2017 Awardees

Vivian Anderson directs #EveryBlackGirl and has been a member of Black Lives Matter NYC since 2014. Vivian is a healer-activist dedicated to building a world where all Black girls thrive. Since 1996, her work has been rooted in youth, teen, family and community well-being. Vivian began her career as a teacher at Timbuktu Academy of Science and Technology and as Senior Director of youth programs at the YMCA of Greater New York. In 2015, Vivian moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where she was inspired by the courage of two young Black girls to launch the #EveryBlackGirl campaign. The girls, Shakara and Niva, were brutally assaulted and threatened with arrest by a school resource officer for refusing to hand over a cell phone and for standing up for their rights. This incident sparked #EveryBlackGirl, Inc., a nonprofit focused on creating the radical systemic change that is needed to have a world worthy of the genius and heart of Every Black Girl.

Linda Bermas has worked in the labor movement organizing for workers rights and fighting for social justice for more than 30 years. Linda began her labor activism as a rank-and-file member of groups organizing women office workers. In 1984, she took her first union job and for the next 3 decades worked with local unions that are affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Throughout her time in the labor movement, Linda’s work has focused on building a movement for social justice by helping develop member leaders and supporting workers’ efforts to take collective action. She is the proud mom of 2 sons, ages 21 and 25, who are the light of her life. In May of 2017, Linda retired from SEIU Local 32BJ.  She will be consulting with unions and labor-related organizations on staff development and member engagement and continue to be an activist.  She resides in NYC. 

Z! Haukeness is an organizer working with various local, statewide and national organizations rooted in racial justice with a focus on other interconnecting systems of oppression and liberation.  These organizations include Operation Welcome Home, a Black centered housing justice organization; Sankofa Behavioral and Community Health, a Black women centered mental health organization; Showing Up for Racial Justice, a national anti-racism organization engaging white people in racial justice work; Dane County Trans Health Group working on various trans justice issues; and Leftroots a national study and strategy organization pushing for 21st century socialism. They won the LGBTQ Advocate of the year award and the MLK Humanitarian Award in Madison in 2016. They come from the small Wisconsin town of Strum and have been in Madison for the past 20 years doing social justice work.  They are all about creative expression and cultural organizing.  Their work is very spiritually based, with an eye towards the magical, and rooted in love for new possibilities of getting free.

Yamani Hernandez is a Black, queer mama and visionary and strategic leader working at the intersections of reproductive, racial, and economic justice. She is the Executive Director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, an organization that builds power of grassroots member organizations and leverages their direct access to abortion seekers across the country for cultural and political change. Her leadership is defined by a commitment to cultivating leadership for women of color and young people. She has been awarded the 2012 Margaret Carr Wiley Bright Horizons Award by Planned Parenthood of Illinois. She was presented with the Visionary Leader Award in 2012 in her previous role as Executive Director for the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health. Yamani has been a proud member of the Strong Families leadership team and is a writer for Echoing Ida, a program of Forward Together that supports the leadership and amplifies the voices of Black women. In her spare time, she practices yoga, runs and volunteers as a birth doula.

Melissa K. Nelson is a Native ecologist, writer, media-maker and indigenous scholar-activist. She is the president/CEO of The Cultural Conservancy, a Native-led indigenous rights organization she has directed since 1993. She is also associate professor of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University. For nearly two decades Melissa has been involved in the Native American food movement in North America and since 2006 in the indigenous food sovereignty movement internationally. Melissa is a Switzer Environmental Fellow and has received awards for documentary films, community engagement, and experiential education. Her first edited anthology Original Instructions – Indigenous Teachings For A Sustainable Future (2008), focuses on the persistence of Traditional Ecological Knowledge by contemporary Native communities. Her next edited anthology, Keepers of the Green World: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Sustainability will be out in 2017. Melissa is Anishinaabe, Cree, Métis, and Norwegian. She is a proud member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

José R. Padilla is the State Director of California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), a position he has served in for over 30 years. He was born and raised in the Imperial Valley of California, of parents who came from farm worker families. The principle of giving back to his community through public service has guided José professionally and personally. José received his BA from Stanford in 1974 and went on to Boalt Hall School of Law, U. C. Berkeley. After graduating in 1978, he started what has become a 39-year legal career with CRLA, advocating for the rights of California’s farm worker and rural poverty communities. Jose’s work focuses on immigration, civil rights and education law. He serves on two national boards, the Poverty & Race Research Action Council and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. He has received numerous awards for his years of service. José has been married for 35 years to Deborah Escobedo, a Youth and Education Rights attorney in San Francisco.


Olympia Perez is an Afro-Latina Transwoman raised in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. She is a poet, healer, multi-media artist and facilitator invested in decolonizing spaces. She has been organizing since 2006 around the intersections of violence against trans and gnc (gender non-conforming) communities of color. She awakens and restores spirit to dismantle the systems of capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy as a trans warrior. She enjoys adventures with her wife Sasha, reading, writing, and her time with yellow cats. She serves as Content Director of Black Trans Media, reframing the value of black trans people through the media, education, and community building. Her pronouns are Her-She – like the chocolate bar. Olympia is also Co-Coordinator of Trans Justice at the Audre Lorde Project, building on the organizing capacity of trans and gnc communities of color.


Sasha Alexander Perez is a Queer Trans, Black/South Asian, artist, educator, and healer. Sasha has been working at the intersections of LGBTQ, youth, media, economic, gender and racial justice movements for almost 20 years. Sasha is the Founder of Black Trans Media, addressing the intersections of racism and transphobia by reframing the value and worth of black trans lives #blacktranseverything. Sasha is Membership Director and Co-Director of the Movement Building Team at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in New York City, a legal and movement based organization strengthening the leadership of trans, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGNCI) people. Sasha uses the pronouns he/she/they and insists that you mix it up.


Kabzuag Vaj was born in Laos and came to this country as a refugee child with her mother and siblings. She is founder and co-executive director of Freedom Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin, and has dedicated the majority of her life to ending gender-based violence. She is a strong believer that those who are most deeply impacted must be at the forefront of the movement; those who are most impacted must have opportunities and resources to advocate for themselves and tell their own stories. In recognition of her work, she was awarded the White House Champion of Change award in 2012, Alston Bannerman Sabbatical award for long-time community organizers, and more recently the Hmong National Development Impact Award-change makers advancing the Hmong community. Kabzuag’s ability to build family, solidarity, and shared analysis across race, culture, and generations has become an example of how Asian and African American communities can collectively build power, share resources, and mobilize to bring about deep social, political, cultural and economic change.

Kelley Weigel served as Western States Center’s Executive Director from 2010 to 2017. She started with the Center in 2002, working to institutionalize a movement-building approach to community organizing. She instigated the Center’s Voter Organizing Training and Empowerment Program, which registered tens of thousands of voters across the west and committed organizations to civic participation. Over her tenure the Center helped grow the power, impact and grassroots leadership of 47 organizations across six states representing over 200,000 members, especially people of color, LGBTQ folks, women, and youth. Kelley is a graduate of the Center’s first intensive leadership program, the Western Institute for Leadership Development. She began her organizing trajectory with Community Alliance of Lane County in confronting the homophobic initiatives of the religious right and countering white supremacist organizing. She lives in Portland with her husband Brian and son Quinn. Kelley is a committed kitchen gardener, avid home cook and finds restorative energy at the beach, both in sun and rain.