis asked him to run the union’s front office and phone lines, where he greeted and assisted visitors and members. In 2016, he attended the Summer Organizing Institute and then was tapped to assist the organizing department.
Upon his return to Chicago from Houston, Ferguson returned to the CTU staff and last September was named operations manager.
Ferguson’s job calls for deep collaboration with CTU departments to ensure they have what they need to operate at peak efficiency. On a typical day, he could be planning logistics for a union program or producing public-facing events, like the multiple press conferences, rallies and celebrations CTU hosted during the mayoral campaign.
“I love being able to contribute to the work of an organization that supports educators,” he said. “I had so many amazing teachers who helped shape this young Black male from the West Side.”
Ferguson has witnessed many changes at the CTU in his almost two decades with the union. Some were tragic, like the loss of our beloved Karen Lewis, and some exciting, like the expansion and growth of the union’s organizing program, which has become a model for unions across the country. He said his time with the 2016 Summer Organizing Institute was especially exciting.
“It was electrifying and fulfilling to go knock on the door of a member, and they invite you in to talk,” he said. “Having those conversations and getting people to move out of their comfort zone and commit to becoming more active in the union and their community gives so much meaning to the work our organization does.”
Ferguson is an indispensable part of the CTU team, but his original dream was to own a restaurant. His grandmother taught him to cook, grill and bake — activities he cherishes today because of the fond memories of their times in the kitchen.
“Cooking is my hobby, therapy, and a reminder of my grandmother,” he said. “She taught me to cook, bake, and grill, and through our cooking bond, I learned to be calm under pressure and love people beyond their mistakes or circumstances.”
His grandmother also helped nourish his faith because she was “one of the most outstanding examples of the love of God in human form,” ultimately inspiring him to become an ordained preacher.
“As a child, my grandmother brought me to church, and I have never left,” he said. “I preached my first sermon at the Divine Tree of Life when I was 12 years old.”
Fortunately for the CTU, Ferguson doesn’t see himself leaving Chicago or the union any time soon. He wants to continue producing events that reflect his and the union’s values and encouraging others to become the “most excellent version of themselves.”
That’s good news for CTU and its nearly 30,000 rank-and-file members — because we’re not entirely sure what we’d do without him.