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Press Release

NEA Announces Recipients of its Highest and most Prestigious Awards

NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Awards to take place July 2 in Chicago, Illinois
Published: June 8, 2022 Last Updated: June 8, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The National Education Association will honor twelve exemplary individuals and organizations with its highest and most prestigious awards, the NEA Human and Civil Rights (HCR) Awards, on July 2 at Chicago’s Sheraton Grand Chicago Riverwalk Hotel during an in-person and virtual event. The theme for this year's dinner is "Rising Strong For 55 Years of Unity Through Joy, Justice, and Excellence."

“This has been a challenging year for students, educators, and our communities across the country. Despite the ongoing global pandemic, an epidemic of gun violence, and attempts to stoke fear and divide us along race and place, these recipients of NEA’s highest honor have persevered and shown their unmatched resilience and dedication to advancing human and civil rights in America,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “We proudly celebrate their accomplishments and thank them profusely for their courage, compassion, and commitment towards the ideals of Joy, Justice, and Excellence.”

Please read more below about the recipients of the 2022 NEA HCR Awards:

Adriana Abundis, recipient of the George I. Sanchez Memorial Award

Reflecting on her time as a high school student whose first language was Spanish, Abundis remembers how, as she used Spanish less and less in school, she became increasingly reserved. Not wanting this to happen for her students and recognizing the strength in the Spanish language and Mexican American culture, she became a founding teacher and organizer for the dual-language program at Lanier High School in San Antonio, Texas. There, she emphasizes academic success, bilingualism and biliteracy, and social-cultural competence, and celebrates students for dominating two languages and two cultures. By using differentiated instruction, language support, and cultural knowledge scaffolds, Abundis supports students who previously struggled with state assessments, leading 100 percent to pass their end-of-year course tests.


David O’Connor, recipient of the Leo Reano Memorial Award
A member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe) in northern Wisconsin, O’Connor promotes the education and empowerment of all students and educators throughout Wisconsin in his role as American Indian studies consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. O’Connor strives to ensure all communities see how their histories and cultures are connected and interdependent, and he encourages educators to be long-term agents of change for empowering learners, regardless of who they are or where they live. In addition to his work in Wisconsin, where there are 12 Indigenous nations, O’Connor also supports educators nationwide through presentations with the National Indian Education Association.

Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC), recipient of the Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award
A pro-Black, pro-Indigenous, and anti-racist national organization established in 2009 and based in Los Angeles, EPIC advances social justice through culture-centered advocacy, leadership development, and research. Under the leadership of Executive Director Tavae Samuelu, EPIC promotes community solidarity and anti-racism to uplift and center all Pacific Islanders in the broader Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. EPIC has been organizing to safeguard the health and well-being of Pacific Islander communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and to demand disaggregated data for ethnic groups within the AAPI umbrella to ensure crucial access to funding and resources.

Generation Justice/”What happened on First Street?”, recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award
Youth organizers Mahllie Beck and Drake Wilson of Generation Justice organized nonviolent protests in Snohomish, Washington, to support Black Lives Matter, law enforcement reform, and educational justice. Despite the presence of armed Proud Boy counter-protesters and Confederate flags, and an assault on a nonviolent student activist, hundreds of community members showed up in support in the primarily white and rural/suburban community. Drake Wilson and Caroline Yip, two graduates of the Snohomish School District, documented the protests in their film What Happened on First Street. The protest and subsequent film resulted in changes to elected political leadership and a historic union agreement inclusive of student demands.

Jorge González, posthumous recipient of the NEA President’s Award

Jorge González was a high school Spanish teacher, coach, diversity and inclusion coordinator, husband, father, and advocate for students for 34 years. González also coordinated blood drives and trips to serve children in Latin America. Gonzalez’s advocacy for his students resulted in the creation of a diversity and inclusion coordinator position in his district, a role that González eventually took on. Sadly, on October 18, 2021, at the age of 56, González died from a breakthrough case of COVID-19. In addition to his various community roles, he was a strong unionist and advocate for teachers and students, serving on the board of the Ohio Education Association.


OutNebraska, recipient of the Virginia Uribe Memorial Award for Creative Leadership in Human Rights

A statewide advocacy, lobbying, and community organization, OutNebraska works to secure fairness and equality for LGBTQ+ Nebraskans and their families. OutNebraska was launched 10 years ago by the Equality Federation and formed from OutLinc in Lincoln, Nebraska. Under the leadership of Executive Director Abbi Swatsworth, OutNebraska concentrates on advocacy, education, and celebration. OutNebraska has lobbied for the passage of a state law protecting LGBTQ+ people from employment and housing discrimination, and worked with Lincoln’s city council to pass Nebraska’s first municipal ban on conversion therapy for minors—protecting youth from this dangerous and discredited practice.


Piñeros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), recipient of the César Chávez Acción y Compromiso Human and Civil Rights Award

PCUN organizes farmworkers in Oregon for collective bargaining rights and helps farm workers who qualify for amnesty apply for legal residency. When a farm retaliated against farmworkers who participated in a 1991 strike in Oregon, PCUN led a 10-year boycott of the largest fruit and vegetable processor west of the Mississippi River, resulting in the processor breaking ties with that farm and engaging in negotiations with PCUN. Today, they continue advocating for safe, just, and equitable working conditions, including establishing guaranteed paid rest breaks, outlawing harmful pesticides, creating standards for safe outdoor working conditions, and increasing the minimum wage. This vital work has amplified the needs of farmworkers and Latinx working families during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Project CURE, recipient of the Rosa Parks Memorial Award

What started as a Brooklyn-based collective after New York’s Crown Heights race riots in 1991 has become a worldwide effort to “Increase the Peace!” Today, Project CURE continues to inspire peaceful solutions to racism and intolerance. For about six months since the worldwide protests began after the murder of George Floyd, Project CURE was invited to give virtual talks each week about empowering community members to take positive steps together to improve relations. Their band continues to be the featured act at the annual One Crown Heights concert in Brooklyn, while their work continues to serve as a beacon of light.


Sarah “Mili” Milianta-Laffin, recipient of the Mary Hatwood Futrell Human and Civil Rights Award

Sarah Milianta-Laffin of Hawaii set out to become a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teacher to help increase the number of girls and students of color in these classes. As a first-year teacher in 2017, about 75 percent of her students in her science and computer science were boys. Through networking with local elementary schools, attending career day presentations, and bringing students to speak at school board meetings, now almost 50 percent of her students are girls. Her work on gender equity in STEM goes beyond the classroom, as Milianta-Laffin worked to create a free Menstruation Station in her school that guarantees her students’ access to period products. Following the success of this program, Milianta-Laffin and her students went to the state house and fought to get free period products in schools across Hawaii.


Turquoise LeJeune Parker, recipient of the Reg Weaver Human and Civil Rights Award

It’s the rare Costco customer who spends $103,079.70 in a single trip. However, that’s exactly how much Turquoise LeJeune Parker spent at Costco in December 2021, and every cent went towards food for Durham Public Schools students for their winter holiday. What began as a small project to help feed Parker’s classroom students in 2015, the Bull City Foodraiser today serves over 5,000 Durham students who receive free or reduced-price lunch. Additionally, Parker partners with local nonprofits like Book Harvest to ensure her students have access to literature, and takes her students on trips to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.


United Faculty of Florida (UFF-UF), recipient of the Rosena J. Willis Memorial Local Affiliate Award

In 1968, the United Faculty of Florida (UFF-UF), which represents Florida’s college and university faculty, was established to protect academic freedom, defend civil liberties, and end racial discrimination at the University of Florida. Since then, it remains a vigorous and effective agent for academic freedom and faculty rights across the state. Recently, UF administrators prohibited three union members from testifying about a new voter restriction law in a lawsuit against the State of Florida. In response to this violation of freedom of speech and academic freedom,,UFF members organized and demanded the university reverse its decision, which it did.


Valerie Bolling, recipient of the H. Councill Trenholm Memorial Award

Over the course of her nearly three-decade teaching career, Valerie Bolling of Greenwich, Connecticut, went beyond the classroom to champion representation and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Even as culture wars roil the nation, Bolling remains steadfast in her commitment to celebrate the voices and agency of all students in her community. She currently serves as an instructional coach for the Greenwich School District and, after combing through libraries for books that accurately reflected her and her students, she authored several children’s books championing representation.


About the NEA HCR Awards

The merger of the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Teachers Association (ATA) in 1966 produced the annual NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards. ATA, which represented Black teachers in segregated schools, traditionally honored leaders in the justice and civil rights movement annually. Since the merger, NEA has recognized and honored educators, individuals, community partners, and organizations that are advancing the mantle for human and civil rights.

Follow the conversation on Twitter: #EdJustice #NEAHCRAwards @NEAMedia.




National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.