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At a breakfast ceremony in the Chicago Cultural Center on March 5, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin honored fellow Evanstonian Kathy Tate-Bradish as the 2020 Unsung Heroine from the 13th Cook County Board District. The award is given annually by the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues to one woman from each of the 17 districts and one from Cook County at large. It is a recognition of Ms. Tate-Bradish’s civic and community involvement in the greater Evanston area and globally over more than 35 years. County Board President Toni Preckwinkle presented the award.
Mr. Suffredin told the RoundTable, “Kathy is one of the best of our district, [someone] who has done many things that are unheralded and has improved the quality of life for everyone.”
Since 1988, Ms. Tate-Bradish, a dedicated volunteer, has been active in the League of Women Voters in a number of capacities. Besides serving as LWVE president and board member, she has registered voters and moderated countless candidate forums in Cook and nearby counties.
Along the way, she has advocated for reform and participatory democracy as well as for a graduated income tax in Illinois. More recently, as an active member of Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club, she has helped to raise funds through Taste of Evanston and Holiday Sales and, as membership chairman, has supported efforts to expand equity and inclusion.
Her light shines far beyond Evanston. She co-founded and oversees the ABCs of Sex Education, which offers HIV/AIDS education and other workshops in rural Kenya. While Ms. Tate-Bradish and her family were living in London, she seized an opportunity to volunteer in Kenya.
She insists she “fell into” the ABCs. The organization grew out of her first encounter with Kenyan women, whom she taught to make a solar funnel cooker. Her audience thanked her politely – with typical Kenyan good manners, she says. But when she returned a couple months later, they questioned her about what was really on their minds: Would she show them a condom? And if they touched a corpse, would they get AIDS?
Talk about sex was taboo in rural communities, and the lack of information was fueling an AIDS epidemic. “This is a need I can fill,” Ms. Tate-Bradish thought. A social worker provided condoms, and Ms. Tate-Bradish taught her first sex education classes to the women’s group. It was 2004.
A lawyer and former high school German teacher, she polished her skills in curriculum building and workshop presentation by taking courses to become a certified trainer.
By 2008, she had developed a curriculum that trains Kenyan farmers to teach their peers HIV prevention, with a focus on role-plays and breaking social taboos around sex education and HIV testing. The program has reduced teen pregnancy by 25% and increased condom use and HIV testing by 20%.
In time, she transformed the initial volunteer organization into a structured professional Kenyan NGO (registered in 2014) with five field teams and more than 40 educators – all of them Kenyans.
Managing Director Phylis Nasubo Magina is in charge; since 2007, Ms. Tate-Bradish has gone to Kenya twice a year, staying in total seven or eight weeks. During her stays, she says she especially enjoys going to Rotary meetings, with their familiar vocabulary, projects and concerns
An estimated 110,000 Kenyans have been taught by ABCs-trained community educators since 2008.
Ms. Tate-Bradish is once again revising the curriculum, which her friend Phylis translated into Swahili. And she is looking to Rotary, with its international reach, for a grant that would allow ABCs to hire two competent people they have already identified to manage a program she wants to take to a county where more than 20% of the population is HIV positive.
Coming full circle, Ms. Tate-Bradish brought her Kenyan experience home to Evanston when she and Tiffini Holmes twice taught an eight-week HIV prevention course to the deconstruction apprentices at Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse.