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Everyday Democracy Announces 2021 Aicher Award Winners

January 27, 2022

 

The Paul and Joyce Aicher Leadership in Democracy Award was launched in 2017 to honor the memory of Everyday Democracy’s founder, Paul Aicher, and his wife, Joyce Aicher. Over the past three decades, the Aichers’ generosity, spirit of innovation, and commitment to justice have fueled Everyday Democracy’s work in over 600 communities across the United States. Their core values--voice for all, connection across difference, racial equity, and community change—continue to guide our evolving approach to authentic community engagement.  

During these first five years of the Aicher Awards, our team has had the privilege to review nominations of individuals and organizations from communities across the country who embody the Aichers’ values. This year, our team chose to add a Civic Leadership Award category to specifically honor outstanding individuals who reflect the values of Paul and Joyce.  

After a competitive process with a remarkable group of applicants, we are thrilled to announce this year’s Aicher Award winner and our inaugural Civic Leadership Award winners. Our Paul and Joyce Aicher Leadership in Democracy Winner is Faith in Indiana, and they will receive a $10,000 prize. Our two Civic Leadership Award winners are Elizabeth Joseph and Ramona Ferreyra, each of whom will receive a $2,500 prize.  

More about our winners

We are excited to introduce our community to each of our three winners and their extraordinary work. Over the coming months, we will explore each of their efforts and how they align with the Aicher Award values in more depth. For now, we hope you find inspiration in these brief introductions. 

Faith in Indiana 

Faith in Indiana organizes for racial and economic equity in Indiana, with a focus on mobilizing faith communities. The organization was nominated in recognition of their innovative work to change law enforcement and criminal justice practices in Indianapolis, which has shifted the public discourse in the area to focus on root causes and community-based interventions. Faith in Indiana envisions their organizing work, which intentionally engages “those left out of the public conversation,” as “a strategy to help people who might otherwise be silent claim their public voice.” 

In six years of advocating for criminal justice reform in Indianapolis, the Faith in Indiana team has played an integral role in numerous progressive policy and practice changes in the city, including the adoption of mobile crisis assessment teams, which pair police officers with social workers, the implementation of a community-based violence intervention program, and the addition of pretrial release assessment officers. 

In summer 2020, as much of the country and the world responded to the murder of George Floyd, Faith in Indiana virtually convened over 1500 individuals for an Indianapolis Processional for Racial Justice, during which they called on local elected officials to create long overdue reforms to address police violence. Dozens of meetings with local government officials and thousands of emails from concerned citizens led to the adoption of a Use of Force policy in July 2020 as well as major amendments to the police oversight board in October 2020. With these changes, Indianapolis leads the country with its strong model for civilian oversight of police. 

“It is a deep honor to recognize Faith in Indiana’s sustained work and elevate all the people who are part of it. Their capacity to amplify the voices of those most affected by inequities and to build deep, power-sharing relationships across the community is at the heart of their ability to catalyze meaningful change. They are an example and inspiration to all those who want to address the injustices of our criminal legal system through democratic means,” said Everyday Democracy’s Executive Director Martha McCoy.

 

Elizabeth Joseph 

As the Associate Director of Community Engagement at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut, Elizabeth Joseph shines a light on how vibrant public spaces are fundamental to civic life. Through her role at the library, Elizabeth first got involved with Everyday Democracy and learned about our approach to authentic community engagement. Her connection with our organization has evolved over the years as she has been an integral part of many of our programs and initiatives, including our Connecticut Civic Ambassadors and our Institute for Community Change Leaders. 

Since we met Elizabeth in 2017, she has brought together public officials, institutions, community-based organizations, and community members for dialogue and action around pressing social issues in the Stamford community. In Fall 2018, this work took the form of a series of dialogues entitled “Facing Racism in Stamford,” using a modified version of Everyday Democracy’s Facing Racism in a Diverse Nation dialogue guide to bring nearly 100 community members together. This culminated in an Action Forum and then five action teams who led projects in different issue areas, including education, leadership development, criminal justice, housing, and racial equity and healing. The work of the action teams has continued to evolve and expand organically. Since then, Elizabeth has continued to adapt our dialogue approach to foster deeper understanding in the community. 

"Elizabeth combines a passion for racial equity with an ability to bring people together to experience their shared humanity and work together for tangible community change. We are grateful to honor her amazing leadership with this award,” says Martha. 

 

Ramona Ferreyra 

Ramona Ferreyra is a South Bronx-based community organizer who has used advocacy as a springboard for bringing together diverse facets of her community. Ramona’s activism has focused on several major systems that New York City residents navigate, including public transit, public housing, and criminal justice. In particular, she has advocated for fair fares on public transportation, organized to prevent defunding and privatization of public housing, and contributed to a campaign aimed to close Rikers Island by 2024.  

Ramona often uses creative tactics to amplify the voices of other community members. For instance, she once worked with a group of seniors in public housing to create a calendar of stories and photos that shared their experiences as residents. They then sent the calendar to NYC elected officials. 

Most recently, Ramona launched Save Section 9, which is a citywide tenant campaign that educates and empowers public housing residents so that they can advocate for themselves. The group has hosted dozens of teach-ins that highlight the racist and classist history of policy related to public housing and identify ways to mobilize for change. 

“Creating opportunities for others to step into their own leadership is the hallmark of Ramona’s work. Through her community organizing she exemplifies that everyone has a voice and role to play in creating the beloved community. We are thrilled to shine a light on her inspiring leadership," says Martha.   

 


Celebrating our finalists 

In addition to our three winners, we received numerous noteworthy applications during this award cycle. To recognize the breadth of leadership and innovation demonstrated by our applicants, we have chosen to highlight four Aicher Award finalists and two Civic Leadership Award finalists. 

 

Aicher Award Finalists 

Health Equity Solutions (Hartford, Connecticut) 

Health Equity Solutions is a Connecticut-based organization that advances health equity through policy, advocacy, and systems-change. In 2020, Health Equity Solutions played a critical role in the passage of Connecticut Senate Bill No. 1, An Act Equalizing Comprehensive Access to Mental, Behavioral, and Physical Health Care in Response to the Pandemic. This bill declared racism a public health crisis, established a cross-sector commission to address the systemic root causes, and created standardized data reporting practices. Health Equity Solutions’ commitment to centering community voices in policy and advocacy stands as a powerful example for the field. 

GenUnity (Boston, Massachusetts)  

GenUnity works to establish a civic leadership pipeline in Boston, Massachusetts by providing training and support for aspiring leaders. In Fall 2020, they launched their first cohort-based program, which has shown notable success in fostering continued civic engagement among participants. GenUnity stood out among our applicants due to their inclusive program design and their commitment to helping individuals develop their own “civic practice.” 

Muslims For Progress (New York) 

Muslims For Progress is a civic engagement and community advocacy organization that works to inform, organize, and mobilize Muslim Americans in New York City and Long Island in order to effect positive change. In addition to electoral organizing, Muslims For Progress participates in coalitions and groups that address social injustice, including Long Island United to Transform Policing and Community Safety (LIUTPCS) Coalition. Their work stood out among the applicants due to their many approaches to fostering civic engagement and their commitment to connection across difference. 

Urban Rural Action (Maryland) 

Urban Rural Action was nominated for their recent cohort-based initiative: Uniting for Action on the Maryland Economy. Through this project, Urban Rural Action brought together a diverse cohort of community members who developed a common understanding of economic injustice and its systemic roots, built connections and community, and designed interventions alongside local community organizations. Urban Rural Action’s efforts stood out due to their intentional focus on moving from dialogue and training into community action and change.  

 

Civic Leadership Award Finalists 

 

Andres Mejia 

Andres Mejia is the inaugural Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice for Exeter, New Hampshire public schools, and has a notable background in community engagement in K-16 educational spaces. Prior to his current work in Exeter, Andres played an integral role within a variety of community engagement programs and initiatives at his alma mater, University of New Hampshire. While at University of New Hampshire, Andres was a Fellow at New Hampshire Listens, which is a longtime Everyday Democracy partner. Andres stood out among our candidates for the Civic Leadership Award because of his clear ability to foster spaces of connection and his courage as a “truth teller.”  

Talethia Edwards 

Talethia O. Edwards is a community organizer and nonprofit leader in Tallahassee, Florida. Talethia has organized work groups, programs, events, and initiatives focused on issues ranging from neighborhood revitalization to maternal health to childhood literacy. One focal point of her work includes founding the Greater Bond Neighborhood Association to address decades of disinvestment in that community. Together, the group went through a planning process in which they identified four neighborhood priorities and secured $6.4M of funding from the city. Talethia’s commitment to grassroots leadership and ability to usher in concrete community change stood out among our applicants. 


Recognizing Sites of Promising Practices 

Finally, two additional applications stood out as “sites of promising practice” due to their unique strategies for fostering connection and equity within and around institutions of higher education. Over our three decades of work, Everyday Democracy has partnered with numerous college and universities on community change processes—in recognizing these sites of promising practice, we hope to call attention to the role of higher education in creating spaces for organizing, dialogue, and action. 

Columbia University School of Social Work’s Action Lab for Social Justice (New York) 

Columbia University School of Social Work’s Action Lab for Social Justice is a student-driven center that was launched in the early months of COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Seeing the dual public health crises of the pandemic and institutional racism, students wanted to take action to advance equity on a campus-level, within the broader social work profession, and within the surrounding community. Today, the Action Lab for Social Justice hosts a range of student-led projects and initiatives, all centered around creating more equitable and anti-racist futures. Action Lab presents a set of promising practices for other colleges and universities interested in fostering more connected and just campus communities. 

Living Together/Living Apart: Geography of Segregation in the 21st Century (Virginia) 

Living Together/Living Apart is a participatory action research project that explores ongoing economic, environmental, and health impacts of persistent racial segregation through oral histories and photography featuring residents of Hampton Roads, Virginia. In addition to crafting a collective history, the Living Together/Living Apart project has paid particular attention to building bridges between the host institution, Christopher Newport University, and the Hampton Roads community. Due to its vision for using community-based research to work towards social justice, Living Together/Living Apart stood out as a promising practice. 


 

Honoring Paul and Joyce Aicher’s Legacy 

As with the previous four Aicher Award cycles, our team frequently reflected throughout this process about how Paul and Joyce themselves would find inspiration in the work of the incredible individuals and organizations highlighted above. We are thrilled to be able to celebrate the work of changemakers around the country in honor of Paul and Joyce. To learn more about Paul’s commitment to civic life and his vision for this organization, you can read our 2002 commemorative booklet, What Democracy Feels Like.  

Our appreciation goes out to all those who nominated leaders, submitted applications, and provided testimonies. You have honored Paul and Joyce immensely by showcasing the many types of leadership needed for a thriving democracy. 

 

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Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and our tools, advice, and resources foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue to Change process, using a racial equity lens, can help.