28 Days of Black Excellence: Tamara Edmonds Askew
As a lawyer with a background in public health, Tamara Edmonds Askew is well prepared for her role as director of the American Bar Association Section of State and Local Government Law where she advises 8,000 attorney and law student members in municipal law, education, policy, publication efforts and specialized committees ranging from diversity law to ethics to election law and voting rights. She earned a doctorate in law from Chicago-Kent College of Law, a master’s degree from the UIC School of Public Health, and a bachelor’s degree in industrial hygiene and health physics from Purdue University. She previously held positions with the Chicago Transit Authority, UIC and Commonwealth Edison Company. Edmonds Askew is an active leader in community organizations and continues to give back to the university through her work with UIC’s African American Advisory Council.
Tariq El-Amin 00:01
Welcome to Black Excellence at UIC Office of Diversity, Equity and Engagement with Dr. Aisha El-Amin
Recording of Dr. Martin Luther King 00:09
[Applause] Believe in yourself and believe that you’re somebody.
Clips from 1995 movie “Panther” 00:17
That we study and master a bunch of different things.
Why are you here?
Study and master a bunch of different things.
I’m proud to introduce our new Minister of Information
Aisha El-Amin 00:26
I’m Dr. Aisha El-Amin
Tariq El-Amin 00:29
Welcome to Black Excellence.
Aisha El-Amin 00:34
Greetings UIC family and friends and welcome. Welcome to UIC 28 days of Black Excellence. I am Dr. Aisha El-Amin UIC’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Equity and Belonging. It is my great honor to celebrate the history of black excellence at UIC with some powerful, inspiring and informative conversations with some of UIC’s alumni, as well as some of our past faculty and staff. And each day we have a new guest. And today I am elated to recognize honor and get to know a little bit better, Tamara Edmonds Askew, who graduated in 1996, from public, our public health. And so it’s been up to some really exciting things since then. And so I’m going to hand the mic over to her and, you know, let her tell us a little bit about who she is, where she’s come from, and what she’s been up to since 1996, and graduating from UIC.
Tamara Edmonds Askew 01:32
Thank you, Dr. El-Amin. I’m Tamara Edmonds Askew. I graduated from the School of Public Health in 1996. I’m currently working as the director of the section of state and local government law at the American Bar Association. After leaving UIC, I went to law school at Chicago, Kent. And I really wanted to take my background in science and law and policy to affect a larger number of people, impart policy that was beneficial and useful to our broader community. So it was a great experience having the combination of the public health degree and the law degree to do that.
Aisha El-Amin 02:27
So are you from you from Chicago? Originally?
Tamara Edmonds Askew 02:30
I’m actually, I grew up in St. Louis. And after graduating, I went to school in Indiana at Purdue University. My undergrad is in industrial hygiene and health physics. So public health was a natural progression. And interestingly enough, I visited Chicago a lot when I was in undergrad and happened to meet Dr. Amuwo. And several I kept running into him like everywhere, and he’s like when’re you coming? When’re you coming to the school? this guy, and he was just so wonderful. He even came to Purdue to do a presentation for my class to tell them about UIC. And then when I came here to take my first job at Commonwelth Edison, I worked in nuclear emergency preparedness. I kept running into him and I was like, well, I guess I’m going to go to School of Public Health because I keep running into you, and so that was a wonderful introduction to UIC and to the school and the great, you know, education that I received there.
Aisha El-Amin 02:33
And I know you, you’re still involved at UIC. Can you talk about some of your involvement, even currently, beyond your graduation?
Tamara Edmonds Askew 03:43
Sure. I’m one of the co-chairs of the African American Advisory Council. It’s a not, it’s a community organization, extension of UIC comprised of alum, faculty and community members, just looking at how we can better support diversity and inclusion and faculty, students, staff, and community. So I’m a part of that organization, I’ve been for I don’t even know how many years. UIC just kind of grabs you and brings you in and I don’t even know how it happens. But I’m glad to be a part of it.
Aisha El-Amin 04:27
Yeah, I can I can attest to it grabbing you, as someone who both graduated and now works at UIC, I completely get it. And I also know that you’re involved in Umoja as well.
Tamara Edmonds Askew 04:42
I am. So one of the tenants that came out of working with the Advisory Council was that we’re missing all of our collaboration and experience from an African American alumni. And we have, I come from an undergrad that has a strong alumni organization. And, you know, what? Wouldn’t it be wonderful? And the council and everyone was, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had all of these alumni who took their knowledge and went away if they came back occasionally or networked or contributed in some way? So Umoja is that organization, the Umoja, black legacy alumni coalition. We are looking at reaching out to those people, all you alums out there, we want you back, we want to be able to introduce our students to you so they can see what their future will look like. We want them to take advantage of internships and get good jobs and network, because you’re there to support them.
Aisha El-Amin 05:55
I love that. I love that each one, you know, reach, reach back.
Tamara Edmonds Askew 05:59
Aisha El-Amin 06:00
Absolutely. And as you look back at your journey, your, your journey at UIC, what are some of the fondest memories that you have of that time?
Tamara Edmonds Askew 06:11
I, you know, I reflected and it’s like, the only feelings that come to me when I think about my time at UIC was just support and love. From the time I came in, there was a prep course that GRE prep course that the School of Public Health had, and the people that were in my core cohort, we all worked together. I mean, the support was there at the faculty level, with the student level, it was just everyone was there to ensure that you succeeded. And so we all stuck together. And I remember even after being admitted Dr. Dan Schwartzman being really supportive Dr. Amuwo still, and I did not have one professor that was not supportive. And the students, we would support each other. And actually, I really felt, you, the greatest thing; the greatest, I guess, asset for the School of Public Health is, I felt like I went all around the world just in my student class, because everyone was from somewhere else. And we got to know each other and learn from each other and support each other. So it was a wonderful experience.
Aisha El-Amin 07:29
So I absolutely agree with you that I walk across campus, and I hear, like so many different languages. Like it’s just a beautiful space to be.
Tamara Edmonds Askew 07:39
Aisha El-Amin 07:40
And now, you know, especially with your background, I’m gonna pull this in, because now, you know, our public space looks different, right, because of the public health crisis that we’re going through right now. And how that’s impacting things. So, you know, because you have both the law background and the public health background, tell us, you know, tell us how the things that you and I know, we talked a little bit before this around, you know, what’s going on, you know, politically. But is there a message around what’s going on that you want to give folks on here?
Tamara Edmonds Askew 08:20
I, I guess I want to leave with something positive. We have the information and the resources out there. There’s nothing new under the sun. So we know what to do. I implore those in decision making positions to listen to the experts in public health, because the information is there. And so it’s a little frustrating. Being in my position, knowing what I know, and then communicating with, you know, friends that I have that are working directly in public health departments at state and local governments. And they’ve just like, you know, people are dying, and they don’t have to. And every time there’s a decision that reduces the number of people we can save. It’s, it’s unfortunate, it’s unnecessary. So it’s a little, little depressing, but I know we have the expertise, because I receive that expertise at UIC and other people across the country and other schools of public health have that information. And the the professionals know what they’re doing. But, you know, unfortunately, we’re not always in the decision making position. So (sigh) I.
Aisha El-Amin 09:38
I know your frustration, I want to give you a platform to just you know, make sure that folks are listening to the experts. I think that’s really important, because that’s a challenge of our time. Right. And so, we think of both the challenges of our time and then we, as this message reaches, current faculty, students and staff that are facing challenges internally, you know, or with with their own lives that impact their education. Can you talk about some or give some advice? You know, talk about maybe some of your challenges, as an example, but give some advice to folks that are kind of going through it right now. And I’m not sure if this is for them, or if they can make it through or any of those things that sometimes those voices in our heads tell us?
Tamara Edmonds Askew 10:25
Well, with respect to School of Public Health, I can say, I met a young lady some years ago, who was a member of my church was considering going to, to the School of Public Health, and I was like, oh, it’s the best decision you’ll ever make, you will never regret it. It’s so wonderful. And oh, and prepare you in ways that, you know, you just don’t even imagine. And after she graduated, I said, how was it? She goes, it was wonderful. And I was so relieved. I was thinking, I hope it hasn’t changed. It’s just a chemistry and a culture that you can’t just add water to. It’s, it’s wonderful. And even though I don’t work directly in public health, it’s come pretty in pretty handy in the past couple of years, I was able to serve on our COVID Task Force, while it was in existence, and still remains to be, you know, very challenging, but when you have the benefit of education, the beauty is that no one can take it away from you. And it makes you more well rounded, and enables you to be prepared for opportunities that you don’t even know exist. So I would say, take advantage of that opportunity, and enjoy it. The challenges that I faced, were really, while I was in school, I was working, I had the wonderful pleasure of working at two positions at UIC at the Center for Research on Women and Gender, and the Great Lakes Center for Environmental, Occupational Safety and Health. And those were wonderful experiences. But then I also had a job off campus. So I was like working, going to school. But every day, I was like, Thank You, Jesus, because I have at least, you know, the means. I’m physically able to do the work and work and go to school. And so I was grateful for that. Some people want to and don’t have the opportunities, and I was really blessed to do all those things and still complete my degree.
Aisha El-Amin 12:35
Wow. You know, and I think that resonates with with many of our students who are working multiple jobs, to make sure that they get through. And so as we round out this interview, and I give you my gratitude for for taking out the time, what, what words of advice, would you go back and give yourself in 1995-6, that you think could be instrumental to folks right now.
Tamara Edmonds Askew 13:03
You can do it. And even at that time, I didn’t know where this was going to lead. It helped me get the position that I have, because I do work with a broad range of legal issues. And everything from emergency issues to voting election to public health. You know, it’s all policy. It’s everything that I needed for today, I got from everything that I experienced. So there’s no bad educational experience. Whatever experience you can get, get it. The advice I would give to students, faculty and staff to be that support for each other. I felt like at the School of Public Health, every professor wanted me to succeed. And what I’m hearing from a lot of kids in the undergrad as they don’t feel like every faculty member or professor wants them to succeed. And I believe that if every professor wanted the students to succeed, and every student wanted their classmate to succeed, they would have a positive experience like I had. So that’s what I would really like. My advice to the students, faculty and staff. I don’t want to, you know, dismiss the support of staff when I was leaving the school and my, someone in administration said, Would you like to be we’d like you to be our graduation speaker. And I was like, Yeah, but I just, I don’t even have enough money to graduate. I have these fees. So I was like, that’s not good. And they said, uh, we have some money over here, you know, don’t worry about that. And I was just blown away because I didn’t go in to ask for money. I just said, I just have to tell you, I can’t because I don’t even have money for this. And so the support was there. From the beginning to the end, and I just, it was just wonderful. It was wonderful. I had a great experience. I can’t say enough about it.
Aisha El-Amin 15:07
Wow. Well, thank you. Thank you for being part of this series. Thank you for being part of the legacy of UIC and continuing to give back to UIC in the multitude of ways that you do.
Tamara Edmonds Askew 15:19
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.
Tariq El-Amin 15:23
[Music] Thanks for joining us find more inspiring and informative conversations with UIC alumni, faculty and staff at blackresources.uic.edu. That’s blackresources.uic.edu.