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Dr. Nora Volkow, Pam Rodriguez, and Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Accept TASC Awards

(TASC) –  TASC’s first-ever hybrid Leadership Awards Luncheon on December 15 welcomed guests virtually and in person to honor individuals and groups whose leadership has significantly advanced the principle of health and justice.

In kicking off the agency’s 22nd event, TASC Board Chair Jason Hutton expressed his pride for TASC’s work and perseverance during the pandemic, including adapting to serve clients remotely as well as in person. “We continue to launch new programs and take in new clients,” said Hutton, and “all the while we never laid off one employee.” He introduced TASC CEO Joel K. Johnson, praising him as courageous, charismatic, and visionary. "I am so thrilled that he is taking TASC to the next level,” Hutton said.

Johnson thanked Hutton and TASC’s board of directors, and welcomed everyone in attendance, both online and in person at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago. He thanked the event sponsors, including Healthcare Alternative Systems (HAS), Janssen NeuroscienceRosecrance Health Network, and Alkermes for their longtime and continued support of TASC. Johnson also recognized founder and past Leadership Award recipient Melody M. Heaps (2010), for her vision in bringing the TASC model to Illinois. 

Through times of change, said Johnson, TASC finds ways to innovate, serving adults and youth in criminal justice, corrections, and family service systems. “We’re doubling down to serve people affected by deep-end systems.”

Improved services for people in deep-end systems—particularly the justice system—is the mission of the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network (JCOIN) initiative, launched in 2019 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the world’s preeminent research entity studying the scientific aspects of drug use and addiction.

The pioneering leader of this science, and of NIDA, is Nora D. Volkow, MD who virtually accepted the 2021 TASC Justice Leadership Award. Under Dr. Volkow’s leadership, NIDA is building a national collaboration of research-practitioner partnerships to accelerate the translation of research to practice, and vice versa.

“I cannot think of a better partner than TASC,” said Volkow in accepting the award. “From the first year I was at NIDA...this has been one of the most productive collaborations….TASC has been a leader in the treatment of justice-setting populations, ensuring equity, and ensuring that these patients are treated with respect. And so I'm very grateful to be recognized with this award.”

Along with the importance of research and science, public policy directly affects the environment and conditions for individuals’ and communities’ access to care and opportunities to thrive.

As such, TASC Policy Director Mercedes Mondragón presented the 2021 TASC Legislative Champion Award to the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus (ILBC) for the passage of historic legislation seeking to dismantle systemic racism, including reforms in four key pillars of Illinois government: criminal justice; education and workforce development; economic access, equity, and opportunity; and health care and human services.

Joint Caucus Chair, State Rep. Sonya M. Harper (D-6) accepted the award on behalf of the Caucus. “Every single member of our caucus played a vital role in the success of our agenda, from a conception phase all the way to execution on the floor and beyond,” said Harper. “This award is dedicated of course to the members of the ILBC, which is now a much stronger team because of this. And truly, what an honor it is to be recognized by TASC, an organization dedicated to speaking up and demanding justice for our communities.”

TASC’s commitment to clients and communities was echoed by TASC Chief Operating Officer Malik Nevels, who shared wisdom that has guided his career: “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Inasmuch, Nevels explained that it is important that TASC clients know how much we care, and he introduced a brief video featuring TASC staff and clients reflecting that care.

In presenting the 2021 TASC Public Voice Leadership Award, Johnson praised the recipient, Pamela F. Rodriguez—his predecessor as TASC’s president and CEO. There is an expression on social media about “understanding the assignment,” i.e., the core meaning and purpose behind a set of actions. Through her leadership and passion for justice, Johnson said, Rodriguez was at decision-making tables nationally and locally, pressing for services and policies that build equity. “She understood the assignment,” said Johnson.

Accepting the award, Rodriguez said she learned at an early age that there is a two-tiered system of justice in this country. Her faith led her to work to serve others and change systems and conditions that create trauma and injustice. “Justice has always been my goal, but my tool has been my voice,” said Rodriguez. “I feel really honored to receive this award from TASC.” 

Rodriguez thanked her family, attendees, and fellow honorees. Acknowledging Dr. Volkow, Rodriguez added, “She has been a very solid long-term partner and visionary in the work she has been doing: advancing treatment and treatment quality.” She also congratulated Rep. Harper and Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-27), chair of the House Criminal Judiciary Committee, for the award to the ILBC, noting the amazing work done so far, and the promise of the progress ahead. “TASC will be a partner in that, being there helping you all achieve your goals.”

Johnson concluded the event by thanking everyone. "This work is about partnerships," he said. "We're looking forward to building on our existing partnerships and growing new partnerships and strong relationships in the years ahead." 

2021 TASC Leadership Awards Luncheon (l. to r.): Jason Hutton, TASC Board Chair; Joel K. Johnson, TASC President & CEO; Pamela F. Rodriguez, TASC Public Voice Leadership Award recipient; Rep. Sonya M. Harper, accepting the TASC Legislative Champion Award on behalf of ILBC; Mercedes Mondragón, TASC Public Policy Director; Rep. Justin Slaughter, House Criminal Judiciary Committee Chair. Not pictured: Dr. Nora D. Volkow, TASC Justice Leadership Award recipient, who accepted virtually. Photo by Uk Studio, Inc. 

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