Hugs, smiles, and words of congratulations filled the room of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Oct. 18 as more than 100 friends and supporters gathered to honor winners of the Berger-Marks Foundation’s 2011 Edna Award for Social Justice. The joyous, high-energy celebration focused attention on the outstanding accomplishments of young women who are fueling social change in the U.S. and around the world.
The top Edna Award winner, Ana Maria Archila, is Co-Director of Make the Road New York (MRNY), a dynamic , 9,000-member community organization to empower and bring economic justice to immigrants and low-income working families in New York City. Archila noted that women have been leading the fight for justice for many years, and this award recognizes their important role.
Hope for the future…
A number of participants commented enthusiastically about the accomplishments of such relatively young women, and how hopeful they feel about the future with leadership in the hands of these activists.
“They are building on achievements of the past and taking social justice to the next level,” a union veteran observed.
As Foundation Chair Louise D. Walsh put it, “Supporters and advocates of social justice – here in the U.S. and abroad – should be immensely heartened and optimistic about a brighter future with this generation of strong young women leaders taking charge.”
More than 400 young women were nominated
The Foundation received more than 400 nominations for the award from all over the U.S., Canada, and other countries. The award is named for Edna Berger, first woman organizer for The Newspaper Guild and a long-time social justice activist.
The competition was open to women age 35 or under who are leaders in fueling social change. The winner and three nominees “Of Note” were selected by Award judges from finalists identified by Berger-Marks trustees.
“The range of activities of the applicants to further social justice was remarkable – from union organizers and leaders, programs to end inner-city violence, and immigrant rights advocacy, to fundraising to help African children orphaned by AIDS,” Foundation President Linda Foley commented.
The Edna Award follows up on the findings of an “intergenerational dialog” among young and veteran leaders of the labor and progressive movements, which the Foundation set in motion last year. That helped convince Berger-Marks trustees that they needed to recognize and salute young women who devote their time, energy, and creativity to building a more just and secure world for working families.
Archila immigrated to the United States from Colombia, South America, when she was 17 years old. Inspired by her own struggle to adapt to an unfamiliar culture, she serves Latino immigrants and other low-income working families in some of New York City’s poorest communities as Co-Director of Make the Road New York.
After learning English and graduating from college, Archila had joined the staff of the Latin American Integration Center (LAIC), an organization founded by her mother to help immigrant communities cope with a variety of legal and economic issues. When she helped two teenage boys recover their illegally withheld wages, she realized the only difference between her situation and theirs was her citizenship.
She directed Latin American Integration Center at age 25
After becoming LAIC’s executive director, in 2007 she merged LAIC with Make the Road by Walking to form Make the Road New York, the city’s most dynamic grassroots advocacy organization with 70 full-time staff and an annual budget of $8 million.
Under Archila’s leadership, MRNY oversees a range of initiatives, including the Education Justice Project to enhance parent and student involvement in school policies and funding; the Voter Power Project to engage young, low-income, and immigrant voters; and the Workplace Development Program to provide job training and placement services to low-income workers. MRNY was at the forefront of the fight to win comprehensive New York City legislation that cracked down on dangerous housing conditions.
An inspiration to other immigrants
Archila has inspired thousands of immigrants to become directly involved in public policy decisions that affect their communities, including the passage of a groundbreaking Wage Theft Prevention Act by the New York State legislature.
An early, ongoing project of MRNY was Promotoras or Health Promoters, a program that gives thousands of women and families training in health-care advocacy. Her own early experiences with limited English proficiency inspired Archila to help other immigrants overcome language barriers that compromise their access to quality health care. She led a successful civil rights suit in 2009 that forced 3,000 NYC pharmacies to provide comprehensive translation and interpretation services.
Working jointly with labor unions to benefit low-wage workers
Archila also has worked with labor unions to organize and improve the lives of low-wage workers. She recently forged a partnership with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (UFCW) to improve conditions and win a living wage for 2,000 Queens Center Mall workers. She also catalyzed a civil rights complaint against American Eagle Outfitters for discrimination against LGBT employees and job applicants. Other collaborations with unions have targeted wage theft as well as advocating for education justice, language access, civil rights, immigration reform, and affordable housing.
Kendall Ciesemier, 19. Founder, Kids Caring 4
Kids, Chicago, Ill.
Ana Grande, 32. Campaign Director, PowerPAC,
Los Angeles, Calif.
Nicole R. Lee, 35. Founder and Executive Director,
Urban Peace Movement, Oakland, Calif.
Irene Nasser, 29. Senior Manager, Just Vision
Regional Office, Jerusalem.
Hye Jin Rho, 26. Former Research Assistant,
Center for Economic and Policy Research,
Elizabeth Wilkins, 28. Former Union Organizer,
SEIU Local 32BJ, New York, N.Y., and member,
White House Domestic Policy Council,