Milwaukee lawyer Fred Tabak, himself an alumni of Milwaukee Public Schools, is spearheading a new scholarship program – named in honor of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg – to help MPS grads who are women of color become lawyers.
Dec. 16, 2020 – Milwaukee lawyer Fred Tabak, responding to a need in his local community to help those who never thought law school was a viable option for them, has envisioned a way to change that outlook.
Thanks to Tabak, graduates of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) who are women of color will have a better chance to become lawyers – via the new MPS Foundation’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg Scholars Program.
Tabak recently initiated the scholarship program, which will be administered by the Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation Inc., a nonprofit, charitable organization that serves and provides opportunities to the 78,000 students within MPS. The program is the result also of a partnership among the MPS Foundation, Milwaukee Bar Association, and the Marquette and U.W. law schools.
“Justice Ginsburg spent her long career working to expand the opportunities available for women,” said Tabak, “Her legacy compels us to identify ways we can help more young women follow in her footsteps.”
Working Toward a More Diverse Profession
It was through his work on the board of directors for the MPS Foundation that Tabak recognized a way to help disadvantaged students seeking to be lawyers.
“We have an incredible need for minority representation in the legal profession, yet it is difficult for those from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed,” Tabak said. “The scholarship will make a little dent, we hope, in that lack of diversity.”
The need is there, agrees Judge Carl Ashley, chair of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Diversity & Inclusion Oversight Committee. “As in other states across the U.S., the State Bar of Wisconsin has been struggling with how to develop a more diverse and inclusive legal profession in Wisconsin for decades.”
“The legal profession is one of the least diverse of all the professions – and this new program is a great step forward. With this scholarship, Fred Tabak recognizes the importance of a diverse profession,” said Judge Ashley.
It is also a call to members of Wisconsin’ legal profession to take a candid look at its lack of diversity and explore ways to foster real advancement.
“We need to step up to the plate,” Tabak said.
Shana Tabak, left, poses with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and panel members in September 2019 during a conference of the American Society of International Law. Her father, Fred Tabak, initiated a scholarship, named for the justice, that helps girls from the Milwaukee public school system to become lawyers.
Honoring a Justice
A family connection with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, along with her career that removed barriers in the legal profession, inspired Tabak to name the scholarship program after her.
Tabak’s daughter, Shana Tabak, is executive director of the Atlanta office of the Tahirih Justice Center, a national organization that offers legal and social services, policy advocacy, and training and education for immigrant women and girls fleeing violence.
In September 2019, Shana chaired a discussion panel on the role of women as international, regional, and national judges, with Justice Ginsberg as a panelist. “Shana was in charge of a conference of immigration lawyers and got to introduce the justice,” Fred Tabak said. “She was thrilled.”
Thinking of Shana’s work, and with the October passing of Justice Ginsberg, Tabak was inspired to honor the justice’s legacy with the new scholarship. “Anyone working in law has such an enormous respect for this woman who broke down barriers.”
The scholarship, he says, carries forward her legacy by providing life-changing assistance for female graduates of Milwaukee Public Schools who may not otherwise be able to pursue a law degree.
“This will open the door for these students – removing a barrier that may hinder their dream of entering our profession,” Tabak said.
Carrying a Legacy Forward
Tabak, an alum of Marquette University Law School, has been practicing law for more than 40 years. He runs his firm, Tabak Law LLC, with more than 75 employees.
It’s not the first time Tabak and his family have offered scholarships to those interested in law. The MPS Foundation administers the Tabak Family Scholarship for MPS graduates who live in single-parent households and have siblings attending a Milwaukee Public School. Tabak himself is a proud alum of Riverside High School – a MPS school, and talks with fondness of his days there.
“It is an honor and a privilege to offer such scholarships,” said Tabak, who also personally mentors the recipients.
About the RBG Scholars Program
The 2021 graduates of Milwaukee public schools who are women of color are eligible to apply for these scholarships. The program provides $2,000 per year during the recipients’ undergraduate years, then $10,000 per year during law school. “The students will choose the law school,” Tabak said.
Applications will be accepted early in 2021. “We hope to choose the students by March or April for fall,” Tabak said.
The scholarship program is in its initial fundraising stage. Tabak is calling for lawyers, law firms, and other organizations to help fund this scholarship.
“Those of us who are fortunate enough to have the means to donate, should do this.” Tabak said.
For more information, contact Wendell Willis, executive director of the Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation, at (414) 874-5291.