Chosen from across Anne Arundel County, 12 trailblazing women will be honored during the 26th annual Fannie Lou Hamer Awards Reception, held from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3, at the historic Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis, Md. Known for impacting their community — whether through social justice or advocacy — each woman has made a lasting mark on Anne Arundel County. This year’s honorees — Nas I. Afi, Delegate J. Sandy Bartlett, Sarah Margaret Blaser, Chanel Compton, Debora A. Darden, Gloria Dent, Sonia Feldman, Debi Jasen, Monica Lindsey, Roxanne McGowan, Rev. Marguerite R. Morris, and Darlene Washington — join the ranks of more than 100 notable women, including former Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Administrative Law Judge Tracey Warren Parker, and former Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer, who were nominated in years past. Other notable invited guests include Congressman Anthony Brown, who will offer welcoming remarks. A reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres will follow the program. The event is sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Anne Arundel County. Tickets are sold out, but viewers can watch the program on Facebook Live through the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee Facebook Page, or through www.mlkjrmd.org.
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. In the spirit of Hamer, honoree Sonia Feldman works tirelessly to educate voters on matters of social justice through the political organization she founded, Action Annapolis. Honoree Sarah Margaret Blaser is recognized for her work in South County for South County Is Kind, which responds to local incidents of racism, as well as her efforts to organize the Maryland Black Lives Matter March. Honoree Chanel Compton is the CEO of Banneker-Douglass Museum, where she focuses on educating the Maryland community about African American history.
“These women exemplify the leadership Ms. Hamer brought to the Civil Rights movement,” said Carl Snowden, chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee. “Their commitment to the Anne Arundel County community is humbling, and we thank them for their service. We are thrilled to take this evening to honor and celebrate this champion for economic and social justice, and the women she inspired.”
Debi Jasen, of Pasadena, has been addressing racism since she was a child, and has been involved in numerous anti-racism actions and organizations. Jasen is a founder of One Pasadena, a local community group that is working to address the culture of racism in the community. She has registered voters and participated in nonviolent direct action with the Poor People’s Campaign. Jasen helps organize protests, coordinates volunteers for anti-racism actions, and provides support for anti-racism demonstrations. She also volunteers with reproductive justice groups that focus on healthcare access for marginalized communities.
Sarah Margaret Blaser, of Shady Side, is an educator and the founder of South County Is Kind. Blaser began her involvement in social justice organizations in 2017 and has since become an active member in Coming to the Table and Connecting the Dots. She is involved in local efforts focusing on reparations and equality in education. Blaser founded South County Is Kind in response to local incidents of racism and bigotry. The organization is a community-based initiative focusing on spreading kindness, understanding, and an appreciation for differences. Blaser has been involved in local and national protests for equal rights and was one of the organizers for the Black Lives Matter March in Deale, Md., in October 2020.
Chanel Compton, of Baltimore, is the executive director of the Banneker-Douglass Museum (BDM) and the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture (MCAAHC). She previously served as executive director for the Prince George’s African American Museum and education director for the Creative Alliance in Baltimore. Currently, Compton serves as board chair of the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center and board member to Afro Charities and Future History Now. As executive director of BDM and MCAAHC, Compton is dedicated to serving Maryland to amplify and support African American heritage initiatives, groups, and museums to gain further access to resources, partnerships, and reach new audiences.
Debora A. Darden, of Edgewood, serves as the Warden of the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, Md., the largest prison in Maryland. She is the first African American female to serve in this capacity. Darden began her law enforcement career as an intern with the Anne Arundel County Police Department. Darden previously served as director of Case Management for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Service, Division of Pre-Trial and Detention Services. In addition to Darden’s public safety work, she joined the Road Divas Motorcycle Association in 2009, a motorcycle skill and charity association. There, Darden has participated in coat drives and volunteer work, and has served as a mentor to young women and children. She has also been a member of A Tribute to Women of Color, an organization in Anne Arundel County that awards $100,000 annually in college scholarships.
Roxanne McGowan, of Glen Burnie, is the Deputy Program Integrationist/Outreach Coordinator for the Community Action Agency (CAA) of Anne Arundel County. Prior to joining CAA, McGowan was employed in workforce development, where she transformed a six-bedroom townhouse, located in the largest public housing community in the county, into a fully operational workforce center. There, she provided career development, occupational training, employment assistance, and GED classes. Anne Arundel County McGowan’s groundwork with the opening of career centers at two additional public housing sites. McGowan also partnered with the State to host the first City of Annapolis Job Fair, playing a significant role in bringing workforce development services into the Stanton Community Center. McGowan oversees several other programs, including Returning Citizens, Health and Wellness Initiative, Youth Development Services, and 2 Generation Whole Family Approach, and serves as a board member for the Department of Aging. She oversees the Anne Arundel County Health Ambassadors Program, educating the community about COVID-19.
Rev. Marguerite R. Morris, of Odenton, has been an advocate for marginalized persons in Maryland for decades. Eight years ago, Morris founded the Leah’s House Shelter, which assists local and international victims of abuse and human trafficking. Morris also founded For Kathy’s Sake Inc., which provides advocacy services to persons in crisis, and Community Actively Seeking Transparency (C.A.S.T.), which facilitates police transparency and accountability. In 2019, she received the prestigious Malcolm X Hero Award from the Caucus of African American Leaders, was nominated for the TWIN Award, and was selected as a Trailblazer for working to eliminate racism and empower women. Together, For Kathy’s Sake and C.A.S.T. were selected as the 2019 Business of the Year by the Anne Arundel NAACP. In 2020, Morris received the George Phelps Jr. Distinguished Citizen Award for her contributions to Anne Arundel County. Morris does much of this work in honor of her daughter, Katherine Morris, who was found dead in 2012 at the age of 22. In addition to her community work, Morris has spent the last nine years investigating matters related to the mishandling of her daughter’s death investigation.
Sonia Feldman, of Annapolis, was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and moved to the United States as a child. In 1984, she established Sonia Feldman Advertising Design in Annapolis. Feldman is an active member of the Annapolis community, giving her time to a number of civic and non-profit organizations. Although Feldman had campaigned for numerous presidential candidates over the years, it was not until 2017 that she turned her focus to local activism following the Women’s March on Washington. She mobilized members of the Annapolis community and formed Action Annapolis to work on issues promoting social justice. Working with other women, Feldman focused on creating events that informed the community on various issues, including affordable housing, voter protection, immigration, and local elections. Through this work, she facilitated conversations with local candidates. This work has taught Feldman that by informing and engaging voters at the local level, people become empowered to influence candidates and elected officials, helping bring about policies that are more responsive to the needs of the community.
Delegate J. Sandy Bartlett, of Annapolis, serves her community through her work in the Maryland House of Delegates. Despite being a first-term legislator, Bartlett was appointed a Deputy Majority Whip and was unanimously elected Chair of the Anne Arundel County Delegation. She is the only freshman member appointed to and serving on the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. Bartlett was also appointed to the Joint Committee on Ending Homelessness. She is a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Joint Committee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology, and Biotechnology, and had made successful contributions as a member of the Work Group to Study Shelter and Supportive Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Minors and the Public Safety Subcommittee. Bartlett is a member of several legislative caucuses, including the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland. In addition to her work as a delegate, she serves on the Maryland Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Policy and Funding Committee and the Local Development Council for Anne Arundel County. Barlett was honored by the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault earlier this year as a recipient of their 2021 Visionary Award.
Gloria Dent, of Annapolis, culminated her 26-year military career as the first National Director for Veterans Employment and Initiatives for the U.S. AbilityOne Commission. In this congressionally mandated position, Dent executed the first apprenticeship program focused on leveraging federal procurement programs to create employment opportunities for wounded and recovering veterans. Dent is also the founder and chairwoman of iCommunity Connection Services, a Maryland non-profit focused on veterans, community resources, and credential apprenticeships. Since 2018, Dent has hosted community events including voter registration drives and legislative symposiums on matters that affect Black and Brown communities. Dent is the owner and CEO of Genergi LLC, a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business management and consulting company designed to accelerate veteran, women, and minority-owned businesses. Dent is a member of the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation and the Planning and Advisory Board for Anne Arundel County.
Monica Lindsey (also called Ewura Ama Amaka), of Annapolis, is an active community member who, for more than 17 years, served as an educator for the public school system. As a teacher, Lindsey helped others develop skills in engagement, coordination, and critical thinking. She is a board member of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, formed to address issues of historic racial terror in Maryland; co-chair of Connecting the Dots, a community coalition that works alongside the Equal Justice Initiative to coordinate efforts for remembrance and reconciliation in Anne Arundel County; board member of Alkebulan Shule, a family rite of passage program; and board member of South Sudan Hope Network, a local charity organization committed to international collaboration.
Nas I. Afi, of Annapolis, served as an organizational specialist at the National Education Association (NEA) for the past 17 years, most recently working as a coordinator for the NEA Affirmative Action UniServ Intern Program for Ethnic-Minorities and Women. The program, born out of social justice issues, is intended to increase the ranks of field staff of color. Afi also works with HBCU colleges and universities, providing consultation and direct service assistance. She served six years as president of the Association of Field Service Employees at NEA, served as delegate and trainer for the National Staff Organization, and was a founding member of the Alkebulan Shule school in Annapolis. Afi is now serving a second term as president of the Annapolis Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Under her leadership, the chapter is working to develop community partnerships, enhance its social justice and racial equity work, and serve the diverse needs of the county.
Darlene Washington, of West River, serves as the executive advisor of the National Delicados, previously serving as the organization’s national president. This civic organization provides academic scholarships to high school graduates, and financially supports the National Council of Negro Women, community health projects, the National Negro College Fund, Sickle Cell Foundations, HIV/AIDS projects, the Parole Health Center, and disaster projects, such as American Red Cross. Washington has been recognized for her community work: she received the 2009 NAACP Freedom Fund Award, was recognized as the 2019 Woman of Excellence by the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Eta Zeta Sigma Alumnae Chapter, and was honored by the Maryland General Assembly in 2020 with an Official Citation for her work on behalf of Franklin United Methodist Church and her dedication to advocating for Southern Anne Arundel County.
A committee of community residents chooses outstanding women each year from a list of nominees who live and/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 our cities to expansive international crises,” said former 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.”
Fannie Lou Hamer was the youngest of 20 children born to Mississippi sharecropper parents. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, 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.
Hamer’s 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 first is the annual Fannie Lou Hamer Reception in October honoring women of different racial backgrounds who have made contributions to the community. 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 are 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 the 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. In 2013, the Committee 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.