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Cabrini Green Legal Aid Celebrates 50th Anniversary, Kicking Off Year-Long Celebration

Programming includes ambitious fundraising goal, refreshed mission and purpose, new policy initiatives and more

CHICAGO, IL (February 13, 2023) – This month marks 50 years of service since Cabrini Green Legal Aid first began working to serve the legal needs of their community. The anniversary falling on Black History Month is a serendipitous symbol of the community and clients that Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) was created to serve: those who have been disparately impacted by the criminal legal system and who are majority African American. In honor of their 50th anniversary, CGLA announced today the beginning of a year-long celebration and an ambitious fundraising campaign, which will culminate in a fall gala. The celebration serves to both reflect on the progress CGLA has accomplished in the past half-century and lay the groundwork for the next fifty years.

CGLA 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. Over the past five decades, CGLA has grown to serve individuals across Illinois who have been negatively impacted by the criminal justice system.

“Our fiftieth anniversary is the perfect opportunity for us to honor the work that we’ve done and the accomplishments we’ve achieved with our clients in the fight for justice,” said Aisha Edwards, Executive Director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid. “It’s also an opportunity for us to envision the next fifty years of CGLA as we work to remove barriers to equity for our clients and the communities we serve.”

In addition to reinvigorating former donors and attracting new ones to reach their fundraising goal, CGLA hopes to draw in more volunteers and spread awareness about the work they’re doing for Illinois residents, and the impact of the criminal legal system on the clients they serve.

A New Mission, Vision, and Purpose Statement

As part of their plan to set the course for the next fifty years of service, CGLA today unveils a new mission statement:

The mission of CGLA is to provide holistic legal services that include social support services and advocacy for individuals and communities negatively impacted by the criminal legal system.

The new statement helps to highlight the extensive policy work CGLA has undertaken and plans to continue moving forward. Additionally, CGLA is announcing their updated vision and purpose statements:

Our Vision: A more just and equitable legal system.

Our Purpose: CGLA exists to remove barriers to equity in the criminal legal system.

“The original mission, from February 1973, remains true to the work we do even today,” said Steve Fus, longtime attorney volunteer and former CGLA Board member. “And that is to treat our clients as individuals and help them to overcome the obstacles and restore hope that they can move forward and have happy, successful lives. Even as we grow and expand, that will always remain the core of what we do here at CGLA.”

New Policy Work

In 2022, CGLA’s Policy & Advocacy team was instrumental in numerous efforts to make systemic changes in the criminal justice system, including assisting with the passage of two bills – HB 4392, which eliminated Cannabis as a disqualifying positive drug test for expungement and sealing, and HB 5525, which created a standing Commission on Children of Incarcerated Parents at the Department of Human Services.

As CGLA looks to the new year, their Policy & Advocacy team is launching new policy programs:

  • CGLA is collaborating with national and local partners to pass the first, comprehensive automatic sealing and expungement bill in Illinois. As a steering committee member of Clean Slate Illinois, CGLA has been helping to draft, market, and advocate for a bill that will bring automatic records relief to millions of Illinoisians who struggle to overcome the hundreds of permanent punishments in place to limit those who have been impacted by the criminal legal system. A report from the non-partisan Paper Prisons Initiative suggests that creating avenues for automatic records relief in Illinois could help individuals recover up to $4.7 billion in lost income due to the barriers to employment from having past arrests and convictions.

  • CGLA has provided its years of experience with expungement and sealing, both as a practitioner and an advocate for change to developing partnerships, building support and working to pass this critical legislation. With over 30 local, state, and national organizations signed on as supporters, Clean Slate Illinois hopes to pass this bill in 2023. We are excited to push this unprecedented legislation in Springfield and if you have any interest, you can learn more at

  • CGLA is also partnering with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to pass a bill that will update and clarify the Public Housing Access Bill (PHAB)—a law passed in 2021 in partnership with the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois that makes eligibility for public housing more consistent across Illinois. This update bill will further clarify the language of PHAB to provide clarity to public housing authorities and applicants about eligibility criteria for all housing programs as well as reporting requirements. We are excited to provide this additional clarity so that both housing authorities and applicants can have more transparent processes and access to this critical public service.

CGLA Art Exhibit and Archive Opens to CGLA Stakeholders

Another aspect of the 50th-anniversary celebration will be an art exhibit and archive that will be on display in CGLA’s downtown Chicago office. The exhibition will help tell the story of CGLA and the community they serve. Additionally, it will reflect on the past, present, and future of the work of creating a more just criminal legal system and CGLA’s place within that space.

The work ranges from abstract to realistic community depictions and includes sculptures, paintings, and archived documents relating to CGLA’s history. The participating artists have been personally impacted by the criminal legal system—many of them former CGLA clients. Among the artist, Arkee Chaney and Delisha McKinney will both have their artwork featured. Chaney’s art depicts the injustice of our society and speaks about the African American experience before and after coming to America. McKinney creates paintings from child-like perspectives and narratives as a way to speak of those experiences hidden in the adult psyche.

The Fall Gala

The fiftieth anniversary culminates in a gala, which will take place in the fall of 2023. The event will not only celebrate the positive impact CGLA has had on the Chicago and Illinois community but will also celebrate all current and former staff, volunteers, donors, Leadership Council members, and Associate, Governing, and Advisory board members for their support and collaboration.

“I’m thrilled to have an event celebrating half a century of CGLA’s service to our community,” said Paul Stephens, CGLA Board Chair and member of the 50th Anniversary Planning Committee. “I’m also grateful to celebrate the wins of our clients and the outstanding work our team members, donors, and volunteers are doing each and every day. This gala is the perfect opportunity to toast to CGLA’s accomplishments and build enthusiasm for our work ahead.”

To receive more information on the art exhibit and fall gala, you can subscribe to CGLA’s newsletter here.



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