Kareem Dale has built an impressive record of leadership in the private and public sectors. A director and senior counsel at Discover Financial Services, he previously served as special assistant for disability policy in the White House for President Obama and as board president of Black Ensemble Theatre.
As of this January, Dale can add another accolade to his list of accomplishments: being appointed by Governor J.B. Pritzker to serve on the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.
A three-time graduate of the University of Illinois himself (he earned his bachelor’s, law and master’s of business administration degrees there), Dale looks forward to serving his alma mater with his unique blend of expertise in law, financial services and diversity and inclusion.
“University of Illinois is a top-rated school, and it’s also known for being one of the best universities in the country when it comes to disability inclusion services for students,” says Dale. “I look forward to bringing my experience to support the university’s goals.”
As a leader with a disability, Dale understands the importance of having more people with disabilities serving in leadership roles.
“For people with disabilities to truly be represented in leadership, the best viewpoint is that of a person who has a disability, not just an advocate or relative or someone who cares. Decisions shouldn’t be made about us without us having a voice,” Dale says.
Dale was supported in his effort to join the University of Illinois Board of Trustees by ADA 25 Advancing Leadership’s (now called Disability Lead) Public Service Leadership Project (now called Connections). The project works to address the underrepresentation of people with disabilities in publicly appointed positions by connecting leaders with opportunities to serve.
Dale recalls that the [Disability Lead] team reached out to him last November to ask if there were any State of Illinois public service opportunities he would be interested in. At their suggestion, Dale completed the online application for the Board of Trustees and was invited for an interview. At the same time, [Disability Lead] reached out to the governor-elect’s transition team to give them a heads-up about Dale’s application and to encourage them to consider including persons with disabilities in public appointments.
“When I went in for the interview, the transition team said they were happy that [Disability Lead] reached out and they were also happy to consider candidates with disabilities,” Dale says.
Dale says that intentional outreach such as that provided by [Disability Lead] can help ensure decision-makers are thinking about a disability perspective and aware of high-caliber candidates who can make a meaningful contribution.
“People with disabilities, like anyone else, can be excellent candidates for public service. Often times, they just need to be brought to the attention of people in power. [Disability Lead] plays an important role by making the connection, putting forward high-quality candidates and making sure they have a fair shot,” Dale says.
Dale brings a wealth of experience and knowledge with him to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. Of all that he has accomplished, he is most proud of having founded his own law firm, the Dale Law Group, in 2007, and having served the first African-American president of the United States. But in his new board role, he intends to start at the beginning, at least for now.
“I plan to learn as much as I can during my initial time as a trustee so that I can eventually contribute my expertise to help the university grow, be in the right space and build on what is already a great school,” Dale says.
[Disability Lead's then] Executive Director Emily Harris comments, “Our mission is to create a pipeline of leaders with disabilities serving at tables of power and influence. We congratulate Kareem—an extremely qualified leader who will bring a key voice to this important board—and we commend the Pritzker administration for making a critical first appointment.”
Kareem Dale is a Disability Lead Member and currently serves as the Director and Senior Counsel at Discover Financial Services. This article was originally published in 2019 upon the announcement of Dale’s appointment by Governor J.B. Pritzker to serve on the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. This connection was made possible by our Public Service Leadership Project (now called Connections). This article was originally posted on The Chicago Community Trust blog on March 9, 2019.