About our 2010 Honorees and Keynote Speaker

on Thursday, April 29th at 6pm.  Every year WESPAC recognizes the work of a few local activists who have done outstanding work for social justice.  This year, we are recognizing five outstanding people as well as saying farewell to Rev. Joe Agne.  Our keynote speaker this year is the Honorable Cynthia McKinney.

 

Ted DeSoyza

Ted was born in Brooklyn, NY on April 11, 1928 to Italian immigrants.  They came to the US as children.  She entered the Franciscan Sisters of Mill Hill Convent in London in 1949 at the age of 21.  She received a BA in Education from Fordham University and taught Primary grades in Harlem as well as in Virginia and Pennsylvania for 15 years.  She left the convent in 1964.

 

Part of Ted’s social justice work includes: 

·         Working with "gangs" on the lower east side of Manhattan

·         Serving as a quality advisor for three years at CHILD CARE, INC.

·         Teaching English as a second language at the Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford and at Adult Learning Center in New Rochelle for 3 years.

·         In 1971, after giving birth to Miriam, who had Down Syndrome, Ted and her husband Dallas founded two schools in the Bronx for infants, toddlers, and pre-school children with disabilities.

·         Ted has been very active in the peace movement in Westchester County.

 

 

Nada asked all the 2010 award recipients the following questions:

1.      What does social justice mean to you?

2.      Is there an experience you had that first kindled your sense of social justice?

3.       What are the challenges in Westchester County regarding social justice work?

 

Here are Ted’s responses:

1. Social Justice to me is synonymous with Peace which is:  harmony throughout the world; concern for our brothers and sisters throughout the world, respect for those who are different from oneself; compassion for our elders, our disabled and imprisoned; giving hand and heart to those in need; diplomacy not war; dialogue not confrontation; caring for the earth and ultimately LOVE.

 2. Fate is very strange!  When I was very young (seven or eight), I was the dark child in my family.  My sisters were light skinned, light hair and light eyes.  I was dark with black hair.  My Italian relatives and friends would call me "Blackie).  When Mussolini was at war with Ethiopia, people would ask me, "Who are you for"?  My response was ETHIOPIA!  I had an affinity with black people from an early age.  I had entered the convent just to go to Africa – never got there, but worked in Harlem and the South in poor communities.

 

3.  I believe that people in Westchester County as in other places in the US are not well  informed nor are they very active in terms of their civic duties.  I find people to be selfish and too complacent.

 

Mirene Ghossein

 

Mirene Ghossein holds an MA in Philosophy from the Académie Libanaise des Beaux Arts in Beirut and a Ph.D in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

 

From the late seventies through the early nineties she worked with the Washington based Arab-American Cultural Foundation.  A member of the Foundation’s Board, she was active with the Program Committee, organizing literary and artistic events for Arab poets and visual artists from the Middle East and the US.  As a member of the NY chapter or AAUG (Arab American University Graduates) she coordinated some of the cultural activities of both organizations, presenting in New York a number of the Washington programs.

 

With Samuel Hazo, she co-translated The Blood of Adonis, selected poems of Ali Ahmad Said (1971, University of Pittsburgh Press). She is co-editor and translator, with Kamal Boullata, of the World of Rashid Hussein (1979- AAUG  publications)  as well as If Only the Sea Could Sleep, love poems by Adonis (2003, Green Integer).

 

She lives in New Rochelle, is active with WESPAC, Adalah-NY and Alwan for the Arts. In 2008/2009, she organized The Art of Palestinian Children, a traveling exhibition of 26 paintings by Palestinian kids (ages 9-13) living in Lebanon. The paintings were donated by Al-Jana, a Beirut based nonprofit organization and the exhibition was sponsored by WESPAC and Adalah-NY.

 

She has seven grandkids, each a poem in her/his own right.   

 

Here are Mirene’s responses to the social justice questions:

 

"Social Justice" brings to mind a form of governance which would treat equally all of its citizens regardless of the qualifier attached to their names: Black, White, Yellow, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Secular, Rich, Poor etc… If indeed we are created equal, then we deserve equal rights and equal opportunities.

 

In 1959, I traveled to New Orleans to visit a friend.  As a young bride from Lebanon, I was trying hard to understand a new country, a new culture and let alone a new way of life. During my visit, I had to consult a physician. When I arrived at his office, there were two doors, one for "WHITE" and one for "COLORED". The year was 1958. An example of social injustice if ever there was one, let alone discrimination and racism.

 

Later in NYC I read that Harry Belafonte was trying to rent an apartment on Fifth Avenue, only to find out, after each visit that the real estate agent had the same answer for him: sorry the apartment has already been rented. I had heard Belafonte in concert at the Apollo theatre in Harlem  and couldn’t understand why such a talented (and handsome! ) man would be turned away.  I was young and naive! To the lack of social justice between rich and poor, I had witnessed in Beirut, America brought a new kind to which I’m still very sensitive. 

 

Felice Gelman

 

Felice has been a core member of WESPAC’s Middle East Committee for over five years.  She is happy to receive this award on behalf of the work of the entire WESPAC Middle East Committee. Recently, she has become very involved in the campaign to end Israel’s siege of Gaza and has made three trips to the region with Code Pink and the Gaza Freedom March, where she served tirelessly on the organizing committee.  She continues to speak widely on the Palestine issue and is an effective, highly recommended speaker.

 

Here is her response to the questions:

 

What does the term "social justice" mean to you?  

    Society organizes itself through its institutions — political, religious, intellectual, cultural.  But those institutions often are more exclusive than inclusive.  Social justice requires that the voices and needs of all are heard, considered, and met.   It values each unique individual and says their well-being cannot be overruled or ignored by society as a whole. 

 

A story or experience that first kindled my sense of justice/injustice?  

    I’m sure this was not the first, but what stands out for me was, in 1959, when my best friend and I decided to join the picketing of Woolworths in Ossining in support of the struggle to desegregate lunch counters in the South.  Like most white people, I didn’t know much about racism, but I knew about segregation.  I was thrilled that, at the age of 13, I would have a chance to join a fight against it.  But I was equally impressed that my father, who was a Republican politician planning a run for major office, questioned me about my reasons for joining the picket line, and then said, "If you have thought it through and believe you are right, go ahead and do it."  

 

What are the challenges in Westchester regarding social justice work/organizing?  

    Income disparities, racism, indifference — where to begin?   I would rather focus on our progress.  When I was growing up in Westchester, social justice organizers were isolated and marginalized.  Their voices simply were not heard.  We have come a long way — with community based institutions participating in and sponsoring social justice actvities, with politicians forced to recognize issues and meet with constituents, and with much broader sympathy for our actions.  Our challenge now is to seek, to welcome and to value the participation of all.  

 

 

Jackie Mann, the Elias Foundation

 

Jacqueline Mann is the co-founder and President of the Elias Foundation – dedicated to promoting community leadership networks for progressive social change in Westchester County.  The Foundation supports organizations that amplify the voices of community members and initiatives that are grounded in and led by the communities they serve.  The Foundation is particularly interested in supporting organizations that connect their issues to a broader political, economic and social justice agenda.

Following a 30 year career as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Adjunct Professor of Clinical Practice at Fordham Graduate School of Social Services, Jackie’s work at the Foundation returns her to her community organizing roots.  She is Past President of the Westchester Chapter of the Clinical Social Work Society and a member of the board of the Youth Justice Funding Collaborative – a unique partnership between philanthropists and activists who together are working to eliminate inequities in the juvenile justice system.

She is a 32 year resident of Westchester County, where she and husband, Jim, have raised two daughters. Aside from her work at the Foundation, Jackie is happiest spending time with her granddaughters, travelling, kayaking and hiking.

Here are Jackie’s responses to the social justice questions:

        1. What does the term "social justice" mean to you?

                   Social justice is a condition in which people who are most effected by policies that constrict their lives have the capacity and the right to change those policies.

        2.  Is there a story or experience that you had that first kindled your sense of justice/injustice? 

                  During the civil rights conflicts that resulted in civil unrest in Newark, I was working at a New Jersey state mental hospital as a newly trained social worker.  At that time young men were being committed to the hospital after being arrested for looting.  Although they most probably received better treatment there than they would have in prison, I became aware of the huge divide between Black and White perceptions of racial activism and the compromised life chances of young Black males in comparison to their White counterparts.

        3.  What are the challenges in Westchester County regarding funding progressive community organizing?

                  The primary challenge regarding funding progressive community organizing in Westchester County is the culture among funders that recognizes the value of service only rather than service and self-directed advocacy.  Until donors become aware of the need to support systemic change, social and economic justice will elude our communities.  Additionally, the need to fund movement building is not well known among funders.  For this reason, Elias is willing to take risks in funding small grassroots groups that are active in strengthening the social justice fabric of the County.

 

Mary Williams

Mary Williams, founder and president of Bermuda Home Tourist Travel, is a community activist who has been recognized for her volunteer work.  A nurse by trade, Mrs. Williams took advantage of the flexible working hours and shifts to spend as much quality time as possible with her two children and her husband.  She is one of the founders of the Westchester Community Opportunity Program (WestCOP), a co-founder of the Union Child Day Care Center and the Theodore Young Community Center.  She is the past president of the Elmsford Civic League and the Elmsford PTA.

 

Mrs. Williams has always had one goal in mind: to make a difference for Black people.  She speaks fondly of her role model the late Mrs. Mamie Haynes who symbolized a very strong, active businesswoman in her community.  “Mrs. Haynes owned a local beauty shop in the ghetto where I grew up and she served on the board of the Urban League.  She reached out to me and other young people.  She always encouraged us.  She was the first black woman activist that I knew.  She was my inspiration.”  Mrs. Williams also gives a lot of credit to the late John H. Harmon, a black historian, who taught her about the African heritage of black people.

 

Request for Silent Auction items at Awards Dinner

Please consider a donation of a gift certificate such as a dinner for two, wine tasting, sporting event tickets, art work, vintage antiwar posters, Memorabilia T- Shirts,  hotel and travel packages, sports or celebrity items, or any creative item that you are able to offer.  Your auction donations will be used in our silent auction at the night of the event.  In exchange for your auction donation, you will be mentioned in our event journal if the item is received in advance of the April 5th journal deadline.

Your donation is also tax deductable. You can drop off your donated items at the WESPAC Pleasantville office or call Annia at 914 216 9471 to arrange a pick up. Thank you very much!

 

The Honorable Cynthia McKinney

“In the fight against bigotry, we stand together, and we must. In the fight against injustice, we stand together, and we must. In the fight against intimidation, we stand together, and we must. After all, a regime that would steal an election right before our very eyes will do anything to all of us."

Cynthia McKinney has made a career of speaking her mind and challenging authority. She began on day one of her political life and hasn’t looked back. With her opinions, actions, and even her sense of style, McKinney has inspired both admiration and controversy.

In 1992, McKinney won a Democratic seat in the US House of Representatives in the newly created 11th district, drawn from Atlanta to Savannah. She was the first African-American woman to represent Georgia in the US Congress. Her gold tennis shoes and braided hairstyle became her trademark, and effectively gave her a higher profile on the predominantly white, male House floor. Though a Democrat during President Clinton’s tenure, she did not simply follow the Party line, as when she voted against NAFTA.

During her second term, her district was re-drawn and re-numbered the 4th district. McKinney protested the new boundaries, but was still re-elected to the seat. She was a supporter of a Palestinian State in Israel-occupied territory, and sparked controversy by criticizing American policy in the Middle East. After 9/11, McKinney suggested the President had received warnings. The criticism she received as a result, combined with being targeted by the pro-Israel lobby, contributed to her defeat in the 2002 election; however, she ran for the seat again and was re-elected in 2004.

McKinney was a vocal critic of the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. When Nancy Pelosi encouraged a boycott of a Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate Hurricane Katrina, Cynthia chose instead to participate and submitted her own report. She continued her criticism of the Bush administration and introduced legislation to release documents related to the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Tupac Shakur.  She was the first Member of Congress to file articles of impeachment against George Bush and voted against every war funding bill put before her.

Cynthia McKinney has never been afraid to speak her mind and stand up for what she believes in. Late in 2007, she left the Democratic Party to bring her energy and ideas to the whole country by becoming a Green Party Presidential Candidate. More information about Cynthia can be found at www.allthingscynthiamckinney.com