From an early age, Ashley Munson felt called to represent those who don’t have a voice. Mentors, friends, and even strangers have repeatedly told her she was created for this work. She currently works as Senior Manager of Advocacy with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, an organization that helps provide food to more than 700 pantries and soup kitchens across Cook County.
While completing her political science degree at Purdue University, Ashley served as the only Black senator on the school’s student government association.
“I represented all of the multicultural Black and Brown organizations on campus,” Ashley shares. This experience helped her find her passion of “representing folks who wanted to have a voice but didn’t know how to go about having a voice.”
After graduating, Ashley’s passion for advocacy only grew.
Through her roles with the Indiana House Democratic Caucus, the Illinois House of Representatives, and Illinois Environmental Council, Ashley honed her communication skills and helped create meaningful policy changes in her community.
She also credits her faith with finding her passion.
“I grew up in the church. So between the Purdue student government and growing up in the church, where we’re supposed to stand up for people, I think that’s how I got the passion for representing people and advocating and lobbying,” Ashley explains.
Building a Movement
Ashley’s advocacy work doesn’t stop when she is off the clock. In response to the murder of George Floyd, Ashley organized the March for Us 2020 in Chicago.
“I planned it in 11 days and we had 1000s of people come out,” Ashley says.
She attached initiatives and goals to the march, like getting Juneteenth recognized as an official holiday, healthcare, education, and criminal justice reform.
Ashley explains, “the goal for this year is to create a Black agenda. We’re going to march but we’re also going to collaborate and build coalitions around what we want to do.”
Building off of the march’s momentum, Ashley created a nonprofit called the Illinois Black Collective. With this organization, Ashley serves as a “liaison from the streets to the statehouse.”
Ashley is able to leverage her legislative experience to connect passionate community members with lawmakers.
“The goal is to be the bridge where I bring people who already have the ideas to the legislature so they can get stuff passed and help the legislators build power with people where they’re actually moving forward with legislation and ideas and community efforts where the people want them to,” she explains.
Her Advice? You Can Do it All
For motivation, Ashley draws on her faith in God. She knows that everyone has their own belief system and encourages others to ground themself in whatever “faith” means to them.
She adds that her support system of friends, family and therapy all help her keep going. The other way she stays in the work? Focusing on her “why.”
“The why is for the people who look like me that don’t have a voice, the why is for the people who go hungry at night and I work tirelessly every week to make sure they’re fed. So know your why, ground yourself in faith, roll with the punches and adjust where needed.”
She also wants future leaders to know that it’s possible to have it all.
“Do all the things you want to do because life is so short,” she imparts. “I consider myself a faux comedian. I’m fully comfortable, unapologetically, being me. And you can do it all. You can be the Black girl who’s a lobbyist and the Black girl who’s a comedian.”
It can be challenging to balance both her professional and personal lives. But learning to take care of herself and her hobbies has allowed Ashley to better serve others.
“Enjoy your life while you’re pursuing your passions and saving the world,” Ashley says.