About the Author: Tamara S. Hamilton
“Living the Dream of Success” is the premiere keynote address that NEA Mid-Atlantic Regional Director Tamara Smiley Hamilton has given to audiences ranging from middle school students, to federal employees, and to women seeking non-traditional careers. Her mantra in life is to accentuate the positive. Tamara learned both lessons from her parents and community as a young girl growing up in South Central Los Angeles and witnessing the power of making positive choices. At thirteen, when she stood on her back porch steps and watched the night sky burst into violent shades of red and orange as Watts and all of its rebellion unfolded before her eyes, she knew she had to make a positive choice to make a difference in her life.
She has made a positive difference during her ten years at the NEA. The charge she received when she began working at NEA in 1995 as an Organizational Specialist in the Training and Organization Development division was to develop new training programs. She led the development of the KEYS field-based program, Effective Facilitation Skills, Mediation for Better Schools, Dispute Resolution Systems, Peer Assistance and Peer Assistance Review, and Organization Development for Board Members. Tamara was the lead developer and writer for NEA’s highly successful UniServ Pre-Employment Development Program.
Tamara has built an awesome reputation as one of the most skilled facilitators and group process consultants at NEA. She specializes in facilitating groups grappling with tough and complex issues. She came to national prominence among NEA’s governance and executive staff when she designed and facilitated the historic 1999 NCSEA/NEA Partnership Meeting in Chicago. Described as the most important meeting since the NEA Constitutional Convention by former NEA CEO Don Cameron, the Chicago meeting is still referred to as one of the sea change meetings for NEA and its affiliates.
In 2000, when she was became the manager of the Training and Organization Development unit, Tamara brought progressive programs and learning systems to NEA. She pioneered the unit’s venture into e-learning and initiated the practice of trainers submitting materials electronically to facilitate the development of a cyber library of training materials online.
When she became the Northeast Regional Director in 2002, her goal was to form a dynamic bridge between the NEA and the region. In 2003, she initiated the Mohonk Summit on Great Public Schools in the Northeast Region. She has begun to form a clearinghouse of information to bring innovative resources to the region. The relationship she has built in the region has benefited NEA and its efforts to meet the needs of affiliates in the region.
As the Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, she conducts sessions on board development, designs interventions to mediate conflicts between boards and staff, conducts UniServ Program reviews and provides executive coaching to state presidents and executive directors. Tamara serves as a resource to affiliates on a multitude of issues impacting state affiliates. In one affiliate, she serves as a resource during merger negotiations.
Tamara’s career as a facilitator and organization development specialist has spanned 25 years. After proudly graduating from the Los Angeles Public School System, she began her career training at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California. She received her Master of Arts degree in Communications Management with a specialization in organizations. During that time, she completed a paid internship at KNBC-TV and at KCET, a PBS station. Upon completion of the degree program, she enrolled in the doctoral program in Higher Education at the Claremont Graduate University. When she moved to Germany in the middle of the program, she completed her coursework in the Sociology of Education by conducting research on the socialization of African American students in German schools and communities. Moving to Germany meant resigning from her dream job at Occidental College as an Assistant Dean of Students.
As a risk taker, Tamara lived in Germany from 1985-1991. Living in the small German village of Kindsbach (population 3500), she had to learn the language and conduct all matters related to her family on the German economy. She enrolled her son, Tau (then three years old) in the German kindergarten where he was the only American child. In six months, he spoke German fluently was and the interpreter on the neighborhood playground for American and German children. Tamara received the foundation of her association training experiences as a member of the Overseas Education Association.
During her seven years in Germany, Tamara taught middle school English and Social Studies during the day and college courses for the University of Maryland and the City Colleges of Chicago. Her most significant course was Managerial Communication Skills to military officers. She also taught English Composition and intensive weekend seminars on Library Research Skills. She also taught some of the early distant learning classes in Composition Skills. The Germany Chapter of the NAACP recognized her talents by awarding her a Lifetime Achievement Award for educational leadership.
When Tamara left Germany, she entered the NEA Affirmative Action UniServ Program for Women and Minorities. The training received in negotiations, organization development, organizing, and political action prepared her to work as a UniServ Director for the Washoe County Teachers Association in Reno, Nevada. While in Nevada, the National Judicial College—the professional development provider for sitting judges—asked her to train judges in facilitation skills.
During a one year assignment as the Director of the Educational Equity Research Center, Tamara traveled in a nine passenger van with female ex-gang members from Job Corps. The girls were sharing their skills in painting, carpentry, electricity, and refrigeration with women from rural areas who were single mothers seeking non-traditional careers. She also received grants from the University of Nevada to coordinate Expanding Your Horizons—a non-traditional career development program for teenage girls. She also conducted workshops on sexual harassment and Title IX compliance.
Tamara believes that every professional opportunity she has ever had is due to her fearless approach to difficult situations. Perhaps that’s because she was a volunteer instructor at the California Institute for Men at Chino. Two nights a week during her senior year at Scripps College—the women’s college—she taught courses in creative and Black Studies to inmates ranging from 18 to 80.
Tamara also developed her tenacious spirit as a participant in the Experiment in International Living. For three months, she lived in Ghana dividing her time between a work project at the Women’s Training Institute, attending seminars at the University of Ghana, and living with a Ghanaian family. During that time she traveled throughout the entire country studying African textiles and symbolism.
Currently, Tamara is completing her doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Organization Behavior. Her research centers on Change, Transition and Mentoring. Some of the essays she has written are: “The Organizational Underbelly: Surviving Conflict at Work,” “Pathways to Leadership for African American Women,” and “Success Factors for Women in Organizations.” Tamara also writes young adult fiction and poetry.
To keep balance in her life, Tamara uses knitting to continue to connect to teenage girls. She is the resident fiber artist at the Reston Teen Center where she teaches occasional workshops in knitting, crochet and quilting. Her friends and family have enjoyed her creative writing skills and she provides Spoken Word for small audiences at NEA meetings and at coffee houses in the DC area. With a friend who plays violin, they have formed an ensemble called Elegant Occasion. In June, they performed an original poem written for the wedding of NEA staff member, Mary Canty!
Tamara is the mother of three sons (Tau, Maso, and Mikhail—ranging in age from 14 to 23). She has been married to Robert Hamilton for 28 years.
About the Illustrator: E.J. Hobson
Lots of people are asking this question after seeing the cover of Soul Quake, written by Tamara Smiley Hamilton and illustrated by E.J. Hobson. The art literally jumps into your heart-hence, E.J.’s Art from the Heart. His pen and ink drawings are simply captivating. Like viewing the Mona Lisa, eyes fixate on the images wondering: “How did he do that?” E.J. has a gift. Through the publication of Soul Quake, the world will now get a glimpse of this magnificent talent. But here is a little bit about the artist that everyone is asking about once they open the pages of Soul Quake and feast on several of his drawings–each more captivating than the one preceding it.
E.J. Hobson is a rare genius of our time. For thirty years he was an auto plant assemblyman always working the graveyard shift. When he would get off work, he’d draw and draw and draw. In Viet Nam, he earned extra cash by taking the small wallet size photos that servicemen carried with them into battle and reconstructing a mirror image through pen and ink. A graduate of Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, E.J. studied commercial art at various college campuses.
E.J.’s art blesses the homes of many famous and everyday people, including Muhammed Ali. He saw a drawing of himself and became a fan of E.J. E.J. and his wife Paulette reside in Shreveport, LA.
The Artist and the Author
Tamara met E.J. in 1977 when his best friend and Viet Nam buddy, Robert Hamilton, brought her to E.J.’s house to introduce his new girlfriend to his best friend and his lady. E.J., Paulette (Gem), Robert and Tamara bonded instantly. There was magic in the air that still surrounds them today. As children were born, they, too, became friends and visits to each other’s homes were always filled with non-stop laughter, deep conversations that went late in the night and lots of dreaming about combining the art and the poetry. It’s been a long time coming but the time is now.
“For every time there is a season..”
This is the season for E.J. and Tamara to usher in a new vision of beauty.