As the saying goes, it’s not where you start but where you finish, and a family background in law enforcement initially had Harold Washington College graduate Erica Kirkwood thinking of a career with the FBI. But along the way her interest in the legal system led to pursuing a law degree. Today she serves as vice president and general counsel for GMA Construction Group in Chicago, providing executive-level oversight to legal matters as well as leading the company’s adminis-trative efforts in the areas of minority and women-owned business, veteran-owned small busi-ness, and disadvantaged business compliance.
Growing up on the south side of Chicago and attending Whitney Young High School, Erica originally set her sights on law enforcement. With family members serving as sheriff’s police, she began studies in criminal justice at Harold Washington College, finding that it fit her need to study during the day and work in the evenings. With a desire to become an FBI agent, she transferred to Chicago State University to complete her B.S. and then took a job with the City of Chicago’s Revenue Department as compliance investigator for 11 years.
During that time, she heard good things about Western Michigan University (WMU) from her father, who was attending classes there. Although she had taken the sheriff’s exam, a hiring freeze at the FBI got her to thinking about WMU’s Cooley Law School. Upon being accepted into the school, Erica spent three sometimes arduous years commuting between Chicago where she had kept her job, and Lansing, Michigan, where she was enrolled in the law school’s weekend program.
Upon completing her J.D. with a Certificate of Concentration in Litigation, she practiced law for several years before serving as the deputy general counsel for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, drafting, reviewing, negotiating and advising on contracts. In January of 2018 she joined GMA Construction Group as its vice president and general counsel. She’s pleased that her new company regularly offers internships to City Colleges of Chicago students and often hires employee’s from Kennedy-King Colleges’ satellite site, Dawson Technical Insti-tute.
Erica sites Chicago Public Schools scholarships that allowed her to start her education at Harold Washington College as a contributor to the career and the success that has come her way. Because of her desire to give back to the community for the advantages she has been afforded, she draws particular satisfaction from GMA projects that build educational facilities, affordable housing, and health care facilities. In addition to her work, she has served as the President of the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago, Inc., has been recognized with several prestigious awards and fellowships, and appears regularly as a panelist on topics of diversity and inclusion.