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

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 www.phila.gov/humanrelations/awards  or call (215) 686-4670.

Martin Luther King Day of Service 2015

Team PCHR fanned across the city during the 2015 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday at events large and small – from engaging in neighborhood service projects to celebrating the ongoing commitment of others to helping the broader community focus on and advance King’s message.

“This is a day, a time, when this city not only comes together, but shows its continued leadership when it comes to protecting civil rights and cultivating harmony,” said Rue Landau, PCHR executive director. “It’s nothing short of inspiring to see the many personal and public expressions to that end – people of every age, color, gender, religion.

“Dr. King indeed would be proud.”

Eli Landau and Eli and Uthman Jabbar Garner work side-by-side on a service project at Girard College, building a flower box for an area school.

Eli Smith-Landau and Uthman Jabbar Garner work side-by-side on a service project at Girard College, building a flower box for an area school.

Landau, along with Commissioners Regina Austin, Marshall Freeman and Saadiq Jabbar Garner joined Mayor Michael A. Nutter and Todd Bernstein, lead organizer for the Greater Philadelphia MLK Day of Service at Girard College to open the day.

The setting was apt in that it celebrated the 50th anniversary of King’s visit to the then all-white private boarding school for boys that sits in the heart of a predominantly black North Philadelphia neighborhood. He joined an ongoing campaign waged by the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP to open up the school. Protesters marched day and night in the summer of 1965, demanding admittance for all.

Ensuing court cases — filed at the urging of then-PCHR Chair Sadie T. M. Alexander — finally led to integration, with black students entering the school in 1968 and girls enrolling in 1984.

Just as protesters marched at that time for equal access to education, people should have equal passion today to ensure that all students receive equal education, beginning with fair funding for the city’s public schools, Nutter told the crowd at Girard College. Pushing that agenda requires an engaged citizenry – a voting citizenry.

“In the birthplace of freedom and democracy, voting is the one thing that folks should be able to do in Philadelphia in a peaceful manner,” the mayor said.

To help erase some of those obstacles during this 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, volunteers constructed “Vote Here” bilingual signs in a dozen languages where data has reflected lower than average turnout. Advocates have argued that in a city where nearly 1 in 10 residents are born outside of the United States, small public accommodations such as these will help prevent inadvertent Election Day discrimination.

The signage assembly was one of several projects taking place at the campus. Students and adults alike busied themselves in activities to improve the lives of their neighbors – from building flower boxes for local schools to sorting clothing donations to area shelters to fixing computers to distribute to public housing residents to packing meals to deliver to seniors in need. The hundreds who gathered at Girard College were among a reported 135,000 volunteering at some 1,800 projects throughout the Delaware Valley.

Mayor Michael A. Nutter powers up with Team PCHR before they dive into their service projects. (l-r PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Mayor Nutter, PCHR Commissioners Regina Austin, Marsall Freeman and Saadiq Jabbar Garner.)

Mayor Michael A. Nutter powers up with Team PCHR before they dive into their service projects. (l-r PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Mayor Nutter, PCHR Commissioners Regina Austin, Marsall Freeman and Saadiq Jabbar Garner.)

At Girard, an on-site jobs and opportunity fair offered not only possible posts, but also strategies to land them, including for job seekers that have criminal records. PCHR’s Karen Forman and Monica Gonzalez guided dozens through the city’s “Ban the Box” law and how the agency investigates discrimination claims in employment, housing and public accommodation dealings.

“We had a steady stream of people coming through and getting information,” Gonzalez said. “They were impressed with the information and just hearing more about who we are and what we do.”

Monica Gonzalez informs job seekers how PCHR defends against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation during the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service at Girard College.

Monica Gonzalez informs job seekers how PCHR defends against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation during the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service at Girard College.

By the afternoon, commissioners and staff had gathered at the School District of Philadelphia’s headquarters, launch site for the MLK Day of Action, Resistance, and Empowerment march. The event, sponsored by Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER), was one of several held nationwide calling to reclaim the more confrontational aspects of King’s push for equality.

In the light of increased nationwide attention on slayings of unarmed black men at the hands of police and urban public education funding among other social inequities, march organizers declared the moment an opportunity to reclaim King’s fuller legacy. Thousands mobilized in Philadelphia and headed to Independence Mall, where ecumenical prayers and public commitments to equality for all took place.

“The march signaled a new way of thinking about MLK Day,” said Commissioner Rebecca T. Alpert, who along with PCHR Chair Thomas Earle, Landau and Deputy Director Randy Duque were on the scene.

“As a man on the train said to me, ‘King wasn’t about cleaning up neighborhoods.’ I agree,” Alpert said. “King, to me, was about bringing us all together to work for a better society. POWER’s message of ‘justice, jobs and education’ resonates.”

Calls for equitable policing, education funding, a living wage and more were issued at the MLK Day of  Action, Resistance, and Empowerment march.

Calls for equitable policing, education funding, a living wage and more were issued at the MLK Day of Action, Resistance, and Empowerment march.

Earle echoed that sentiment, saying this event was just as legitimate and necessary as the many service projects throughout the city and region.

It was 20 years ago that Philadelphia led the nation in hosting the first MLK Day of Service, thanks in great measure to legislation dedicating the holiday co-authored by civil rights lion U.S. Rep. John Lewis and then-U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford, a Philadelphia-area resident and King confidant.

Thousands gathered to participate in the MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment march in  Center City

Thousands gathered to participate in the MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment march in Center City

As much as King understood that building unity among neighbors was an essential part of building and maintaining peace, he recognized that convincing others of the merits of this call to action would be difficult. That case remains today amid challenging circumstances. But the rainbow coalition working shoulder-to-shoulder is affirming – and underscores the work of PCHR, Earle said.

A host of constituencies gathered to raise their voices for justice and equality at the MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment.

A host of constituencies gathered to raise their voices for justice and equality at the MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment.

“It was an incredible turnout and a very diverse crowd participating for many different reasons . . . and for many good causes,” he added.

Remembering Commission Chair Clarence Farmer Sr.

As an early executive director and then chair of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, Clarence Farmer Sr. stood as a giant on the landscape of this city, with a reputation that spanned the nation. He passed away on Thursday, Jan. 30, at age 98, after a life well lived.

Farmer and Abernathy

Clarence Farmer Sr. (l.) and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy prepare for the 1968 Poor People’s March.

“In many ways, for many people, he was the very emblem of the justice, fairness, and dignity every resident in this city would come to expect,” said Rue Landau, the commission’s executive director. “He understood clearly that the people of Philadelphia deserved nothing less.

“There’s a reason that Clarence Farmer – much like the historic names of Sadie T. M. AlexanderRobert C. Nix Jr., Cecil B. MooreEthel Allen and Hardy Williams – evokes such a shared sense of pride and admiration. He not only helmed this agency, but he also helped to shape its vision and a path toward ensuring inclusive policies and protections for all of this city’s residents,” Landau said.

Farmer was long a fixture at the intersection of civil rights and social justice – from helping to root out police brutality to amplifying the voices of disenfranchised parents and students of the School District of Philadelphia to pushing for equality in housing, employment and development across the city.

Farmer and Rizzo

Clarence Farmer Sr. (r.) stands next to then-Police Commissioner Frank L. Rizzo Sr. listening to a disgruntled South Philadelphia crowd lambaste integration at Bok High School.

While his tenure began during the tumultuous ‘60s, he remained an actively involved and engaged civic leader well through the mid-80s.

So committed was he in his beliefs, that Farmer once led a coalition of civil rights and human relations advocates in blocking a local appointment to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission during the Reagan Administration, charging the candidate was absent from, if not, insensitive to such concerns. He was a force with which to reckon.

“For decades, he has been one of the most respected public leaders in the history of the city,” said Marshall E. Freeman, a current commissioner and a Farmer mentee. “In life sometimes, you are honored and privileged to meet some people who are ‘called.’

“These people are strong in their convictions and they come to us without any built-in pretense about self-importance. They see their life’s mission as a charge to just do good. Clarence Farmer understood this,” Freeman said.

That drive to “do good” extended beyond work on the commission, as his efforts also focused on cultural uplift as a means of achieving equality and his activism expanded beyond the immediate work of the commission. Farmer was fully devoted to economic empowerment and educational opportunity as well.

Clarence Farmer Sr. at work

Clarence Farmer Sr. was as devoted to equality as he was to education and self-determination through economic means and cultural expression.

An early entrepreneur, he used his expertise to assist other would-be ventures to launch, focusing on underrepresented classes of businesses owners. He also helped to co-found both the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum of Philadelphia (now the African American Museum in Philadelphia) and the Black Tennis Foundation of Philadelphia Inc., an organization devoted to developing and supporting aspiring players. His board duties spanned the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. to the Center for Urban Theological Studies to The Philadelphia Tribune, among others.

“While he has earned his rest and we mourn the loss of this great man, we also intend to celebrate his life by continuing the work he pursued with such passion on behalf of neighbors of all colors, creeds, abilities, national origins and orientations,” Landau added.

In lieu of flowers, the Farmer Family asks that donations be made to the African American Museum in Philadelphia.