By Monsurat Olugbode
Chicago, Illinois — Ngozi Okorafor is the kind of leader one finds working through Christmas to submit a key legislative report to the Illinois General Assembly before New Year’s Day. In other words, she does the work.
Okorafor has held a number of key legal and management positions, but as Chief Operating Officer and Senior Policy Advisor for the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, Okorafor worked on a diverse set of policies and reforms from human rights to minority contracting; in this and prior roles, Okorafor oversaw a broad portfolio of policy matters stemming from housing, environment, labor, procurement, human and civil right, even touching upon updating how sexual harassment cases are investigated and adjudicated. Working on such a diverse set of issues allowed Okorafor to tap into her passion for service and giving back.
“I [enjoyed] to work in government because I was able to help the most people in one fell swoop,” she explains. “Everything I did, the policies I instituted, the operational procedures I change, or the new and innovative concepts that I created impacted Illinois citizens directly and that kept me motivated.”
During Okorafor’s time in the Governor’s Office, she worked with a core group who brought to the administration’s attention the disparities in government contracts for minority business, especially black-owned businesses. With their encouragement, Governor Bruce Rauner created a task force by executive order to research and propose solutions to resolve the disparities.
“I would attribute the work of the task force as one of the largest successes in civil rights disparity in Illinois,” she says. “We were able to implement a plan to address the disparity unearthed by our research.”
Okorafor is aware of the stereotypes that may influence the way people view and interact with her, but she always strives to bring the most passion and knowledge to every project she touches. As a black woman working for a Republican Governor, Okorafor is proud of the progress and lasting impact she made on the State of Illinois.
“[To succeed in public service], academic excellence is a must,” states the Yale and University of Illinois graduate. “Most importantly, you have to put your time in, establish a body of work, and build your portfolio, so when the time comes, you will be able to lead.”
As time would have it, Okorafor was called to lead in the arena of public safety, accepting an appointment in the Cook County Sherrif’s Department as Director of Employment Actions. In this role, she oversees the proactive facilitation and compliance with all federal and state laws and Sheriff’s Office employment procedures and policies by Sheriff’s Office staff. Okorafor is mindful of the gravity of her role and relishes the opportunity to collaborate with her new colleagues to bring about best practices in personnel reform.
Okorafor remains positive about the future and excited about what’s to come. “We’ve had the first President of color and a black woman who has announced her candidacy — we have people of color who are judges, physicians, and leading fortune 500 companies. There’s nothing we can’t do. Though the world is challenging, the world is [also] ours and I’m excited to be here; to be a woman of color in 2019, I feel like we can’t be stopped, and we shouldn’t be. We have much to contribute and much leading to do.”