Kim Foxx broke ground in 2016 as the first African American woman elected State’s Attorney in Cook County, Illinois. Now, the top prosecutor has received a major award from EMILY’s List, the influential political organization which helps elect pro-choice, Democratic women candidates nationwide.

Foxx was presented with the 2018 ‘Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award’ on April 18 by the former U.S. Congresswoman and shooting survivor during the `We Are EMILY’ gala in the nation’s capital. About 1,200 guests attended the political fundraiser held at the Marriott Marquis hotel, which followed a daylong empowerment conference that drew women office-holders, candidates, activists and experts from across the country.

Emily’s List — which stands for ‘Early Money Is Like Yeast’ was founded in 1985. Since that time, the group says it has raised over $500 million to support progressive women candidates. The group recruits and trains candidates, supports strong campaigns, researches the issues that impact women and families, and helps turn out women voters.

The Gifford award honors a woman “who demonstrates commitment to community, dedication to women and families, determination and civility.” 

Past recipients include: Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia House Minority Leader and current gubernatorial candidate; and Ayanna Pressley, the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council who recently announced a Congressional bid.

“Kim Foxx is a passionate, inspiring, and impactful leader who has distinguished herself by breaking barriers and fighting for justice,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List. “. …Her hard work and dedication to fairness have helped transform the criminal justice system in Chicago.”

Foxx was elected in November 2016, after running on a reform platform to build a more fair and transparent prosecutor’s office. Chicago is dealing with an epidemic of deadly shootings and public anger around police misconduct.

Foxx, 47, hails from a background in which she intimately understands vexing social and criminal justice issues. Born to a teenage mom and a mostly absent father on Chicago’s Near North Side, her family lived in the infamous Cabrini-Green public housing project.

“I grew up in concentrated poverty and racial segregation,” said Foxx, who sat down with ESSENCE during the conference. “The school in our public housing complex remained separate and unequal.”

Her childhood, she shared, was also marred by sexual assault and a period of homelessness. Still, her late mother and grandmother—neither of whom finished high school, Foxx noted—were strong influences.

During the EMILY’s List soiree, Foxx honored the memory of both women, speaking at length about her beloved grandmother, Myrtle Wilson, the daughter of a sharecropper who migrated to the Midwest from Arkansas and worked as a domestic.

“It was her, despite her limited education in the south that insisted that I deserved more. When I shared with her my childhood dream of being a lawyer, without hesitation, she decreed that it would be so,” Foxx told the crowd. “. …She encouraged me to keep fighting. She told me that my ancestors were counting on me.”

After earning a B.A. and law degree from Southern Illinois University, Foxx built a career as a prosecutor and champion of women’s reproductive health and other issues. Today, she heads the nation’s second largest prosecutor’s office with about 1,100 employees, including some 700 lawyers.

“I preside over a criminal justice system in which I have more in common with those who appear in our courts than my colleagues. It is why I’ve spent my first year working on justice reform issues from bail reform to wrongful convictions.”

The fight for quality health care, affordable housing, education, and criminal justice reform isn’t new, she said.

“Our foremothers have been waging these battles from kitchen tables for centuries. The time to take the fight to state houses, courthouses, and Congress has long begun. … It’s time that we recognize that we can no longer be patient, we must persist!”

That overarching sentiment — that women must continue pushing for a place at the table — was oft-expressed during the Emily’s List conference, where topics ranged from polls, research, and voter engagement to transforming the enthusiasm and activism of women into a permanent sea change that will impact current elections, the 2020 presidential race and beyond.

Participants in the confab included African American officials such as D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who gave a keynote address. Washington State Rep. Kristine Reeves and Cora Faith Walker of Missouri spoke about women uplifting communities on a panel moderated by journalist Zerlina Maxwell. Activist Lucy McBath, whose son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed in 2012, is now seeking a seat in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. She joined former Senator Barbara Mikulski and others who say building a pipeline of women can improve communities.  

During her gala speech, Schriock said the organization is working in more than 1,200 state and local races across the country with a goal of electing historic numbers of women.

“In fact, since Election Day 2016, more than 36,000 women have come to EMILY’s List to say they want to run for office,” she said.

The group says it’s helped elect 116 women to the House, 23 to the Senate, 12 governors, and more than 800 to state and local offices. 

Emily’s List has endorsed Black women pols such as Senator Kamala Harris, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and Abrams for governor. The organization says 40 percent of the candidates it has helped elect to Congress have been African Americans and other women of color.