CBA Record July-August 2020

I t was May 1988, and Chicago was in political turmoil after a portrait depict- ing the late Mayor HaroldWashington in frilly lingerie was put on display at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Many Chicagoans were outraged and the media was in a frenzy, particularly after the portrait was snatched off the wall by a fuming alderman and confiscated by police. It was not the first time, and certainly would not be the last, that the City of Big Shoulders had erupted in conflicts between racial sensibilities and civil liberties. At the time, Maryam Ahmad was more than 860 miles away in NewHaven, CT, at Yale University working as the university’s Director of Minority Recruitment. Little did Ahmad know then that the incident playing out in the headlines from Chicago would set off major changes in her life and career, leading her to the city she now calls home and the place where she fell in love with the law. After nearly facing the loss of state fund- ing over theWashington portrait incident, the museum pledged to increase minority recruitment and outreach and created the position of Assistant Dean of Multicultural Affairs and Affirmative Action. Maryam Ahmad was selected as the first person to fill that role, thanks to her impressive resume in minority recruitment at Yale and in college admissions at Bucknell Univer- sity in Pennsylvania. She also credits a blue georgette suit that she made and wore to her first interview in Chicago. “When I arrived for the interview in this suit, the selection committee couldn’t stop talking about it. I had made a headband and a purse to match. They asked, ‘where did you get this suit, your resume didn’t say you were a fashion designer,’ and I said ‘I’m not, I’m just someone who sews,’” recalls Ahmad. A chief juvenile justice prosecutor from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office who has worked in all areas of the criminal justice system, Ahmad is the 147th Presi- dent of the Chicago Bar Association and the third African American woman to lead the association. When she assumed the presidency at the first-ever virtual Annual

Meeting on June 25, Chicago was a dra- matically different place from what it had been just months before. Covid-19 had snatched away the tra- ditional CBA Standard Club luncheon and fete that officially welcome the new president and board members. But while there may have been less pomp at her swearing in, Ahmad saw to it that there was circumstance, and plenty of it. Battling Two Pandemics “Presently we are battling two pandemics, Covid-19 and racism. Black and brown people are being killed disproportionately by both. Our communities are struggling with solutions for both. The systemic fail- ings of inferior healthcare, disproportion- ate employment opportunities, and police brutality are suffocating, leaving some unable to breathe,” Ahmad stated in her remarks, which were streamed on Zoom and Facebook Live. “As a nation, we simply must do better.” As she assumes the CBA presidency, Ahmad has crafted an agenda that will work to capitalize on the core mission of the CBA, while recognizing the challenges that lie ahead and adjusting accordingly. “The CBA brings together legal profes- sionals from every aspect of practice to network and enhance professional develop- ment. The past few months of quarantine and social distancing have created a void in being able to connect and communicate,” said Ahmad. “Relationships matter, both personal and professional. We will con- tinue to find new ways of connecting until we are able to resume large gatherings.” Ahmad will also work to enhance CBA legal programming and training efforts to help members continue to develop profes- sionally and acquire new skills to remain relevant and marketable in a world that has materially changed. “I think Maryam is the perfect fit for the job as CBA President in these trying times,” said Cook County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Mulroy, a past CBA presi- dent who hired Ahmad at his firm when she was fresh out of law school. “Maryam is incredibly smart, she is dedicated, and she has an exceptional

work ethic. When she makes up her mind to do something, she never disappoints,” added Mulroy, who swore Ahmad in as the new CBA leader during the virtual annual meeting. A resident of Chicago’s Chatham neigh- borhood, Ahmad carries a strong sense of commitment to community. Throughout her career she has been active in pro bono efforts to assist others with legal aid ser- vices, expungement of criminal records, and testamentary documents. Over the last two years she has led CBA efforts to partner with the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council, MalcolmX College, the Chief Judge’s Office, and other govern- mental entities to host a Driver’s License Reinstatement Expo to assist Chicago-area residents who have had their licenses sus- pended or revoked and are in need of legal assistance. At an Expo last January, nearly 1,600 residents were assisted. “There are so many residents who strug- gle with issues like these. Lawyers possess the skills to guide our neighbors through some of the challenges they are facing,” she explained, adding that she would also like to offer virtual legal seminars to the public. One of five children, Ahmad was born and raised in Dayton, OH, which remains one of the most segregated cities in Amer- ica. Her father worked as a laborer and her mother was a homemaker. She attended primary school during the racial unrest and war protests of the late 1960s, which greatly impacted her view of the world. She left Ohio at age 18 to attend Cha- tham College in Pittsburgh, PA, where she studied French Language and Literature. After graduation she accepted a job as an admissions counselor at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA, where she completed her Master’s Degree in Shakespearean Studies. New Directions After relocating to Chicago, Ahmad spent five years at the Art Institute and began to pursue a PhD program in Victorian Auto- biographical Literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with the ultimate goal to become a university president. As the only African American in all her classes, she quickly realized that focusing her advanced


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