Member Spotlight: WBAI Member Chastidy Burns Unites Legal Leaders in Racial Justice Coalition

To say WBAI member Chastidy Burns is dedicated to public service is an understatement.

Burns is an agent for change.

Her latest endeavor as co-founder of the Racial Justice Coalition within the Chicago Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section aims to bring attorneys and local leaders together to combat racial injustice through committees focused on community engagement, service and education. The goal is for each committee to host a few events throughout the year, and there are plenty already on the calendar.

“Lawyers are uniquely positioned to give back to the community,” said Burns, who is an Assistant Cook County Public Defender in the Felony Trial Division at the Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th Street and California Avenue.

Burns, who is the Second Vice Chair of CBA YLS, co-founded the RJC with Kenny Matuszewski, CBA YLS Public Service Manager, in response to the high-profile fatal encounters black men and women have had with law enforcement and the protests that followed.

They formed the coalition to unite local bar and community organizations to collaborate resources and promote unity and progress toward social change because as the RJC mission states, “Together, we are stronger.”

“It’s really important for lawyers to use their particularized skills, training and education to be a voice for the people and represent people who can’t represent themselves,” Burns said.

She not only practices this as a public defender but as a leader in in various organizations, including the Illinois State Bar Association Special Committee on Racial Inequality; DePaul University College of Law Alumni Engagement Board; My Block, My Hood, My City Associate Board; and Just the Beginning – A Pipeline Organization Associate Board. Burns is also a past President of the Black Women Lawyers Association of Greater Chicago and current Chair of its Scholarship Fund Board.

Burns said the response to the RJC has exceeded their expectations with 30 organizations, including the WBAI, joining the coalition since its inception in June.

“It’s been really rewarding to meet a lot of different people that have enthusiasm for racial justice issues that I didn’t realize were out there — people from all different backgrounds and walks of life.”

For more information about the RJC or to get involved, contact

About the Author

Hayley K. Graham is an attorney at Anesi, Ozmon, Rodin, Novak & Kohen, Ltd. where she represents injured workers in workers’ compensation and Social Security disability claims. She is also a Director on the WBAI board and Editor of the Newsletter.