In a recent virtual celebration, the Prince William County Human Rights Commission recognized a group of individuals and organizations for their contributions to human rights in the County.
"Today's award recipients and so many more in our community became agents of creative change in meeting the needs of our residents, and for that I say, thank you," said Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair Ann B. Wheeler. "I thank each of today's award recipients for treating Prince William County as a family and standing up for human rights in various ways for different communities. Congratulations to each of this year's winners for their courage and selflessness. It made a difference in people's lives and I am truly, truly grateful."
Those honored showed that fighting for racial and economic justice, establishing equal opportunity, protecting the right to vote and furthering democratic values can be a successful, local fight. "Every year the Human Rights Commission recognizes members of the community for their dedication in ensuring diversity and equal opportunity for all residents of our County," Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-11th, said at the celebration. "In recognition of those efforts, I've entered a statement into the Congressional record honoring your service to the community, and each recipient will receive a copy."
Connolly also told people to keep up their good work. "I encourage you to be steadfast in your role to support the Human Rights Commission."
Keynote Speaker Mona Siddiqui, the deputy chief diversity officer and senior policy advisor for the Virginia Office of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, told those in attendance that 2020 had been a hard year, but that people could help each other. "I think today, celebrating people and organizations that have zealously advocated for principles of human rights during one of the most trying years of our lives is truly a beacon of hope that is pushing us forward, because this past year has been like no other. We have witnessed a lot of suffering during the COVID crisis and will continue to do so. We've seen the disproportionate impact that this crisis is having, particularly in communities of color, immigrant communities, the elderly and those who are under economic distress. We're navigating uncharted territory and trying to adjust and make sense of it all. What we're doing is looking for the 'helpers' in the words of Mr. Rogers, and we also 'make good trouble' in the words of John Lewis."
Still, Siddiqui said the award recipients' work gives reason for optimism. "Today we have the honor of being in the company of many of those helpers and many who have made good trouble. We have honorees among us who have been continuously serving our most vulnerable communities in Prince William facing the impacts of the worst health epidemic of our lifetime. All the commissioners, honorees and elected leaders here today have reckoned with the unprecedented challenges by seeking out opportunities to serve our communities. This is what gives us hope."
Award recipients include:
- Aaron Tolson, who led the Prince William Community Feeding Task Force and coordinated the efforts of Action in the Community Through Service (ACTS), Prince William County, the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park and the Prince William County Community Foundation in getting food to people in need during the pandemic.
- Helen Zurita, who provided food to the most vulnerable in the community since the onset of COVID-19.
- Lisa Shea, of Immigrants First, PLLC, who started a humanitarian effort to respond to the needs of immigrants facing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention and removal in Prince William County.
- Lisa Ulrich and Jerome Hughes, who are advocates for people with mental illness, substance abuse issues and those experiencing homelessness, have helped people across Northern Virginia, including Prince William County.
- Masks for Humanity, a group of 200 local people, who contributed to the wellbeing of residents in the community, by sewing and giving away more than 30,000 cloth masks during the pandemic.
- MurLarkey Distilled Spirits, who contributed to the health and safety of the community by distributing free hand sanitizer to businesses and individuals when none was available through conventional outlets.
- Top Ladies of Distinction Inc. Dale City-Prince William Chapter, who collected books to start the Eagles Express Bookmobile and collected hundreds of new hats and gloves for students.
Human Rights Commission Executive Director Raul Torres thanked all the recipients and spoke of hope for the coming year. "The year 2020 has been a difficult and disruptive year. We have lived in fear and have seen many people suffer and even die. The year 2021 has started with another malady. Hate, division and violence returned to our society pitting one American against another. Notwithstanding, there is a common denominator in all of us—our humanity. Because we're humans, we're capable of rising to the occasion with love, generosity and hope."