The Prince William Human Rights Commission recently recognized several individuals and organizations for their contributions to the principles of human rights in Prince William County during a Universal Human Rights Day celebration at the McCoart Government Center.
The recipients of the 2019 Human Rights Awards are:
Phyllis Aggrey, who was the director of the county's Human Rights Commission for 18 years. She worked closely with county agencies in matters relating to human and civil rights, according to the nomination. She was instrumental in creating the Human Rights Student Leadership Council in partnership with the Prince William County Schools. Aggrey also helped the City of Charlottesville establish its own human rights commission and played a key role as an officer and member of the Virginia Association for Human Rights.
John Harper, who was the first African-American to be elected to the Prince William County School Board in 1995 where he fought for budget increases to help students. Harper was also the first African-American to serve on the Prince William County Park Authority and as the director of the Dale City Sanitary District, the precursor to the Prince William County Service Authority, and the Dale City Recreation Center with the Prince William County Government. According to the nomination, Harper worked to prove that minorities deserved the highest positions in county government. Harper, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, is a life member of the NAACP, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and the Dale City Civic Association.
The Minnieville Elementary School's Family Engagement Team, who works to understand the needs of the school's families and puts support systems in place to give those families the opportunity to be successful both inside and outside of school. Some of the opportunities the team has instituted, at no cost to families, have included English language programs for immigrant families, voter registration services, books, computers and technology resources. Additionally, the team brought together partnerships to enhance the school community, including weekend backpack snack program through Prince of Peace United Methodist Church. According to the nomination, "the Family Engagement Team at Minnieville Elementary firmly believes that a communities' differences are assets and not weaknesses."
The National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., Prince William County Chapter, The Potomac Health Foundation and Graham Park Middle School, teamed up to form a coalition to help educate African-American adolescents and adults about mental health. In 2018, the coalition received a grant from The Potomac Health Foundation for a mental health initiative that is being implemented at Graham Park Middle School. The objectives of the program, known as Responding and Protecting, or R.A.P., are to "provide mental health R.A.P sessions for middle school students" and to "educate and inform parents about the knowledge of mental health topics."
Art Jackson, pastor, speaker and teacher, was the keynote speaker at the Universal Human Rights Day event, which had the theme of "Celebrating Diversity." He said that the key to understanding and accepting diversity is to talk to each other and engage with people who are different. "If we're going to increase our competencies in human rights, in diversity, in inclusion, in being in the most diverse culture that has ever existed on the face of the earth, we've got to deal with people from all the way across the board. We have to extend to them grace until they understand."
Potomac District Supervisor and Board of County Supervisor's Vice Chair Maureen Caddigan also spoke and talked about the importance of this year's ceremony. "This is a significant anniversary in two ways. First, it has been 70 years since the United Nations declared the first Universal Human Rights Day in 1948. … The declaration has become the foundation of freedom, justice and peace … throughout the world. On a local level, we celebrate the 25-year anniversary of the county's human rights commission. It is due to the work of these local commissioners and other human rights agencies that we have made progress as a community and as a nation."
Caddigan also thanked the recipients, "Today's awards ceremony is a great way to showcase and recognize the people who have provided unique contributions to human rights in Prince William County. On behalf of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, thank you for the important contributions you have made this year. You have truly made a difference in Prince William County and beyond."
The ceremony also included the presentation of the colors by the Prince William Police and Sheriff's Office Color Guard. Faith Petit, a Colgan High School student, sang the national anthem. Sean Mikesh, a Colgan High School student, recited a poem by Langston Hughes and Victoria Cartagena, of Graham Park Middle School, played the violin. The event concluded with the reading of the Human Rights Oath.
Melvin Brown attended the event and said, "I thought it was a great turnout. I think it honored a lot of people who do great work in our community and showed a lot of partnerships that happen... I think there's been a lot of great accomplishments, so I commend the commission for all their work in highlighting those accomplishments."