This state representative demonstrates the courage of his beliefs

When it would have been easier to have kept silent and let things be, Illinois State Representative Bob Morgan has often used his voice and taken action.  

Profiled in 36 Under 36 in 2014, when he was General Counsel to the Illinois Department of Health and coordinator of the state’s medical cannabis pilot program, Morgan, a Deerfield Democrat first elected to the state legislature in 2018, learned early on about tough choices.

Growing up in south suburban Richton Park, Morgan, now 40, was repeatedly subjected to antisemitism in his high school, where he was one of only two Jewish students. He was jumped by a gang; he discovered swastikas on one of his sweatshirts. It was a defining moment, the legislator said. 

“It forced me to embrace my Judaism,” said Morgan, who lost a set of great-grandparents during the Holocaust. “I had to choose whether to walk away or embrace it.”

He continued to embrace it at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he became President of the campus chapter of Hillel and Student Body President. He took on these leadership roles, he said, during “a very volatile” period on campus, when pro-Palestinian activism and the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) campaign against Israel were on the rise. Rather than deflect these hot-button issues, Morgan added, “I was in regular dialogue with the Muslim student association‚Ķ It taught me a number of lessons about [intergroup] dialogue. It was a benchmark for the future.”

Jump to that future, some 15 years later, when Morgan, who earned his law degree from Northern Illinois University, was deplaning at O’Hare. “I received a call from a friend, who was a civil rights attorney. He said, ‘Can you get to O’Hare?’ They were detaining people, some with dual American citizenship, under [the new federal] travel ban. So, I walked from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5 [the international terminal] and went to work with other lawyers to get all 63 detained individuals released.”

Morgan said that it was “beshert”–or destined to be–that he’d been at the airport in 2017 when the travel ban took effect. It afforded him another opportunity to take a stand in “supporting those escaping persecution,” he said.

Fighting against injustice has led to Morgan’s involvement with the Anti-Defamation League, where he serves on its Midwest board, and participation in the Illinois Jewish Legislative Caucus, which advocates on behalf of issues affecting Jewish constituents.

Morgan, who ran unopposed in 2020 for a second term, waxed reflective on his freshman term in the Illinois State House. Hearkening back to his days in health law, he proposed legislation, still pending, that would create an independent review board to serve as a check on hikes in health insurance premiums. He also said that he “worked very closely to make sure that telemedicine [visits] are covered” during the coronavirus pandemic. 

When he is not attending to legislative affairs, Morgan relishes in creating a Jewish home with his wife, Sonya Jacobs Morgan, a clinical social worker, whom he met at an ADL event. The parents of two young children, the Morgans celebrate Shabbat together with a Friday night dinner and participate in activities of their synagogue, the Deerfield-based B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim.

Reflecting on the nature of his legislative district, which includes huge swaths of Jewish constituents in Deerfield, Northbrook, Glencoe, and Highland Park, Morgan said that the values of those he represents very much mirror his own. “My district is incredibly focused on those who need help,” he said. “We are a fortunate community, and we are interested in giving back.”

Robert Nagler Miller is a journalist and editor who writes frequently about arts- and Jewish-related topics from his home in Chicago.