Civil rights and the vote: yesterday and today

During the 2015 International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies conference in Alabama, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau developed a travelogue about the discoveries she and her colleagues made. Those thoughts seemed even more poignant for this Election Day.

Amid ongoing national commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act, in Philadelphia, people are being enticed to vote tomorrow with a chance to win $10,000.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau poses at the Civil Rights Memorial Center with Julius Erven McSwain, her bus mate and a veteran investigator for the City of Omaha's Human Rights and Relations Department.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau poses at the Civil Rights Memorial Center with Julius Erven McSwain, her bus mate and a veteran investigator for the City of Omaha’s Human Rights and Relations Department.

It comes in stark contrast of the tour of the Yellowhammer State Landau and dozens of others committed to social justice work traveled the routes to the places where men, women and children chose to stand for equality and fight for their right to vote, facing improbable and daunting odds.

Among the hosts for this trip was Birmingham Mayor William Bell, who co-chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ My Brother’s Keeper initiative, along with Mayor Michael A. Nutter. Bell also chairs the U.S. Coalition of Cities Against Racism for the conference.

Those gathered heard from people such as former U.S. Attorney G. Douglas Jones, who led the cold case prosecution of former Ku Klux Klansman, some 40 years after their infamous bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and retired federal judge U.W. Clemon, who handled school desegregation cases throughout North Alabama, including the vaunted University of Alabama’s football program in 1969. He also was one of two African Americans elected to the Alabama Senate post-Reconstruction, in 1974.

“For the past 150 years, states, mostly southern, have come up with schemes to overcome the 15th Amendment,” Clemon said. “That’s why we marched. That’s why the marching hasn’t stopped.

“It’s about the right to meaningfully participate in the American Democracy. The crown jewel in any nation is the right to vote.”

His words blended in with those of iconic and hidden heroes of the movement, from the Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian to youth activists-turned-marchers who today are keepers of the flame, such as Joanne Bland, who served as a tour guide during the conference.

Kirk Carrington and Ruth Brown Anthony were youngsters during the march across the Pettus Bridge, but they were fully aware of what their actions meant. "When you don't vote, it hurts me," Carrington said. "It was our blood spilled on that bridge to get the right to vote, and now people don't exercise that right?" Anthony added.

Kirk Carrington and Ruth Brown Anthony were youngsters during the march across the Pettus Bridge, but they were fully aware of what their actions meant. “When you don’t vote, it hurts me,” Carrington said. “It was our blood spilled on that bridge to get the right to vote, and now people don’t exercise that right?” Anthony added.

The presentations were seminal for attendees such as Akia Haynes, deputy director and general counsel for the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.

“Reopening the case of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and the conviction in 2001 was one of the reasons I went to law school,” Haynes said. “If this doesn’t change you, if you don’t feel something, then you’re in the wrong line of work.”

In addition to the speakers, there were a host of workshops and presentations, such as the session Landau moderated on community-police relations. For many of the participants, the entire IAOHRA conference was a powerful experience.

“I’ve gone to corners of my mind that I’ve never been to before,” said Cheryl Sharp, deputy director of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

And it was deeply impactful for more than just the African American attendees.

“This tour made it clear to me that this was not so long ago,” said Robin Toma, executive director of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, one of the largest in the nation. “Despite the Voting Rights Act, people are still living in such economically deprived communities.

“We have not done a good job of teaching our children about the need for fundamental human rights. We can’t always expect the generation that’s suffered to talk about it all the the time. The next generation needs to talk about it,” he said. “We need to honor the reality of the marchers and advance to a higher level.”

Landau agreed.

“The real-life history tour was a life-changing, soul-feeding experience,” she said. “From sitting in the pews of the 16th Street Baptist Church to hearing directly from the people who marched and risked their lives to make the Voting Rights Act a reality.

“I made connections from the past to the present that affirmed why our work is so vitally important. While discrimination and inequality are less overt now, attempts to roll back our civil rights and voting rights continue.

“We must continue to zealously fight these efforts, to honor the struggle and sacrifices of those who came before us,” she added.

Take a virtual trip with her to Alabama and look at our civil rights history with a new lens, through the text, photos and video that follow.

Gain a perspective from Joanne Bland, who at 11 years old was one of the youngest agitators marching across the Pettus bridge — and one of the youngest to be arrested during the Civil Rights Movement.


2015 PCHR Awards: Philadelphia at its best

The opulent Arts Ballroom served as a perfect backdrop to celebrate the tireless efforts and ceaseless commitment of people and organizations in Philadelphia working on behalf of their neighbors and residents.

This was the 2015 PCHR Awards, and it was a night to remember.

Some 20 recipients from all walks of life and across the city and region received a well-earned spotlight. Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Managing Director Richard Negrin and PCHR commissioners presented the night’s awards to deserving recipients.

“Every year that we do this awards event, I take the opportunity to reflect on our current work and to make connections to the past.  For us, we don’t have to look far to make those connections,” said PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau. “In its early days, our commission was led by two giants in the civil rights movement – Clarence Farmer, Sr. and Sadie T.M. Alexander – who shepherded us through tumultuous times in Philadelphia’s history and who helped to shape a more equitable city.

“While the country as a whole has made tremendous progress since those early days . . . there is still much work to be done.  Thankfully, the people in this room today – from the PCHR staff and Commissioners to our wonderful awardees and supporters – are the people who will move us forward,” Landau added.

All photos shot for Adria Diane Hughes Photography. For more photos, click here.

In his comments, Mayor Nutter did not spare praise for the many who work to improve and advance justice and equality in Philadelphia. He aptly summarized not just the beauty of this one night, but also the ongoing importance of PCHR, the first municipal civil rights agencies of its sort in the country.

Celebrating civil rights champions from across the city

awardds_logoPHILADELPHIA — On Tuesday, April 28, PCHR will lead hundreds in recognizing and celebrating individuals and organizations from across the city and region who work in their daily capacity to improve the quality of life for all.

The 2015 PCHR Awards will honor a variety of civic  and social leaders, from the public, private and nonprofit sectors at the Arts Ballroom, 1324 Locust Street, Philadelphia, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. The complete list of this year’s honorees:

  • Bishop Dwayne Royster and Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER), Clarence Farmer Sr. Service Award recipients
  • Gloria Casarez, former LGBT affairs director for the City of Philadelphia (posthumously), Sadie T.M. Alexander Leadership Award recipient
  • Lt. Joyce Craig (posthumously), PCHR Chairman’s Award recipient
  • Adrienne Simpson, PCHR Chairman’s Award recipient
  • Ellen Somekawa, PCHR Executive Director’s Award recipient
  • Art-Reach workshop


    Art-Reach, PCHR Award for Arts and Culture

  • Kelvyn Anderson, executive director of the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, PCHR Award for Public Safety
  • Philadelphia CeaseFire, PCHR Award for Community Service
  • Steven Seibel and TC Shillingford of Broad Street Ministry, PCHR Award for Nonprofit Stewardship
  • Rosa’s Pizza, PCHR Award for Corporate Responsibility
  • Officer Juan “Ace” Delgado, PCHR Community Excellence Award

    Officer Gary Harkins

    Officer Gary Harkins

  • Gearing Up, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Officer Gary Harkins, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Officer Nokisha Jacobs, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • The Rev. Frank Lettko, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Linda Toia, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • The Rev. Frank Toia, PCHR Community Excellence Award

    Regina Young

    Regina Young

  • Marsha Wall, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Officer Tina Willis, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Regina Young, PCHR Community Excellence Award

You can still join Mayor Michael A. Nutter, PCHR leadership and other notables at this event, as well as jam with great sounds from members of the Philadelphia Clef Club’s Youth Jazz Ensemble, explore a silent auction packed with goodies, enjoy great food and even better company. Tickets are $75 and are still available for purchase here.
PCHR also would like to thank its generous sponsors for helping to make this event possible:

Regina Austincruz
Cruz ConstructionGraham Logo (Lt Green)
The Graham Company
Mel Heifitz
Rebecca Alpert
The Arts Ballroom
Beneficial Foundation
Kearsley Rehabilitation and Nursing Center
Sarah Ricks, Esq.
Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin and Schiller
Orthodox Auto Company
The Philadelphia Foundation
Society Hill Congregation
Asian Bank
Gateway Health Systems
Greater Philadelphia
Chamber of Commerce
Jerner & Palmer, P.C.
LAZ Parking
Liberty Resources Inc.
Lockton Insurance
Philadelphia Committee for
Affordable Communities
United Bank of Philadelphia
Angelique Benrahou
Cashman & Associates
Cruz Construction
Hard Rock Café
Joy Tsin Lau
Office of Mayor Michael A. Nutter
Philadelphia Theater Co.
Philadelphia Mural Arts
Reading Terminal Market
Andre Richard Salon
The Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia
Sally Saddiqi
Sang Kee restaurants
Speed Raceway
Vedge/V restaurants
V Trainers

List as of April 22, 2015

Final days to nominate for the PCHR Awards

PCHR is on the hunt for Philadelphia’s champions of civil rights and human relations.

Specifically, PCHR is looking for those individuals and organizations that make life better for all of us through their work in arts and culture, public safety, corporate responsibility, community service and nonprofit stewardship. Fuller criteria for the 2015 PCHR Awards can be found here.

The commissioners have made their selections of award recipients. Now the public gets to have its say, but only until Friday, March 6.  There’s no need to delay any longer. Let your voice be heard  — make your nomination today!


PCHR on the radio

headphonesPsst! Have you heard? The 2015 PCHR Awards are in the air and calls for the five publicly-nominated awards are winding down.

Friday is the deadline for nominations — don’t delay!

Helping to share that word are La Mega 1310 AM Philadelphia and iHeartMedia Philadelphia.

If you missed the PSA on La Mega en español, check it out:  .

And catch the interview with Loraine Ballard Morrill and PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau here.

Lead 2015 PCHR Award recipients named, nominations still open for public awards

PHILADELPHIA, March 2, 2015 – The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations today unveiled its four lead recipients of the PCHR Awards, where civic leaders helping to advance social equality and justice here have been spotlighted since 1987. Those lead recipients are:

Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER

Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER

Bishop Dwayne Royster and POWER – Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild – will receive the Clarence Farmer Sr. Service Award. POWER, a multiracial interfaith coalition established in 2011, has been a leading entity in grassroots efforts pushing for holistic social change throughout Philadelphia.

Gloria Casarez

Gloria Casarez

The late Gloria Casarez, inaugural director of LGBT affairs for Mayor Michael A. Nutter, posthumously will receive the Sadie T.M. Alexander Leadership Award. For two decades, Casarez served as a civil rights leader, advocating for fair and equal treatment in housing, access and employment for people of color, the impoverished and LGBT residents in Philadelphia, particularly transgender people of color.

Adrienne Simpson

Adrienne Simpson

Adrienne Simpson and the late Lt. Joyce Craig each will receive recognition as recipients of the PCHR Chairman’s Award. This year, the honor emphasized acts of bravery that benefit others, in the face of consequences.

Lt. Joyce Craig

Simpson publicly challenged the leadership of Philadelphia Magazine after publication of an article deemed racially inflammatory, despite being the lone African American there. Craig had a stellar career as a Philadelphia firefighter before losing her life last year while battling a blaze, making her the first female firefighter in the city’s history to die in the line of duty.

Ellen Somekawa

Ellen Somekawa

Ellen Somekawa, executive director of the FACTS Charter School and former head of Asian Americans United, will receive the PCHR Executive Director’s Award for her years of distinguished service to Philadelphia’s underserved.

In addition, five publicly-nominated awards for work in corporate responsibility, nonprofit stewardship, arts and culture, public safety and community service will be presented.

Nominations remain open through Friday and recipients will be notified by March 20.

“Our commission is thrilled by the strong character and the diversity of our award recipients and the positive impact they have had on our great city,” said PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle. “We may be giving them an award, but it’s truly an honor to know that people of this caliber choose to give of themselves in such deep ways to our community.”

The awardees or their representative loved ones will be honored during the 2015 PCHR Awards, which will be held on Tuesday, April 28, at the Arts Ballroom, 1324 Locust St., Philadelphia.

The awards event celebrates the people and organizations actively working to reduce discrimination and intergroup tensions while promoting tolerance and respect among all people, regardless of differences in race, religion, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Clarence Farmer and Sadie Alexander both were seminal figures in Philadelphia, both in leading the commission during various eras and as civil rights icons who forged bonds across educational, business, legal and public service sectors. This event pays homage to their legacy and serves as a reminder of the work still to be done, said Rue Landau, PCHR executive director.

“What we do on this commission impacts real people every day, and we take this work seriously. But we could not do it without partners, everyday people who dedicate themselves to improving the quality of life in this city for all who live here,” Landau said.

“We’re thrilled to celebrate their achievements, and look forward to who the public thinks who else should join this distinguished group as 2015 PCHR Award winners.”

For criteria, nomination applications, tickets or event details, visit  or call (215) 686-4670.

PCHR announces new members

PHILADELPHIA, February 9, 2015 – Today the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations expanded its ranks by two, adding an area businesswoman and a civil rights and youth advocate.

The swearing in of Shalimar Thomas and Wei Chen on Friday will round out the commission’s complement, bringing it to a full nine members. The Hon. Ida K. Chen will administer the oath of office.


Wei Chen

Wei Chen

Shalimar Thomas

Shalimar Thomas

Thomas, founder of a boutique public relations firm, leads the African-American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ and DE as its executive director. Her chief responsibilities lie in education about and advocacy on behalf of expanded development and opportunities for black-owned businesses in the region. Thomas is engaged in a number of charitable activities related to the advancement of families and entrepreneurs, including the board of New Media Technology Charter School and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. – Pennsylvania chapter.

Wei Chen rose to prominence as a South Philadelphia High School student turned activist after racial strife between African-American and immigrant Asian students boiled into bullying and violence. His voice helped elevated the cause of an unheard and long suffering student population. The recipient of a Peace First Prize fellowship, he serves as a youth organizers for Asian Americans United and on the board of Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia.

“We are excited to bring these commissioners aboard, to add their perspective into the mix as we explore ways to widen our reach and deepen our footprint,” said Rue Landau, PCHR executive director. “The mayor has appointed two dedicated people who speak to and deliver viewpoints from valued constituencies whose input will help refine the work we do.”

This spring, PCHR will launch an initiative examining the socioeconomic impact of cyclical change in a Philadelphia that is redeveloping rapidly. In April, the agency will host the 2015 PCHR Awards, spotlighting individuals and organizations positively impacting civil rights, human relations and quality of life in Philadelphia.

PCHR is the agency charged with diffusing inter-group conflict within the city and ensuring fair dealings in employment, housing, public accommodations and real estate, as outlined in the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, Philadelphia’s guiding civil rights legislation.

Learn more by calling (215) 686-4670 or visiting