Ilham (Illy) Askia is executive director of Gideon’s Promise, a non-profit 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 six major programs are executed in partnership and for the benefit of 104 partner, statewide and affiliate public defender offices across 29 states and the United States Virgin Islands and 22 law schools. 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.
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 also a member of Leadership Atlanta, is a member of the Society of International Business Fellows Board of Directors and has been honored with the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Inspiring Woman Award, and the Atlanta Hawks Most Notable Atlantan.
Askia’s passion for criminal and social justice reform is rooted back to her childhood. When she was a youth, her father was sent to prison and his absence drastically changed the course of her life. She began her career in education serving on numerous leadership teams and curriculum development committees. She believed that early childhood intervention would be the key to disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. Over time, the inequities she witnessed in education and the criminal justice began to intersect. These experiences led Askia to realize that the socioeconomic forces that lead to crime disproportionately in poor neighborhoods and communities of color were too powerful to be stopped by educators alone. When children fall through the cracks, the last line of defense between them and an uncaring, punitive legal system is a public defender. For that reason, she and her husband, Jonathan Rapping, founded Gideon’s Promise. Her goal is to provide public defenders the intellectual and emotional support they need to best care for their clients so that they are seen as vessels of possibility instead of bodies to process.
Askia earned a Bachelor of Science degree in City & Regional Planning from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and a Master’s of Early Childhood and Elementary Education from Trinity University in Washington D.C.