Five Head Start alumni boldly leading change for a better world in fields critical to our country’s well-being, each of whom is an exemplar of Head Start’s long-term impact.
Ilham Askia is executive director of Gideon’s Promise, a nonprofit public defender organization whose mission is to transform the criminal justice system by building a movement of public defenders who provide equal justice for marginalized communities.
In this capacity, Askia has oversight of the organization’s daily operations, annual budget, strategic plan, personnel, fundraising, board development, and regulatory compliance. She is also responsible for maintaining the infrastructure that supports the programs and services that distinguish the organization as the only public defender advocacy organization that supports public defenders at every career stage. The organization’s five major programs are executed in partnership and for the benefit of 40 public defender offices and 25 law schools across 27 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In five years, Askia moved the organization from an annual revenue of $800,000 to $2 million. She has also raised $3.8 million in government and foundation grants and $789,000 in corporate and philanthropic sponsorship to date.
Askia has been featured by media outlets that include Essence, Black Enterprise, Atlanta Magazine, Share International Magazine, Atlanta’s NPR, and the legal podcast Service Roads: Conversations on the Law and Social Justice. She regularly speaks at law schools, community organizations and national criminal justice conferences to discuss the critical role of public defenders. Notably, Askia has been a speaker at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, SMART on Crime Innovations Conference, National Association of Public Defense Conference, Florida A&M Law School, Social Justice Community Foundations, Federal Defenders Conference, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund Capital Training Conference, Public Defender Service for District of Columbia, Mercer Law Review Conference, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference Summit, to name a few.
She also speaks on the impact the criminal justice system has on families. Prior to her leadership of Gideon’s Promise, Askia was an educator in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, GA. During her tenure, her students were routine examples of over-policing in marginalized communities, the school-to-prison pipeline as well as the negative outcomes derived from legal representation provided by poorly trained public defenders with overwhelming caseloads. The latter being a lesson she learned earlier in life when both her father and brother were sentenced to prison.
Under Askia’s leadership Gideon's Promise has won numerous awards including, but not limited to, Stephen B. Bright Public Defender Award, Emory University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award, Southern Center for Human Rights' Gideon's Promise Award, The National Association of Sentencing Advocates and Mitigation Specialists Sentencing Project Award and the American College of Trial Lawyers Emil Gumpert Award. The organization also served as the inspiration for the award-winning HBO documentary Gideon’s Army. She is a member of Leadership Atlanta and the Society of International Business Fellows and has been honored with the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Inspiring Woman Award, and the Atlanta Hawks Most Notable Atlantan.
Askia earned a Master’s of Early Childhood and Elementary Education from Trinity University in Washington D.C. and a Bachelor of Science degree in City & Regional Planning from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
She resides in Atlanta, Georgia with husband Jonathan and children Aaliyah and Lucas.
Dr. Joseph I. Castro serves as the eighth chancellor to lead the California State University (CSU). He is the first Californian and first person of color to serve in this role. The grandson of immigrants from Mexico and the son of a single mother, Dr. Castro was the first in his family to graduate from a university. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's in public policy from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in higher education policy and leadership from Stanford University. He is a renowned and gifted scholar in the fields of leadership and public policy and has mentored hundreds of other scholars and practitioners, including many university presidents and senior officers.
Prior to his appointment as CSU chancellor in September 2020, Dr. Castro served as president of California State University, Fresno, beginning in 2013. He also worked in the University of California system for 23 years, serving as vice-chancellor of Student Academic Affairs and as professor of Family and Community Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco from 2006 to 2013. Earlier in his career, he held faculty or administrative leadership positions at four other University of California campuses: Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Barbara.
Dr. Castro formally assumed the CSU chancellorship in January 2021. The California State University is the nation's largest and most ethnically and economically diverse four-year university, comprised of 23 campuses with more than 485,000 students and 53,000 faculty and staff. The university is nationally recognized for its emphasis on student success and boasts more than 3.8 million living alumni around the world.
Dr. Castro’s leadership has been recognized by many different organizations. In 2019, on behalf of Fresno State, he received his fifth Excellence and Innovation Award from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. In 2018, he was named CSU President of the Year by the California State Student Association, and the City of Fresno District 4 Man of the Year. In 2017, he received the Mayor of Fresno’s Community Partnership Award. In 2016, he received the Alumni Excellence in Education Award from the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and the Ohtli Award, which is the highest honor granted by the Government of Mexico to leaders in the United States.
A native of Miami, Anthony Abraham Jack began his educational journey with Head Start. Later in life, he received a scholarship to attend Gulliver Prep, an elite private high school in south Florida. He went on to receive his BA from Amherst College (Women’s and Gender Studies, Religion) and his AM and Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University.
He is currently a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, an Assistant Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the Shutzer Assistant Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. His research documents the overlooked diversity among lower-income undergraduates: the Doubly Disadvantaged—those who enter college from local, typically distressed public high schools—and Privileged Poor—those who do so from boarding, day, and preparatory high schools.
His scholarship appears in the Common Reader, Du Bois Review, Sociological Forum, and Sociology of Education and has earned awards from the Association of American Publishers, American Sociological Association, American Educational Studies Association, Association for the Study of Higher Education, Eastern Sociological Society, and the Society for the Study of Social Problems. Tony held fellowships from the Ford Foundation and the National Science Foundation and was a 2015 National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellow. The National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan named him a 2016 Emerging Diversity Scholar.
The New York Times, Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Huffington Post, The Nation, American Conservative Magazine, The National Review, Commentary Magazine, The Washington Post, The Hechinger Report, Financial Times, Times Higher Education, Vice, Vox, and NPR have featured his research and writing as well as biographical profiles of his experiences as a first-generation college student. The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Poor Students, which was awarded the 2020 Mirra Komarovsky Book Award, 2019 CEP Mildred Garcia Award (Junior) for Exemplary Scholarship, and the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize and also named a NPR Book’s best Book of 2019, is his first book.
David Medina is the COO and Co-Founder of Results for America. David previously served in the Obama Administration as First Lady Michelle Obama’s deputy chief of staff and as the Peace Corps’ public engagement director. Earlier in his career, he served as the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign’s government relations director, U.S. Senator John Edwards’ presidential campaign national political director, the Democratic National Convention Committee’s deputy CEO, an AFL-CIO legislative representative, the Democratic National Committee’s policy director, and U.S. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun’s legislative assistant.
David currently serves on the AFL-CIO’s Working America Education Fund and Midwest Academy’s national board of directors. He also previously served on the University of Chicago’s Alumni Visiting Committee, Human Rights Campaign, Millennium March on Washington, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute national boards of directors.
David received his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his M.P.P. from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Omar Woodard joined the GreenLight Fund as the Executive Director of the Philadelphia office in January 2016. Omar comes to GreenLight with a decade of experience working in venture philanthropy, management consulting, and foreign and U.S. government relations. From 2011-2014 he was a principal at Venture Philanthropy Partners where he co-managed a $20 million portfolio including a $10 million investment from the federal Social Innovation Fund. Widely recognized for his expertise in nonprofit board governance, Omar is a board member of the Philanthropy Network of Greater Philadelphia, the Global Philadelphia Association, the Maternity Care Coalition, and the Girard College Foundation. He is a Fellow at the Institute for Emerging Health Professions at Thomas Jefferson University, a Fellow at the Association of Black Foundation Executives, and received the Hansjoerg Wyss Award for Social Enterprise from Harvard Business School.
Omar received an M.P.A in nonprofit management and governance, and a B.A. in International Affairs (Economics, Arabic), and a minor in public policy, both from the George Washington University, where he was a Presidential Fellow and Student Body President. He holds an executive education certificate in nonprofit governance from Harvard Business School.
Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, a $14 billion international social justice philanthropy. He is a member of Governor Cuomo’s Reimagining New York Commission and co-chair of NYC Census 2020. He chaired the philanthropy committee that brought a resolution to the city of Detroit’s historic bankruptcy. Under his leadership, the Ford Foundation became the first non-profit in US history to issue a $1 billion designated social bond in US capital markets for proceeds to strengthen and stabilize non-profit organizations in the wake of COVID-19.
Before joining Ford, Darren was vice president at Rockefeller Foundation, overseeing global and domestic programs. In the 1990s, he was COO of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, Harlem’s largest community development organization.
Darren co-chairs New York City’s Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers, and has served on the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform and the UN International Labour Organization Global Commission on the Future of Work. He co-founded both the US Impact Investing Alliance and the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy. He serves on many boards, including Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the National Gallery of Art, Carnegie Hall, the High Line, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. In the summer of 2020, he was appointed to the boards of Square and Ralph Lauren. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is the recipient of 16 honorary degrees and university awards, including Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Medal.
Educated exclusively in public schools, Darren was a member of the first Head Start class in 1965 and received BA, BS, and JD degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. He has been included on numerous leadership lists: Time’s annual 100 Most Influential People, Rolling Stone’s 25 People Shaping the Future, Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, Ebony's Power 100, and Out magazine’s Power 50. Most recently, Darren was named Wall Street Journal’s 2020 Philanthropy Innovator.