The YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh, with its longstanding history of promoting racial and social equality, honored four individuals and an organization who, through their work, display a passion and dedication to promoting racial justice at its 24th Annual Racial Justice Awards Luncheon held Nov. 12 at the Westin Convention Center Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh.
“This is the 24th year of the Racial Justice Awards; we were the first such awards in the city. I’m very proud that the YWCA has retained their specific focus on racial justice because racial justice and social justice implies taking a step, it implies action—doing thing to move us toward the goals of diversity and inclusion,” said Magdeline Jensen, CEO of the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh.
The annual event, which featured Highmark Health’s Senior Vice President of Community Affairs Evan Frazier as the master of ceremonies, recognized 2015 honorees: Greg Spencer, chief executive director of Randall Industries LLC, with the community engagement award; Joseph Lagana, EdD, founder of the Homeless Children’s Fund with the education award; Squirrel Hill Health Center with the health award; Tracy McCants Lewis, assistant professor and assistant director of Clinical Legal Education at Duquesne University Law School with the legal award; and Oakland Catholic High School senior Kendal Nasiadka with the youth achievement award for her work with the Three Rivers Community Foundation’s Teens for Change program.
Jensen said this year’s recipients were selected because they are people “who have taken action to move us ahead, and in many cases to move us ahead quietly, to make Pittsburgh a better place and a better community for everyone living here.”
Humbled, yet somewhat shy about being acknowledged, Spencer said, “I’m called to do this stuff. It’s nice that people can see it, but I’m driven to do it. If I can in anyway, with the things I do, bring a young person along to feel that they can do it as well, then I feel good about it.”
Like Spencer, Lewis also was humbled by her honor. “It’s very humbling to receive this award because the work that I do is work that I do from my heart. As a young child I always knew I wanted to be an attorney; I wanted to do something to give back to people that look like me. I wanted to make sure there was quality and justice for all. “ She added, “I’m humbled to do the work that I do because I have received so much. To whom much is given, much is required.”
The YWCA has a longstanding history of being at the forefront of bringing equality, said Jensen, and considers this award ceremony a very important one.
“If you look at the YWCA’s logo it says, eliminating racism, empowering women.’ We’ve been in the business of empowering women here in the city since 1867, about 148 years. And the YWCA here in Pittsburgh formally integrated in 1945 and nationally in 1946. In doing that, we extended our civil rights lens from gender to everyone. I see it as part of our DNA; our logo is symbolic of our organizational change and change we’re still working on. This is our one event that really highlights the importance of that mission.”
Along with their award, this year’s honorees also received a proclamation from state Rep. Dan Frankel and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.
The program ended with words of reflection in the form of an authentic, thought-provoking monologue on racism and privilege by Tami Dixon, producing artistic director at the Bricolage Production Company.
Noted sponsors included FedEx Ground, Huntington, Highmark, UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh and Robert Morris University.
(For more information on the YWCA and it’s programming, visit www.ywcapgh.org.)
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