Mustafa Cadet “Stan” Azeem officially worked at the Evanston Public Library as a security guard, but his role went far beyond that. He played an integral part in the Library’s push for more equity in services and outreach to the larger community, said co-workers, mourning his loss said last week.
Mr. Azeem, a member of the Library’s security force for five years, died May 18.
He had suffered a heart attack while at his mother’s house in Evanston the day before, his older brother Ernst said, and was taken to Saint Francis Hospital, where he was resuscitated. Mr. Azeem, who learned a year ago he had diabetes, died the following night, with diabetic shock the probable cause, Ernst said.
At the time of his death, Mr. Azeem, who was 44, was preparing to get married, Ernst said.
“He already had the ticket,” he said. “Then that had been delayed because of COVID-19, and after COVID, he was going to fly out to Morocco.”
Members of the Evanston Public Library Board and staff observed a moment of silence in Mr. Azeem’s memory at their May 20 Board meeting, which they participated in remotely because of social distancing constraints.
“A lot of us knew Stan, but I don’t know that we all knew how deeply involved he was at the Library beyond his role as a security staff person,” said Interim Library Director Jill Skwerski, in a statement read into the record at the meeting. “He was involved in the EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) Committee and training staff and leading us to the point of becoming a more equitable organization.
“He helped recruit members for our Racial Equity Task Force. He was active across the community with his place of worship at Dar [Dar-us-Sunnah Masjid and Community Center on Brown Avenue]. He was a coach for the Junior Wildkits football team and helped connect Library services to those kids. Everybody who has heard the news knows Stan and knew him from the community, and so it is a great loss to the Library and to the community.”
Mr. Azeem was born and raised in Evanston. “My dad’s brother emigrated to the U.S. from Haiti, and he chose Evanston as the place to settle,” Mr. Azeem said in an interview with the Library’s Community Engagement Coordinator Jill Schacter, which ran in the Library’s February 2020 internal staff newsletter. “He worked at Northwestern for 40 years and he was instrumental in getting my father and another uncle to come here as well as well.”
Mr. Azeem would make that journey in reverse many years later, he recalled when asked by Ms. Schacter during the interview about something people would be surprised to know about him.
“After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, I helped to get three ambulances down to Florida , and then shipped to Haiti,” Mr. Azeem said. “Mayor Daley had a ceremony to honor the effort. I drove down with Chicago firefighters.”
Growing up, Mr. Azeem “always had a heart for youth,” recalled his sister Nadege Myers. He played football at Evanston Township High School until he was sidelined with an injury. He would later coach the Evanston Wildkits, a youth team.
During that time, Evanston resident William Eason gave Mr. Azeem his first job, managing sports leagues at the McGaw YMCA.
“He was eager – he was like a gentle giant and he loved working with children, and that was personified throughout his career,” Mr. Eason recalled.
Going away for college, Mr. Azeem attended the University of Massachusetts in Boston, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology, Ms. Myers said. It was during that time that Mr. Azeem converted to Islam, a faith he held to very strongly through the rest of his life, his sister said. It was also while in school that Mr. Azeem started an organization, JustBelieve, which he would bring with him to Evanston.
“It’s an after-school program that teaches kids about broadcasting,” Mr. Azeem said in his interview with Ms. Schacter. “I was a college recruiter, and when I talked to kids they’d ask me about my football career. This was one of the ways we connected; we engaged while talking about sports. Many of the kids envisioned themselves playing pro ball. So I’d let them know the stats on how many people actually make it playing pro ball. I wanted to give them another option. Media broadcasting involves reading, writing, and public speaking. These are all good life skills I thought that would be beneficial.”
Returning to Evanston, Mr. Azeem had a chance to put the program into action, including working with Mr. Eason on The Evolution Theatre Company. Besides his own program, Mr. Azeem did “a lot of networking with other organizations, and then something opened up at the Library,” his sister recalled.
At the Library, recalled Neighborhood Services manager Connie Heneghan, “Stan’s position was that of security, and part of his job was to walk around the Library, talk to people, make sure everyone was safe; and Stan had the knack for doing that while creating relationships. He made you feel he saw you as a person, whether you were staff or a patron.”
“As he was working,” added Wynn Shawver, the Library’s Chief Development Officer, “he had the highest level of dedication to service that I’ve ever seen. And he did that in everything he did – he really took the time to be thoughtful with every interaction, and he was always looking for an opportunity to serve and to connect people, and to bring people together across Evanston.”
Assistant Library Director Teri Campbell called Mr. Azeem “the wind beneath our wings,” in the Library’s push in recent years to bring services and greater inclusion to communities officials have a difficult time reaching.
Beyond that, “I saw him personally challenge management – middle management to the front line to every person – about how we were treating others, the decisions we were making, and [he] called us to do better,” she recalled.
Among his many roles, Mr. Azeem also served as union steward for AFSCME Council 31, the union that represents Library employees, and he was able to bring employees concerns directly through management, “and frankly was a unifier in that way,” Ms. Campbell said.
Ernst Azeem said that before his brother’s death, they were working to incorporate the JustBelieve program with a local soccer program.
His brother wanted to bring youngsters in the program to James Park and other sites to apply their broadcast skills in the coverage of practices and games, Ernst said.
Meanwhile, “every kid in the club, every kid’s parent in the club would get their Library card,” said Ernst.
“It was a beautiful connection, it was a gorgeous connection, and personally I hope to keep that legacy going somehow, some way,” he said.
Mr. Azeem is survived by his mother, Marie Regente Cadet; siblings Ernst Cadet, Shirley Cadet and Nadege Myers, and many other nieces and nephews, friends and family members.