- NEA honored 10 outstanding social justice champions at its Human and Civil Rights Awards ceremony on July 2, in Orlando.
- For the past 56 years, the awards program has acknowledged progress in the movement toward justice nationwide and celebrated people and organizations who have positively impacted students of color.
NEA honored ten exemplary individuals and organizations with its highest and most prestigious awards, the NEA Human and Civil Rights (HCR) Awards, on July 2, in Orlando, Fla. The theme of the 56th annual NEA HCR Awards Dinner was Speaking the Truth, Standing our Power, a fitting tribute to this year’s winners who collectively represent the power of their truths and are using their experiences and activism to make meaningful changes in their schools and communities.
The HCR Awards are inextricably connected to the 1966 merger of the NEA and the American Teachers Association (ATA), which represented Black teachers in segregated schools in the South. ATA traditionally honored leaders in the justice and civil rights movement at an annual awards dinner. This inspirational program was necessary to acknowledge progress in the movement towards justice nationwide, and to uplift positive impacts on the education of students of color.
“The recipients of NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Awards are standing in truth, using their collective power to protect our students, families, and communities, and defending our democracy,” said NEA President Becky Pringle.
“By speaking the truth and standing in their power, they are fighting for what we know is right," she added. "Creating a racially and socially just, safe, and equitable public education is a pillar of our democracy. They are demanding truth, literacy, and justice for every student no matter their gender, ZIP code, or race. They are standing fearlessly against politicians who are censoring the truth of our history, restricting our freedoms, and erasing our members, students, and their families. Holding strong to the truth, they will continue to advance human and civil rights in America.”
Brokering affordable childcare
Santa Fe is one of the most expensive cities in the state of New Mexico. Housing and childcare costs can be staggering, making it hard for educators to live in the community where they work. But thanks to the advocacy efforts of Grace Mayer, the district recently opened its first high-quality, affordable daycare center for educators. It’s a first of a kind in the state.
“I saw my sisters struggle with having children and having a full-time job,” shared Mayer, in a video presented at the HCR awards ceremony. “As soon as [my sisters and a lot of my colleagues] had children, they were like: ‘I want to come back but I don't think I can,’ and so they decided to wait until their children were 8, 10, 12 [years old before returning to the classroom], and that's a huge loss to our profession.”
Forty teachers and education support professionals now benefit from the center, which enables them to have a safe place for their children during work hours; reduces the need to find childcare far from their workplaces; and mitigates the high cost of raising a family in the city.
“The field of education is predominantly women, and so we have to acknowledge what their life paths are,” said Mayer. “Child rearing is a big part of that. You shouldn't pay half of your salary to raise your children, especially when you're taking care of the community’s children.”
For this work and more, Mayer was honored with the Mary Hatwood Futrell Award, which represents strong activism in women’s rights that significantly impact education and the achievement of equal opportunity for women and girls.
Preserving history and setting the record straight
As a child, Alex Red Corn knew he was Osage but he also looked White and was blonde, which was “confusing,” he shared in the documentary film "A Walk in My Shoes." Throughout his life, however, Red Corn explored his heritage and found connections to enrich his understanding of his tribal identity. His passion for preserving the history of his people grew, and his desire to affect change led to his work as an activist, advocate, and university educator in Kansas.
His work includes organizing students, colleagues, and community members to establish a growing Indigenous Peoples Day event. He has testified to the Kansas legislature to dispel myths and historical inaccuracies about the American Indian community and has sought to change “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples Day” through state legislation. Additionally, he presented to the Kansas State Board of Education on the harmful use of Native mascots. This work resulted in the board’s vote to make a “strong recommendation” that school districts in Kansas retire the use of American Indian mascots and imagery. He also has made it clear that these steps are only the first that need to be taken to ensure equity for Native students across Kansas and nationwide.
Red Corn is the recipient of the Wilma Mankiller Memorial Award, which honors activists who fight for the rights of American Indian/Alaska Native People.
Powered by her own history
Arlene Inouye has been driven to transform public education and the union into a force for societal change and as catalysts in the movement for racial, educational, and social justice.
Inouye has long reflected on the trauma her family experienced as a result of being incarcerated in World War II internment camps and how that experience relates to the systemic racism that we see today in this country. To disrupt systemic racism, she is currently collaborating with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center on the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Multimedia Textbook project and is a strong advocate of ethnic studies programs.
As a bilingual speech and language specialist and secretary of United Teachers Los Angeles, Inouye works hard to uplift AAPI voices in her work. A member of the NEA Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus, she has encouraged and empowered many of its members to become union leaders in various capacities.
Inouye’s work embodies the spirit of the first AAPI NASA scientist Ellison S. Onizuka, who died aboard the Challenger space shuttle in 1986. He often visited public schools to encourage youth to work hard to achieve their dreams.
Sparking self-determination and cultural understanding in youth
A Suncoast Community High School math teacher in Riviera Beach, Fla., and a track coach at Keiser University, Cartier Scott is described as a life changer and as someone who does everything well and with love, honor, and pride. He is also considered to have the “it” factor for his relatability and unique ability to inspire students to be their best authentic selves.
As an educator, coach, and mentor, he follows the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by positively impacting the educational and social life of the students he serves. He specializes in sparking self-determination in youth, and helps boys from his non-profit organization, Connect to Greatness, understand their cultural heritage and how to be great at anything they want to accomplish. And this is one of the many reasons why Scott was the recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award.
Championing LGBTQ+ rights
As a Wyoming Education Association Safe and Just Schools cadre member, Dirk Andrews advocates for a better world for the LGBTQ+ community in Wyoming and across the country. He facilitates a frequently requested session on LGBTQ+ rights in education, designed to help eliminate discriminatory and abusive behavior toward LGBTQ+ people. Plus, he assists NEA members, school leaders, and community members develop programs that help defend students’ rights and make them feel welcome and seen at their schools in Wyoming.
During his trainings, Andrews openly shares his own personal story of growing up gay in Wyoming schools, cultivating a powerful, yet safe environment for growth and listening where appreciation for diversity with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity is promoted. For his work and commitment to the LGBTQ+ community, Andrews earned the Virginia Uribe Memorial Award for Creative Leadership in Human Rights Award.
Empowering workers and their families
Jeanette Arellano is an educator, artist, organizer, and activist, and she uses her talents to organize groups across racial and ethnic backgrounds to support and empower workers and their families. Arellano serves as art educator at Hayes Bilingual School in Milwaukee, Wis., and is a leader within the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association.
As a steadfast activist who combines labor relations techniques, grassroots organizing, and art builds, she helps to improve working conditions for the working class and immigrant workers. In her work with Voces de la Frontera, a local immigrants’ rights organization, she leads art builds and tutors community members in English proficiency and literacy and for the United States citizenship exam. For her work, Arellano is the recipient of the César Chávez Acción y Compromiso Human and Civil Rights Award.
Leading students and community to learn more about Black history
Derron C. Cook began volunteering in his community at a young age and has continued his passion for attempting to correct all injustices. Today, he is an art and media educator, local association president, and Black history enthusiast in St. John the Baptist Parish, La., where he leads student and community talks in the search and knowledge of Black history.
Described as a griot, people often seek out Cook’s expertise to recall local Black history that he has captured from the elders of his community. He continues to explore and understand the past practices of African Americans in the South and globally. In doing so and seeing a need for continued education in African American studies in the community, Cook founded the Revolt 1811 Museum, which includes re-enactment photos of the 1811 Slave Rebellion that began on the grounds of the Woodland Plantation in LaPlace.
Cook continues the legacy of Carter G. Woodson, a scholar and historian known as the father of Black history.
Driving change through social justice and political action
A retired educator and current Nebraska farmer, Arthur Tanderup is known as a pipeline fighter, water protector, Ponca corn planter, solar booster, tractor crop artist, and Washington Monument reflecting pool-wader; building bridges and leading coalitions for environmental justice, human and civil rights, and racial and social justice.
Since 2014, he has worked with members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota have been fighting the proposed extension of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.
Tanderup is known for bringing different groups together to join the cause—whether that be legislators, community leaders, activists, or the school community. He uses his unique talents as an educator and farmer to both teach about human and civil rights causes and make them practical.
In 2021, as part of a grassroots campaign to inspire voter participation in the 2021 U.S. Senate runoff election in Georgia, Art drove the tractor that etched a 40-acre portrait of John Lewis across Georgia farmland. The crop art was displayed before the state’s closely watched election and honored the late civil rights icon. The farm sits on the original tribal lands of the Muscogee Creek Nation.
He continues to touch the lives of many as an NEA-Retired member who are dedicated to advancing equitable and quality public education and advocating for human, civil, and economic rights for all and across racial groups. And for this (and more!), Tanderup was honored with the H. Councill Trenholm Memorial Award.