Cabrini Green Legal Aid Appoints Aisha Cornelius Edwards as Executive Director


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Contact: Media@cgla.net


Cabrini Green Legal Aid Appoints Aisha Cornelius Edwards as Executive Director

Chicago, IL (November 15, 2021) — Criminal justice advocate and attorney Aisha Cornelius Edwards has been named Executive Director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA), a statewide leader in seeking justice for those living in poverty by providing legal services that strengthen lives, families and communities.

Edwards, who has dedicated her career to working in the public interest and community services, has been committed to providing access to justice and advocating for fairer outcomes for more than 20 years.

She succeeds Esther Franco-Payne, who among other accomplishments as Executive Director, led CGLA’s thriving policy work with the passage of significant bills creating opportunities and removing barriers for individuals across the state negatively impacted by the criminal justice system.

Currently, Edwards is a Senior Program Officer at the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation where she is an integral part of the Criminal Justice team’s Safety and Justice Challenge, a national initiative to eliminate racial disparities in criminal justice outcomes and reduce jail incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.

Edwards returns to CGLA where she was Supervising Attorney of Criminal Defense prior to joining the MacArthur Foundation. During her CGLA tenure, Edwards managed a team of staff and volunteer attorneys serving clients facing felony, misdemeanor, and juvenile matters, including delinquency and parole allegations, and conducted community outreach and education about criminal justice matters.

“We are delighted to welcome Aisha back to CGLA,” said Joanna Horsnail, Chair of Cabrini Green Legal Aid’s Board of Directors. “The agency will benefit greatly from her passion for criminal justice reform, proven dedication to the clients we serve, demonstrated leadership skills and depth of experience in the not-for-profit sector.”

Prior to her defense work, Edwards was an Assistant State’s Attorney for Cook County, where she gained criminal litigation experience including criminal appeals, felony review, domestic violence, preliminary hearings and special prosecutions. While there, she was part of an interdisciplinary task force whose work created a regular court call for hearing expungement and sealing petitions. The resulting process reduced the county’s backlog of petitions being processed from four years to three months. Through her years as a criminal litigator, she has conducted hundreds of trials, motions, and hearings and has also argued in front of both the Illinois Appellate and Illinois Supreme Courts.


"Centering my career around the pursuit of fairness and justice is deeply personal for me – most of my upbringing occurred in a racially segregated and under-resourced community on the south side of Chicago where I experienced many systemic inequities that affected me, my family, and my community,” Edwards said. “I am thrilled to be returning to CGLA as Executive Director and I look forward to the opportunity to integrate my personal passions and professional insights at this time of national attention on racial justice and statewide momentum for change."

Before practicing law, Edwards served in various nonprofit settings, including policy and advocacy at the Illinois Center for Violence Prevention, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois, and the CIVITAS Childlaw Center at Loyola.

Edwards is also an adjunct professor at the Loyola Chicago University School of Law, where she coordinates a Criminal Law Practicum and is a co-facilitator in the Professional Identity Formation workshop, which explores the systemic impact of the rule of law on different communities and prepares students to be equitable and inclusive social justice leaders.

She obtained her MBA and BS from the University of Illinois and her JD from Loyola University School of Law, where she was the law school’s recipient of the President’s Medallion, an honor bestowed yearly to a single student that exemplifies the principals of leadership, scholarship, and service.

She is a 2020 Racial Justice Institute Fellow, the Shriver Center’s national leadership program grounded in a commitment to race-equity as an integral and essential part of anti-poverty advocacy. She was recently selected as a 2021-2022 Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE) Connecting Leaders Fellow, a training program designed to increase the capacity of nonprofit leaders who are committed to assisting Black communities.

Her commitment to service and justice has been recognized through various awards. She is an Omega Psi Phi, Chi Lamba Lambda chapter Woman of Excellence awardee. She has received the Norman C. Amaker Award of Excellence, Advocacy Honors Program Coach of the Year Award, and the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) Young Alumni Service Award from the Loyola School of Law.

She will assume her responsibilities as Executive Director of CGLA on January 3, 2022. Cabrini Green Legal Aid engaged Kittleman & Associates to conduct a search for its new Executive Director. Kittleman & Associates is a national executive search firm that specializes in the recruitment of CEOs for tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, public charities and philanthropic organizations. Kittleman recruits leaders for the entire nonprofit sector including human services, advocacy and educational organizations, and foundations. For more information, visit www.kittlemansearch.com.

Cabrini Green Legal Aid was established in 1973 to serve legal needs arising from the lack of opportunity, criminalization of poverty, and racial inequity experienced within the Cabrini Green community. Since then, CGLA has grown beyond a single neighborhood to become a citywide, countywide, and now recognized statewide leader in supporting low-income individuals negatively impacted by the criminal justice system. Give Justice a Voice www.cgla.net.

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