Each year, Leadership Greater Hartford, one of the most successful community leadership organizations in the country, recognizes several individuals with the Polaris Award, named for the North Star that lights the way for others to follow.
Among the three 2015 honorees is current Goodwin College Human Services student James Tillman.
Wrongly imprisoned for more than 18 years, Tillman made a conscious decision not to let circumstance destroy his inner sense of self. Embracing love and forgiveness as a way of life, he sought out ways to be of service to others. “I learned that you can take everything away from me,” he says, “but you can’t take away my smile, you can’t take away my love of life, and you can’t take away how much I love to encourage others to be the best they can be.”
Ultimately, Tillman was cleared of the conviction. He looked to education as a way of returning to the outside world and learned about the Human Services program at Goodwin College.
In June 2015, Tillman was selected as a student Commencement speaker when he received his associate degree in Human Services. His speech, delivered six years to the day of his release, was published in its entirety in the Hartford Courant, which brought him to the attention of the Polaris Awards nominating committee.
Along with fellow recipients Galo Rodriguez, president and CEO of The Village for Families and Children, and Alice Pritchard, executive director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, Tillman was celebrated at a gala at UConn’s Rentschler Field on October 14. Several hundred community leaders watched a video profile on Tillman’s imprisonment, his exoneration thanks to the efforts of The Connecticut Innocence Project, the publishing of his book, The Power of Conviction, and his life at Goodwin College, where he is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Human Services.
In addition to continuing his studies at Goodwin, Tillman has received the Ted Carroll Scholarship so that he can participate in Leadership Greater Hartford’s yearlong Quest program, which brings leaders and advocates together to address needs in the community. “I look forward to continuing to learn in my Human Services program at Goodwin,” he said as he accepted his Polaris Award, “and to trying as hard as I can to develop my leadership skills through the Quest program. I have dedicated my life to learning, growing, giving back to the community, and making a difference in the lives of others.”
The Goodwin College community is proud to celebrate this moment with James.