Our struggles of today are only possible because of the brave and courageous dreamers and fighters who came before us. In schools, neighborhoods and communities across America, these heroes of justice worked tirelessly to bend the moral arc of the universe, lend a voice to the voiceless and fight for the forgotten.
In this vein, the nation’s educators are honoring 12 inspiring social justice champions today at the NEA Representative Assembly in Houston with the 2019 NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards. From the front lines of the Freedom Summer and the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike to behind bars in California’s prison system, these honorees are unwavering champions of students, educators, working people and unionism.
“The 2019 Human and Civil Rights Award honorees, like California’s Eddy Zheng, dream big, fight hard and inspire all of us to do the same,” says CTA President E. Toby Boyd. “Their stories and struggles in lighting the way for those left behind energize our fight for justice in schools across California and throughout the United States.”
Since 1967, the NEA has recognized and honored everyday heroes who have fought—and continue to fight—for human and civil rights across the country. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García says this year’s recipients are social justice champions, forging paths for opportunities for every student in every school no matter their ZIP code, and standing up against injustices everywhere
“We proudly honor their contributions and sacrifices,” she says. “By embodying what is right and just about the world in which we live, they motivate us to purposeful and principled action.”
Zheng will receive the NEA Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award for his dedication to the redemptive and transformative powers of education. Born in China and arriving in the United States at age 12, Zheng spent 20 years in prison. Since his release, he has devoted his time to working with San Francisco-area youths, mentoring them on the importance of an education, honoring their roots, and raising awareness about the impact of criminalization and deportation within the Asian American Pacific Islander community. Because of his work as a recognized advocate for prison reform and youth violence prevention, Zheng is also the subject of an award-winning documentary, “Breathin.’”
The other 2019 Human and Civil Rights Awardees:
- Civil rights activist and attorney Dr. Charles Prickett will receive the NEA Carter G. Woodson Memorial Award in recognition of a life dedicated to the service of others.
- Baxter Leach and the surviving members of the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike will receive the César Chavez Acción y Compromiso Human and Civil Rights Award for their historic and courageous battle for the dignity of workers.
- Bilingual teacher and founder of Madre Latina Foundation Luanelly Iglesias will receive the NEA George I. Sánchez Memorial Award for her decades spent improving the lives of Hispanic students.
- For a lifetime spent in advocacy for students and public education as well as strong unionism, NEA will recognize the late Dolores McCracken with its H. Councill Trenholm Memorial Award.
- Veteran educators Rick and Lorie Erickson will receive the NEA Leo Reano Memorial Award for their tireless efforts to enrich the lives of children in the Native community.
- OneAmerica with Justice for All will receive the NEA Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Award for its work toward a peaceful world where every person’s human rights and dignity are respected.
- Dr. Mia Williams will receive the NEA Mary Hatwood Futrell Human and Civil Rights Award for her work as a school and institutional leader to make sure girls and young women are learning in an educational system that values their voice at the highest levels.
- Educator and founder of Parents2Partners.org Leila Kubesch will receive the NEA Reg Weaver Human and Civil Rights Award for guiding children to change their lives and their communities.
- The Missouri National Education Association will receive the NEA Rosena J. Willis Memorial Award for its mission “to serve as the united voice to promote, advance, and protect public education and to advocate for the rights and interests of students and its members.”
- The Wisconsin-based GSAFE will receive the NEA Virginia Uribe Award for Creative Leadership in Human Rights for its work to create just schools for LGBTQ+ youth.
- Wisconsin State Senator Tim Cullen will receive the NEA President’s Award for his commitment to increasing diversity in the classroom, dedication to quality public education, and lifetime of public service in shaping Wisconsin’s public school system.