“In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.” ~Thurgood Marshall, first African American U.S. Supreme Court member and Jefferson Award Winner 1992

This month, we take the time to spotlight exceptional Black people in our community who are multiplying good by serving others. Take a look at why these names are a part of the largest and most prestigious celebration platform for service in America.

A keeper of history

Ben Watford, Author

Sun Journal winner - New Bern, North Carolina

Ben Watford has been fighting racial injustices throughout his life by pushing societal boundaries and working to right wrongs along his path. A chemistry graduate of Howard University in 1957, he was awarded the prestigious National Science Foundation scholarship to attend Tuskegee University. The journey from Washington, D.C. to Alabama further instilled his determination to make a difference. Currently, he preserves history by overseeing the Crockett Miller Slave Quarters through the James City Historical Society. He also founded Community Artists Will Inc. using his artistic talent to tell African-American history by creating a tribute to slaves who were not allowed a tombstone or grave marker.  Ben has also served numerous organizations, including the N.C. Human Relations Commission, Smart Start, and the Coastal Women’s Center.

A crusader for victims and survivors

Ingrid Johnson, Advocate

Jackeline Kennedy Onassis Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefitting Local Communities

At 13 years old, Ingrid Johnson’s daughter was kidnapped and held captive for 11 months. Searching the streets of New Jersey and New York, with minimum support, Ingrid – a mother of three – used every instinct she could muster to find her daughter. Now, she works tirelessly to ensure that no one’s daughter is a victim of human trafficking. She volunteers with Covenant House of Newark, works with the Newark and New Jersey Coalition against Human Trafficking, and has served on boards such as Nancy's Place, Communities in Cooperation, and the Sanar Wellness Institute. Most important of all, she has given hope to mothers and fathers who are searching for their missing children. In 2018, Ingrid was awarded the Jackeline Kennedy Onassis Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefitting Local Communities.

A seeker of justice

Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative

Outstanding Public Service Benefitting the Disadvantaged

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, clinical professor at NYU School of Law, social justice activist, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, which provides legal representation to prisoners who may have been wrongly convicted of crimes, poor prisoners without effective representation, and others who may have been denied a fair trial. It guarantees the defense of anyone in Alabama in a death penalty case. He established The Memorial to Peace and Justice in Montgomery, which documents each of the nearly 4,000 lynchings of black people that took place in the South from 1877 to 1950. In 2018, Bryan was recognized on a national level for Outstanding Public Service Benefitting the Disadvantaged.

Fighters for equality

Patrisse Cullors, American artist

Alicia Garza,  American activist

Opal Tometi, American human rights activist

Outstanding Public Service 35 Years or Younger

Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi co-founded the Black Lives Matter network, a globally recognized organizing project that focuses on combatting anti-Black state sanctioned violence and the oppression of all Black people.

Patrisse Cullors is an artist, organizer, author of  When They Call You A Terrorist  and freedom fighter from Los Angeles, CA. A self-described wife of Harriet Tubman, Patrisse has always been traveling on the path to freedom.

Alicia Garza is an Oakland-based organizer, writer, public speaker and freedom dreamer who is currently the Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the nation’s leading voice for dignity and fairness for the millions of domestic workers in the United States.

Opal Tometi is a New York based Nigerian-American writer, strategist and community organizer. She is credited with creating the online platforms and initiating the social media strategy during the early days of #BlackLivesMatter. Ms. Tometi is the Executive Director of the country’s leading Black organization for immigrant rights, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI).