Chosen from across Anne Arundel County, six trailblazing women will be honored during the 21st annual Fannie Lou Hamer Awards Reception, held from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2, at the Frances Scott Key Auditorium at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md. Known for impacting their community—whether through social justice, historical outreach, and even memorial beautification—each woman made a lasting mark on the Annapolis area. In fact, honoree Paula Peters’ civil rights works led to systemic changes in Annapolis social clubs, compelling them to include women, Jews, and African Americans. Honoree Sandra Wallace lived the Civil Rights movement, attending the first integrated class of Annapolis High School and serving as one of the county’s first African American nurses. All of this year’s honorees—Marthena Cowart, Gordenia Henson, Kashonna Holland, Peters, Scotti Preston and Wallace—join the ranks of more than 100 notable women, including Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Administrative Law Judge Tracey Warren Parker, and former Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer. Many previous winners will be in attendance and recognized. Other notable attendees include Congressman John P. Sarbanes, Steve McAdams (representing Gov. Larry Hogan), County Executive Steve Schuh, and Annapolis Alderman Kenneth A. Kirby. Additionally, Christopher Nelson, retiring president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, will be the first recipient of the Alan Hilliard Legum Civil Rights Award for his unwavering support of the Fannie Lou Hamer Awards program over the last decade. The event is sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Anne Arundel County and co-sponsored by St. Johns College. Tickets are $35 in advance, and will also be available at the door. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 301.538.6353 or 410.419.2208 or e-mail [email protected]. Contact mlkcskmd.org to purchase tickets on-line and get more information.
Fannie Lou Hamer, 1917-1977, was an American voting rights activist, civil rights leader, and philanthropist. The awards that bear her name recognize women from various racial backgrounds who, while not necessarily household names, have excelled in their chosen field while working diligently to improve civil and human rights in the region.
“Mrs. Hamer was a feminist and a civil rights heroine,” said Carl Snowden, chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee. “Each year, on the eve of her birthday, Marylanders pause to honor this Mississippian, a sharecropper, who shared a passion for economic and social justice.”
A committee of community residents choose six outstanding women each year from a list of nominees who live and/or or work in Anne Arundel County. Anne Arundel is the only jurisdiction in the State of Maryland to celebrate Hamer’s memory with awards of this nature.
“We are living right now in a world that is fighting for change on many levels, from social unrest in out cities, to expansive international crises,” said Sen. Mikulski, a 2009 Hamer honoree. “And while the news may seem grim, there is inspiration every day around the world as people come together to bring about peaceful change.”
After graduating from the newly integrated Annapolis High School in 1968, Sandra Wallace, of Annapolis, Md., participated in an equal opportunity professional program for African Americans, becoming the first African American nurse at Crownsville State Hospital in Anne Arundel County. Through years of medical school, trainings, and licensing, Wallace’s successful nursing career took her throughout Anne Arundel, and through the Civil Rights movement, where she often fought racism and discrimination. When Wallace was declared legally blind decades ago, “I prayed about it, and I decided I wanted to continue working so that I could continue to help others,” said Wallace. For the past 31 years, Wallace has worked as a nurse at the Greater Annapolis Medical Group.
“You know, walking downtown, there were certain stores we couldn’t go to into on Main Street,” said Wallace. “I faced racism. I had patients that didn’t want me to touch them,” Wallace said. “But still, I’ve been blessed. When you work during trying times like I have, you pave the way for the ones who come after you.”
Having served in high-profile positions in the federal government for decades, Marthena Cowart, of Annapolis, now spends her days beautifying the community in the name of civil rights. A Certified Master Gardener from the University of Maryland, Cowart designed and now directs the implementation of the landscaping plan for the Civil Rights Foot Soldiers Memorial in downtown Annapolis. Cowart is also a Board Member of the Friends of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.
An Annapolis native, Gordenia “Deni” Henson’s greatest legacy may be motherhood: a mother of two daughters, Henson also fostered 16 children while simultaneously balancing a career in the film and media industries. Today, Henson, of Annapolis, serves as the executive director of the Hoppy Adams Foundation, a nonprofit honoring the legendary disc-jockey Hoppy Adams through philanthropic work in the Annapolis community. She is also the President of the Peerless Rens Club, a local African American social club established in 1948 that serves the Annapolis community.
Kashonna Holland, of Jessup, Md., is the president and CEO of Simply Kashonna, spreading the message of “bold, fearless, and courageous living” through her work as an author, speaker, and life coach. Through Holland’s book, workshops, talk shows, and events, she is able to assist those struggling to find meaning and direction in life. Holland also serves as ambassador for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women, encouraging women to live heart healthy.
An activist since age 16, Paula Peters, of Annapolis, commenced a long career as an advocate for civil, LGBT, and women’s rights in the Annapolis community. She is also a political activist, having volunteered for presidential nominee John Kerry, President Barack Obama, and the Hillary Clinton campaign, and also as a commissioner on the Anne Arundel County Judicial Nominating Commission. Peters volunteered for the United Methodist Committee on Relief in Kosovo in 2000, a year after the war ended.
Scotti Preston, of Glen Burnie, Md., is a longtime civil rights activist in Annapolis. She is an integral part of Historic Annapolis, where she spearheads groundbreaking outreach programs that explore African American history through interpretation and living history. Preston’s volunteerism is extensive, and includes work with Black History Month events, arts programs, educational organizations, local heritage festivals, and the Anne Arundel County school system.
The Oct. 2 ceremony will include musical performances by Antonette Maddox and Randi Roberts as well as the Annapolis debut of “This Little Light of Mine: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Legacy,” a documentary film on Hamer’s life by Robin Hamilton, a freelance journalist for the Tribune and owner of her own production company, Around Robin.
Fannie Lou Hamer was the last of 20 children born to Mississippi sharecropper parents. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J., in that capacity.
Her plainspoken manner and fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gained her a reputation as an electrifying speaker. She ran for Congress in 1964 and 1965, and was seated as a member of Mississippi’s official delegation to the Democratic National Convention of 1968, where she was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.
Hamer died at the age of 57. Her tombstone is engraved with one of her famous quotes, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
The Annapolis-based Martin Luther King Jr. Committee Inc., founded in 1988, hosts two major events each year, the annual Fannie Lou Hamer Reception in October honoring woman of different racial backgrounds who have made contributions to the community, state and nation. The second event is the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner held in January to honor those local citizens whose leadership in civil rights has helped keep Dr. King’s legacy alive. The proceeds from these events is being used to pay off the debt incurred by building the Civil Rights Foot Soldiers Memorial.
The MLK Jr. Committee has successfully placed three memorials to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Anne Arundel County funded by private donations. A bronze statue of King was erected at Anne Arundel Community College in 2006 after the Committee raised more than $250,000. In 2011, the Committee dedicated a plaque and garden tribute to Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, at Sojourner Douglass College in Edgewater, Md. and in 2013 erected a monument in Annapolis to the Civil Rights Foot Soldiers who marched in the famous 1963 “I have a dream” civil rights march on Washington.