September 26, 2022
IL Representative Lakesia Collins Awarded the Retiree Hero Award
The Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans (IARA) celebrated 20 years of organizing on September, 13th, 2022 during our Senior Power Celebration in Springfield. Over 130 of our retiree leaders gathered at the Plumbers & Steamfitters Hall for an exciting new program, including honoring three retiree champions with awards.
One of the new awards is the Retiree Hero Award. This award honors young leaders who are champions, with a proven track record, for the needs and rights of seniors and retirees across the state of Illinois. The IARA Board Members knew immediately Representative Lakesia Collins (IL-9) is the perfect choice for the inaugural award.
Jaquie Algee, IARA Board Member, and a Vice President and Director of External Relations with SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, along with Katie Jordan, IARA Treasurer and President of Chicago Coalition for Labor Union Women, and Stephanie Collins, IARA Board Member and President of Chicago Metro Retirees, all of whom are mentors to Representative Collins, presented the award.
(Full video of presentation of award and Representative Collins speech is at the bottom of this post)
How Representative Collins Went from CNA to the General Assembly
While the Retiree Hero Award honors young, elected officials, Jaquie Algee reminded us of everything Representative Collins accomplished to get to where she is in the Illinois General Assembly.
Representative Collins’ already long history in the labor movement began with Lakesia working at a nursing home for 10+ years where she fought for the rights of her coworkers. She made moves in her union becoming a member, an executive board member, and then staff member. She took on a challenge of organizing millennials in the union all over the United States.
Katie Jordan, alongside Stephanie Collins, presented the award to Representative Collins. They spoke to her commitment to the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans through the co-founding of Intergen years before her election to the General Assembly.
“I lost my mom when I was 5 to cancer when she was only 28. We lived with my grandmother who was paralyzed on one side. I learned at a very young age how to take care of others, and how to take care of myself. That’s where my compassion for seniors really began…At the age of 20, I had to make a decision, further my education or take care of my son. I decided to take care of my son, got my CNA, and started working at the nursing home. What activated me was the treatment of seniors and the disrespect and mistreatment of the workers. Someone handed me a union contract and I went home and read it front to back, and I realized something wasn’t right…I went back to work full force, with a fire inside of me, after going to a union meeting and being activated as a leader and I cleared 18 unjust writeups, and that spread like wildfire through the building,” Representative Collins on her labor movement beginnings.
Soon after news of Lakesia’s accomplishments spread through the workers, she became a union steward. Lakesia sat at the bargaining table where she fought for and won a better contract for her coworkers. She took the fight to Springfield alongside her union, for nursing home reform, and became a spokesperson for the successful Fight for $15 campaign.
“Every door they [SEIU] opened, I walked right on through it with no questions asked. I learned from other organizers and got heavily involved with retirees in Chicago where I met Bea Lumpkin and co-founded the Intergen Alliance because I have always believed in order to achieve these great victories, we must bridge the generational gap. We have to be able to do it together. We have to learn from our elders and use our energy to get these movements going. And that’s what we did. So it was filled with retirees, students, community organizations, and labor,” Representative Collins on her involvement with Intergen and IARA.
Representative Collins recounts how walking through every door is what pulled her into politics. She found herself attending conferences such as the Poor Peoples’ Campaign, and others, where she felt God was trying to tell her something. Never imagining herself as an elected official, Collins found herself organically on that path, and surrounded by people who supported her journey.
“I didn’t have a college degree, wasn’t married. I didn’t like to wear skirts and dresses, I liked to wear jeans and t-shirts. When I was asked to run for office I thought, “why me?” and the response was, “why not you? You have the lived experience of the everyday person and the work that you’ve done proves you’re ready for Springfield. But Springfield isn’t ready for you!” and they weren’t. So when we ran in the primary, a seven way race, against a family that had been in office for 40 years, we won at 80% of that vote and that was because of Labor. When we won, we hit the ground running. I stopped three school closures, and wasn’t even in my seat yet, and that’s because I came from Labor,” Representative Collins on her first primary win.
Representative Collins continually works to advance legislation pertaining to housing, mental health, Medicare, nursing homes. She fought hard against Rauner’s cuts to service, which legislators such as Lakesia Collins alongside the Labor Movement, restored. She also supported the historic pension funding recently passed in April, 2022 championed by Labor and the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans.
The Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans commends Representative Collins for her work in the General Assembly. We look forward to continued partnership in working towards our mission to ensure social and economic justice and full civil rights for all citizens so that they may enjoy dignity, personal fulfillment and family security as senior citizens.