(Chicago) — Moving stories of parents in prison, uplifting images of their recovery and family reunification, an energized room of 340 guests, and inspiring words from respected leaders. These were some of the highlights of TASC’s 2013 Leadership Awards Luncheon, which took place December 11 and honored Legal Action Center President Paul Samuels and WGN-TV Anchor Robert H. Jordan, Jr.
Each year, TASC’s Leadership Awards Luncheon celebrates the outstanding leadership of those who consistently demonstrate innovation and courage in addressing some of society’s most pervasive challenges.
TASC President Pamela Rodriguez presented this year’s TASC Justice Leadership Award to Samuels, who has dedicated his career to justice and fairness. He leads the New York-based Legal Action Center, whose mission is to fight discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies in these areas. Rodriguez praised the exceptional team of individuals and partners that Samuels has brought together as president of the Legal Action Center, noting that, “For more than 30 years, Paul Samuels has established himself and the organization he directs as one of the preeminent leaders in efforts dedicated to justice and fairness, particularly for people with substance use disorders.”
“This is all about teamwork and collaboration,” emphasized Samuels. “We couldn’t do anything that really mattered without all of you, everybody in this room, TASC, and all the other advocates and service providers and people around the country.” Samuels said he was “in awe of the work that TASC does,” referencing the organization’s direct services for nearly 29,000 people each year, and continued, “I am also very familiar with the terrific public policy work that you do in addition to all the direct services work, and in all these intersecting areas of drug policy, mental health, health care financing, diversion, alternatives to incarceration, community reentry, juvenile justice. It’s just amazing the work that all of you have done to build TASC into a powerhouse organization, not just in Illinois. It’s nationally renowned for its leadership, creativity, and cutting edge work. It’s truly an honor to receive an award from you.”
TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca presented TASC’s 2013 Public Voice Leadership Award to Jordan, who frequently covers issues related to criminal justice and health, including a special hour-long program last year dedicated to community solutions to youth violence.
“It was Bob’s search to better understand the complex issues of youth, violence, community safety, and their possible connections to addiction and mental illness which brought TASC and Bob Jordan together,” said Palanca. “His powerful curiosity and commitment to uncover, understand, and address the complicated—sometimes messy—social realities at the root of the news story, his leadership in bringing these discussions to a public forum, and his willingness to personally connect people, services and resources together. This is exactly what this award is about.”
In accepting his award, Jordan recounted a recent story of a young person who had gotten in trouble with the law, and whose life had been turned around with TASC’s help. Jordan said, “It shows how we all are connected somehow to this immense problem of people making mistakes, doing [stupid] things that can just ruin their lives, and we all have seen it happen. So we know that there has to be some coordinated effort with judges, with programs like TASC, with agencies that work together, and with our legislature and trying to work on adjusting our laws, and our own selves in adjusting the way we think about how we’re going to deal with this enormous problem.”
Samuels summed up the problem: “In the 90s the war on drugs turned into a war on drug users—or, more accurately, on people of color and poor people who use drugs, or who were just suspected of using drugs. Our nation’s public policies emphasize mass incarceration, mostly of young, African American and Latino men, even though whites use drugs even more, by most studies, than people of color. And our policies also put forward the horrible notion of permanent punishment of people convicted or even arrested for a drug offense. The list of barriers that have been put in place are horrifying, too long to list. They include denying people employment in a broad range of fields because of a criminal history and/or an addiction history, evicting people from public housing, and not even letting them visit their families.”
TASC has a 37-year history of providing program and policy responses to these challenges, with a steady track record of facilitating clients’ success and reducing recidivism. “TASC has an unwavering commitment to our communities and clients, our partner agencies and institutions—and to excellence,” said TASC Board Chair Marcia Lipetz. “We know our programs work because we rely on evidence-based practice.”
Founded in Cook County in 1976, TASC is a statewide, nonprofit agency that serves adults and youth who have substance use or mental health problems and who are involved in courts, jails, prisons, or foster care. TASC’s Center for Health and Justice provides national consultation and public policy solutions in health and justice.
Mark your calendars: TASC’s 2014 luncheon will take place on December 10 at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago.