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NEA to honor America’s human and civil rights activists

Annual event highlights work of those with a passion for social justice

WASHINGTON - June 29, 2013 -

The National Education Association (NEA) will honor a dozen of America’s human and civil rights heroes at its annual Human and Civil Rights Awards Dinner on July 2, 2013, in Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center. In addition to drawing attention to the work of some of the nation’s leading social justice activists, the ceremony commemorates the 1966 National Education Association/American Teachers Association merger and serves as a reminder of the work still to be done to create a more equitable and humane society. 

“We honor our past and rededicate ourselves to the unfinished task of creating a just society. We owe it to the children and young people we educate. And we believe, as did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that people of conscience—acting together—can achieve justice for all,” says NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “The people we honor at NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Awards Dinner inspire us with their vision and impress us with the work they are doing to make the world a better place for all of us—especially our students.” 

Peter Brown, California (Click on the name for detailed information and photos)
NEA’s Applegate-Dorros Peace and International Understanding Award will be presented to Peter Brown, a San Diego elementary public school teacher who visited a village in the Chiapas highlands of southeast Mexico 25 years ago and dreamed about setting up a secondary school there. He worked tirelessly over the next two decades to build support and secure donations for the school, and, despite enormous political obstacles, his dream was finally realized: The school in the village of Oventic now serves more than 400 students. During those years, he served as a volunteer coordinator of Schools for Chiapas, leading more than 100 service and educational tours where visitors learn first-hand about the daily life for children in rural Mexico. A Periclean Scholar at Elon University in North Carolina, Brown speaks frequently to student and faculty groups about Chiapas and its need for autonomous, indigenous schools. He spoke at the World Social Forum in 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya, and organized an educators’ delegation, sponsored by the NEA Peace and Justice Caucus, to Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Judylynn Bailey-Mitchell, Maryland
Dr. Judylynn Bailey-Mitchell’s nonstop creative work in celebrating and teaching about African American history has earned her NEA’s Carter G. Woodson Memorial Award. Dr. Mitchell, an administrator for the Wicomico County, Maryland, Public School System, has written many poems, articles and curriculum materials on a wide range of African American historical figures, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, and women’s rights activist Mary Church Terrell. She is co-author of the “Classical Africa Activity Book” and contributed significantly to the elementary workbook, Science Anytime: African American Scientists. She has written and directed numerous plays including “Yesterday’s Women: Gone But Not Forgotten,” “Kwanzaa: A Village Reborn,” “Juneteenth,” and “The Last Mile of the Way.” The production of her “I’m All Cried Out: Peace In The Midst Of the Storm,” held at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2010, received rave reviews and raised thousands of dollars for community programs.

Blaine Kamalani Kia, Hawaii
This year’s NEA Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award will be awarded to Blaine Kamalani Kia for his dedication to preserving Hawaiian culture. As a composer, performer, producer, and director, Kia enthusiastically promotes the Hawaiian language, music and oral traditions, and inspires both children and adults to learn more about and embrace the Hawaiian culture. He has a special interest in the hula and has established hula halau (schools) all over the world, including Hawaii, California, Japan, Canada, Tahiti, and New Zealand. Kia combines a deep knowledge of Hawaiian culture with expertise in business and finance, which has allowed him to create unprecedented economic opportunities for Native Hawaiians and other indigenous groups. For all of Kia’s accomplishments as an individual, his guiding principle remains very Hawaiian: “A’ohe hana nui ke alu ‘ia”—no task is too big when done together by all.

Ernesto Nieto, Texas
Ernesto Nieto, winner of the George I. Sánchez Memorial Award, is president of the National Hispanic Institute (NHI) in Maxwell, Texas, an organization he founded to develop a new generation of Latino leaders.  His organization helps young Latino men and women see beyond the “at risk” or “disadvantaged” labels that are often used to define them and become culturally confident and competent young people who make enormous contributions to their communities. To say that Nieto and his organization have been successful would be an understatement. Since 1981, more than 75,000 youth have participated in NHI leadership programs. Some 98 percent of them enroll in college—90 percent graduate within five years—and 5 percent continue into advanced studies. One of the most telling features of the Institute is that this nonprofit is supported primarily by its participants and alumni rather than by government, corporate, or foundation funding.

Susan Anglada Bartley, Oregon
In many high schools, the number of minority or disadvantaged students who enroll in college prep courses is exceedingly low. AP English teacher Susan Anglada Bartley, who teaches at Franklin High School in Portland, Ore., decided to do something about that. She created an Advanced Placement Scholar Program, which has dramatically increased the number of poor and minority students who sign up for these classes. And through her efforts, Reed College students now tutor Franklin High students who need help. Bartley also has collaborated with Writers in the Schools to create the College Essay Mentoring Project, which pairs students with professionals to support those who need help with college admission essays. The results of her sustained efforts are impressive: all of the students who completed the AP Scholar Program have gone on to college in recent years, and the number of minority and low-income students who now go from Franklin High School to college has risen significantly. She is well deserving of the 2013 H. Councill Trenholm Memorial Award.

William Hensley, Alaska
The Leo Reano Memorial Award will be presented to William “Willie” Hensley, a man who grew up north of the Arctic Circle in a traditional Inupiat hunter-gather community with no electricity, lights, or telephones. This George Washington University graduate—now Alaska icon and visiting professor at the University of Alaska—served in both the Alaska state house and senate. Hensley helped found the Northwest Alaska Native Association and the Alaska Federation of Natives and is credited with the eventual passage by Congress of the 1971 Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act, which gave Alaska Natives 44 million acres of land and about a billion dollars. One of his passions has been preserving the Inupiat culture. He is recognized as the guiding force in the establishment of Inupiat Illitquesiat (the Inupiat Spirit and Way of Learning) programs in the villages that are carrying on the work of cultural survival and revitalization.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, North Carolina
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, of Goldsboro, N.C., is carrying on the legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and is the perfect candidate to receive this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. award. The Rev. Dr. Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church DOC, combines powerful advocacy with purposeful action. He chairs the Rebuilding Broken Places Community Development Corporation, a non-profit community development initiative that has invested more than $12 million in Goldsboro in job training, affordable childcare, afterschool tutoring, and affordable housing for low-income people. And as president of the North Carolina NAACP Conference of Branches, Barber has built a coalition of some 140 partnering organizations called HKonJ (Historical Thousands on Jones Street), which is dedicated to advancing social justice causes in the state. The HKonJ's 14-Point People’s Agenda includes a call for high quality, well-funded, constitutional, diverse schools for all children, livable wages and support for low-income people, and collective bargaining for public employees.

Sen. Geraldine F. Thompson, Florida
Geraldine Fortenberry Thompson, recently elected to the Florida Senate, has been an outspoken advocate for women and girls throughout her public career. During her seven years in the Florida House of Representatives, she sponsored many pieces of progressive legislation that included making it a criminal offense to mutilate female genitalia. She fought to use funds from the Florida lottery to help provide medical services to low-income, uninsured women who are fighting breast cancer, and she has been an outspoken proponent for every woman’s right to choose. She spent 24 years as Director of the Equal Opportunity Office at Valencia Community College, initiating a “College Reach Out Program” that enabled thousands of low-income young men and women to go to college. She has served on numerous boards of community organizations in Orlando and helped found The Wells’ Built Museum of African-American History and Culture, which includes major exhibits on the contributions of Black women and girls to Central Florida and beyond. She truly exemplifies the spirit of the Mary Hatwood Futrell Award.

Congressman Ed Pastor, Arizona
Ed Pastor, winner of the NEA President’s Award, began his career as a high school chemistry teacher in Phoenix and then brought his passion for education to a non-profit where he worked with migrant and seasonal farm workers. After earning a law degree, he was elected to the Congressional seat vacated by the late Mo Udall and with redistricting now represents the Seventh Congressional District. This hard-working leader of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has earned a 100 percent voting record on children’s issues from the Children’s Defense Fund and has helped secure federal funds for community colleges and scholarships for needy students. Rep. Pastor is a champion of the DREAM Act, which supports a pathway to citizenship for aspiring young people who were brought to the U.S. as children and raised in this country. His commitment to the DREAMers is extraordinary: His office regularly intervenes on behalf of individual DREAMers who have been arrested for being undocumented and are about to be deported.

President James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Georgia
In the more than three decades since he left the White House, Jimmy Carter has been a fearless activist for social justice and peace. Guided by his conscience rather than public opinion polls, he focuses his energies on improving the lives of the hungry, the illiterate, and the poor—as he would say, with “joyful resolve.” The enduring image of the former President, in work clothes with hammer in hand, helping build a home for low-income families has gone global. Jimmy Carter made “Habitat for Humanity” a household phrase. His Presidential Center has worked to eradicate disease in Africa, resolve conflicts in war-torn regions of the world, and support fair and open elections in countries new to democracy. In 2002, he received the Nobel Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” There is no one more deserving of the Reg Weaver Award.

Missouri National Education Association (MNEA), Missouri
The 2013 Rosena J. Willis Memorial Award will be presented to the Missouri National Education Association (MNEA) for its exemplary record of promoting equal opportunity and social justice on all fronts. For the last 17 years, MNEA has reached its own minority representation goal at the NEA Representative Assembly, and, for the past three years, at its own fall and spring Representative Assemblies as well. MNEA promotes leadership development training for all members, both at programs sponsored by NEA and at its own Women’s Leadership Training Program and Future Leaders’ Academy. This impressive state affiliate also works for equal opportunity in other arenas. MNEA has advocated for a teaching standard for cultural competency, developed productive working relationships with other groups that support social justice issues, and created a statewide educator training program for bullying prevention called No More Bullying.

Cyndi Lauper, New York
Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Cyndi Lauper deserves this year’s Virginia Uribe Award for Creative Leadership in Human Rights for so passionately promoting LGBT equality. She burst onto the music scene in the mid-1980s with her album “She’s So Unusual,” which included her smash single “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” The title track of her second album, “True Colors,” instantly became an anthem of acceptance and inspiration for the gay community, and her True Colors Tour raised money and awareness to support LGBT organizations. Her song “Above the Clouds” celebrates the memory of Matthew Shepard, a young Wyoming man beaten to death because he was gay. A member of the Matthew Shepard Foundation Board, she embodies its message of understanding and acceptance. Her Give a Damn Campaign highlights the problems that LGBT students face in school from bullying and harassment. A powerful advocate for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Lauper was at the White House in 2009 when President Barack Obama signed it into law. Her latest initiative, the Forty to None Project, helps homeless LGBT youth, and provides housing and employment help.

The annual Human and Civil Rights Awards Dinner was originally created by the American Teachers Association (ATA), which represented Black teachers in segregated schools, and when NEA and ATA merged in 1966, NEA agreed to carry on this important tradition. NEA members submit nominations for the annual awards that are reviewed by NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Committee. That committee forwards its recommendations to the NEA Executive Committee, which makes the final decisions.

Interviews with honorees are available.
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The National Education Association ( is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Sara Robertson, 202-822-7823,


NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards