About the Awardees
The Paul Robeson Social Justice Award
Educator, activist, trainer, and visionary, George Lakey has been inspiring grassroots activists for more than four decades. Since his first arrest during the U.S. civil rights movement, he’s trained thousands of people in the principles of non-violent direct action – including Burmese guerilla soldiers, anarchists in London, lesbian and gay activists in Moscow, Mohawks near Montreal, African National Congress members in Johannesburg, anti-poverty activists in Toronto and others. Deeply committed to building social movements that reflect the world we envision, he’s also trained countless activists to confront racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, classism and other forms of oppression.
The Polly Brimley Outstanding Volunteerism Award
Willie Baptist has been an educator in poor people’s movements for over 25 years. A member of the Executive Board of the National Welfare Rights Union for a decade, he is currently Education Director of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU). He’s worked with KWRU to educate and support poor people as leaders of activist movements, developing materials and leading countless educational and leadership development programs, including the ‘University of the Poor,’ a program that provides strategy training for poor people’s groups. Started in 1999 as a project of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, this university without walls addresses topics such as internet empowerment, theology, labor issues, and the media, and features a cyber-school (www.universityofthepoor.org).
Willie has also played a primary role in developing a method used increasingly in struggles carried out by the poor, called “teaching while we fight.” This involves disseminating lessons through active campaigns including the takeovers of abandoned houses; organizing rallies, protests, and civil disobedience during marches; and day-to-day activities at welfare offices, labor pools, check cashing sites, and health clinics. The phenomenal growth of the Poor People’s movement in recent years is a direct result of his commitment to educating leaders from among the ranks of the poor.
Grantmaking for a Greater Philadelphia Award
Incorporated in 1935, the Samuel S. Fels Fund was established as a vehicle to support activities that “improve human daily life.” Since then, the Fels Fund has distributed millions of dollars to organizations working in the Arts and Humanities, Education, Community Programs and Health, leaving an indelible mark on the quality of life in Philadelphia. In the area of education, this has resulted in support for literacy, curriculum development, youth empowerment, advocacy and more. The Fund is highly regarded by local non-profits for its willingness to support to new and often unconventional projects, and for the invaluable role it’s taken in convening grantees around different issues. When we asked a longtime public school advocate to speak about Fels, he said, “They’ve shown a passionate commitment to furthering quality public education in Philadelphia and understand the essential role independent advocacy groups have to play in improving public schools.”
Community Empowerment Awards
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook is an independent voice for school reform. Founded in 1994 by a group of parents, teachers, students, and community activists who saw the need for a forum for discussion and debate, the Notebook pursues its dual mission of promoting informed public involvement in the Philadelphia public schools and contributing to the development of a strong movement for progressive educational change by consistently articulating a clear analysis of alternative reform strategies.
In addition to providing a forum for debate and discussion about privatization, the Notebook has shared its research with activist organizations (including awardee PUSPS) and created pressure for the mainstream press to cover new dimensions of the struggle over the future of our public schools.
Philadelphians United in Support of Public Schools (PUSPS) is a broad coalition of public education stakeholders and advocates that is united around a core belief that the current system of public education is inadequate and the privatization of our school is not an acceptable solution to improving the situation. These 30+ organizations, including groups representing teachers, students, parents and labor, have fought to ensure that the future of the Philadelphia school system is not decided in executive session. Through a combination of political education, direct action, media savvy and advocacy, this group has used the skills of its membership to keep the debate about the fate of our public schools public. The coalition has done a masterful job of creating public skepticism about the appropriateness of Edison and other private companies in public education, resulting in a substantially reduced role for these companies. Simultaneously, it has kept the issues of educational quality and equality in the public eye. We honor the coalition today for holding on to this vision in the face of well-organized and well-funded opposition.