Robert Ashford (honored posthumously) & Sadiatou Jallow
Robert Ashford and Sadiatou Jallow are honored for their incredible devotion to their child Binta, for their courage to fight for better health care for all families of kids with special needs, and for their amazing generosity.
Robert and Sadia were something of an unlikely couple. Robert was born in Knoxville and lived his whole life in East Tennessee. He faced many barriers as a boy and a young man, but he refused to let that dampen his light. Robert worked at the Union Carbide Y-12 Plant for many years. He was a force for goodness in the community and his church.
Sadiatou grew up on the other side of the world – literally – in Gambia. She and her immediate family came to Knoxville in 1990 with help from Alex Haley, author of Roots. Sadiatou’s daughter Binta is a direct descendent of Kunta Kinte, of Roots fame. (Binta is named after Kunta Kinte’s mother.) Binta was born with severe disabilities and needs around the clock care to keep her safe in the community.
For 24 years, Sadiatou has been a dogged advocate for her daughter’s health care. She has worked with Tennessee Justice Center to ensure Binta has the care she needs since shortly after her birth. She has been featured in state and national media, testified before courts and lawmakers, and courageously shared her family’s story to educate people and put a human face to policy issues impacting people with special needs. She has provided heartfelt advice to countless other parents. All while serving as Binta’s primary caregiver and struggling with her own health issues.
The stresses of caring for a child with special needs took a toll on Sadia’s life and relationships, and she spent many years alone caring for Binta and advocating for her. That is until she met Robert. Robert was a charmer, but his charm didn’t immediately work on Sadia, who was not ready for a relationship. She turned him down several times, but Robert eventually managed to get Sadia to go on a date.
Robert quickly became an integral part of their family. He was a rock for Sadia, helping her through many challenges and tiring days. He was beloved by Binta, for whom he served as a main caregiver. In 2017, Robert was diagnosed with cancer and went downhill quickly. He passed away in August. But Robert left a legacy gift to Tennessee Justice Center which came at a critical moment in the fight regarding the future for Medicaid in our state. Robert’s gift helped support a full staff position at TJC. Robert and Sadia’s amazing love and devotion to each other, to Binta, and to working for a state that protects the needs of children like Binta will have a long-lasting, life-changing impact.